Yesterday was my birthday. I’ve never been much for birthdays. It’s not that I hate them or that they make me feel depressed or sad. Well, not really. I think it’s more that I’ve just never really thought about them very much. My birthday hasn’t ever felt important to me. I quite like celebrating other people’s birthdays, though. I especially love doing special things for my husband and daughter on their days. For myself, though … I don’t know. It just feels like much ado about nothing. I’m a fairly low maintenance kind of person. (Although I could be someone who thinks they are low maintenance but who is, in fact, high maintenance. Scary!) So I find myself feeling a bit uncomfortable with all the fuss.
This year, my birthday felt … Well, I don’t want to go so far as to say it felt bad, but I definitely didn’t feel all that great about it. I am now firmly planted in my second twenties. I’m closer to 50 than to 30. I’m not sure how I should feel about that. I firmly believe age is just a number. That I am only as old as I think I am, or as I feel in my heart. I understand these things are handy little sayings — the kind of thing one might expect to see plastered on an inspirational poster or an internet meme. And so, they are, perhaps, a little cheesy. But I also think they are true.
Lately, I’ve felt very old, indeed. Life has been pushing in on me from every side, it seems. There are some big sources of stress in my life. And there are what seems like dozens upon dozens upon dozens of little bitty sources of stress that love to pile up on top of me every day. It’s the little stressors that have been getting to me recently. I think it’s because the big things are easier to spot. You know they are coming, so you make sure you’re on the lookout for them. But those little things –the rude people you encounter every day, the broken nail as you’re trying to get the gas cap off of your car, the weird knocking sound in your engine, your computer suddenly deciding to shut itself down repeatedly, your child talking back to you, your dog barfing on your freshly cleaned floor, your front door frame suddenly falling to pieces — all seem to come at you out of nowhere. You try to shrug them off. You tell yourself they are just little things. You remind yourself these are just the normal annoyances of daily life. But, sometimes, small things can all pile up together to create a big thing.
And, if I’m being brutally honest with myself, I have to say my life isn’t where I expected it to be at this point in time. When I was a kid and teenager, I didn’t let myself dream very much. I had dreams, but I kept them in close — hidden, even from myself. Dreaming felt too risky and too dangerous. It felt like a sure-fire way to lead myself to disappointment. But, in those moments when I dared to let myself dream, I would look forward many years into the future (at that time, 30 was “old”), and I tried to picture what my life would be. I thought I would have accomplished so many things. And I would be so much more sophisticated and sure of myself. By the time I was 30, I thought, I would know who I was, where I was going in life, and how to get there.
I’m way past 30, and I don’t know any of those things. I’m not sophisticated. In fact, I’m a complete dork. (Do people still say “dork”? I have no idea.) I don’t feel confident. I feel fragile and brittle and a little bit squidgy around the edges. I have no idea who I am. And I feel I have accomplished exactly NONE of the dreams I had for myself. I think I managed to accomplish a couple of dreams that other people had for me. I suppose I could put those things into the “win” column, but, honestly, those things don’t feel like victories. Even though they are good accomplishments, I am not proud of them. And thinking on them leaves me feeling bitter and hollow. The truth is that I’m nowhere near accomplishing any of my dreams. As I sat and thought about it the day before my birthday (which was a pretty horrible day, all around), I felt like I was closer to completely giving up on those dreams. It seemed easier and felt more right to throw in the towel than to continue slogging forward, particularly when I feel most of my life is pretty much stalled out right now, which means not much forward progress is happening.
But yesterday, a couple of my friends sent me birthday wishes that said they hoped my birthday would be the start of a great year for me.
And you know what? I realized I was looking at this birthday thing all wrong. I had fallen into the trap of looking BACK at my life and regretting where I had and hadn’t been. I was so busy looking backward that my birthday felt like an ending, of sorts: the period at the end of my long list of unfulfilled dreams. I forgot to look AHEAD. Maybe some of my dreams won’t ever come true. This is a fact. None of us can make all of our dreams come true. If we could do that, we would be Disney princesses who dance through the forest and sing to birds. But I still have dreams. They aren’t unfulfilled; they are still-to-come. They are works in progress.
I love the idea of looking at my birthday as the start of a new year, instead of some kind of sad and dismal mile marker on my march toward my inevitable end. I like beginnings. They are full of potential and hope. And you know what? I think I could use a little bit of potential and hope in my life.
Yesterday was my birthday. Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. I think it might be a good one.