Twenty-five was a good birthday. You know how some years are just better than others, at least as you reflect on them? Of course, every year has its ups and downs, but some just shine brighter in our memories.
Highlights from my 25th birthday glitter in my mind. Tacos. Karaoke. Beer (okay, probably too much beer). Friends. Possibilities.
I was about to embark on (what I thought was) my last year of grad school. My “job” consisted of spending time with a remarkable young man with autism, and he and his family grew to be very dear to me (and continue to be).
The future rolled out before me like an infinity pool, the water just begging me to dip my toes in, as it does on a hot summer day.
I didn’t know that at 26, I would be engaged. Married at 27. That my dad would die when I was 29. That I would almost die at 30. That I would give birth to Ellie at 32. That I would be separated at 34.
No, the future was uncertain, but I was a good blend of hopeful, idealistic, and naive. Maybe that’s the way we should be in our early 20s.
My dad used to say that he didn’t understand the person staring back in the mirror. That his reflection belied how he felt inside. He was certainly a kid at times, trapped in a 63 year old body that would never see 64. I can only hope and wish, during the desperate dark times that I allow myself to reflect on the night he died, that he was already long gone, maybe looking at a different reflection.
When I look in the mirror now, I see streaks of white hair that I just can’t bring myself to hide. My belly is softer now and may always be, due maybe to my propensity for eating chocolate covered almonds every day but more likely because I spent over nine months growing a fantastic, wonderful, terrible, kind, considerate, tenacious human being who is somehow now two years old.
I see a woman who, for the first time in eight years, will not be celebrating her birthday with her husband.
I see someone who was focused so much on the surviving the hurricane that she couldn’t see the cracks in the foundation of her house.
We made it through the storm alive, but we lost our shelter. How do you rebuild after a disaster? Can you?
The world I knew before has been slowly but steadily shrinking. But when I feel the weight of that realization, I can’t also help but think that my world has expanded, buoyed by the support and love of friends both old and new.
I drink in every moment I have with this tiny human who reminds me to pause and appreciate the ants on the sidewalk, the ice cream dribbling down a waffle cone, the glory of jumping barefoot into a sandbox. Mindfulness is just the way that Ellie lives, always present.
I don’t know how I will look back on my 35th birthday in 10 years. That’s okay. It is okay to live week to week, or day to day. Even moment to moment when it’s necessary. Sometimes when I run or bike up a particularly steep hill, I stop looking ahead and just focus on the ground right in front of me.
I am focusing on the reflection in front of me. What is in my control, and what is not.
Thirty-five is not within my control. How I treat the person I see in the mirror is.