Once upon a time, for many many years, whenever I arrived at my birthday, all I could think about was how to create a protective shell around the emptiness that I felt. If somehow I could simultaneously have cute clothes that fit, be at the perfect weight, have hair that looked good, whiten my teeth, and figure out the key to makeup application the rest of life would fall into place. If I could organize the chaos of the external, maybe the internal would follow suit and life would be full and meaningful and I would be happy.
It never happened. Life has remained too fluid, too chaotic, and too messy for my external checklist to be realized (though hat tip to Nursing School that has taken off all the baby weight plus a few pounds -thanks!) and I have grown up enough to realize that none of those things would have made me happy anyway.
If anything, these past few months packed with uncertainty, exhaustion, tears, and interesting information and experiences has shown me that you can sometimes feel most alive when you come home exhausted from a long day at clinicals and your kids dog-pile you and clamor to tell you everything that happened and most happy when you lie on the floor with your baby and watch him try to pull the cat’s tail. Life is just weird like that.
This time, as I hit another birthday (and yes, suddenly 37 seems dangerously near to 40 which makes me feel that I’m almost 50 because they are only separated by a decade) I want to remind myself today of things that I might tell myself in another 37 years. I know that if I could now give advice to myself half a lifetime ago I would have such sensible things to say. With that in mind, maybe I can listen to the advice I have been given by people who are further along the path of life than I am.
- You can’t do it all. This has never been more apparent to me than right now. I may have dreamed of being mother of 4, doing all the pinterest projects, hanging out with my husband, semi-educating my children at home while reading books and training for an ultramarathon all while going to Nursing School, getting straight A’s, cooking healthy dinners, spending quality time with everyone, keeping the house organized and clean, and being mindful of friendships and self-care. Yeah. The bar has been set way low over here by week 14. We eat pop tarts. (Who am I kidding, we ate pop tarts before that too, and they aren’t even organic.)
- Keep the things that you love and don’t bother with the other things.
- Don’t shut down your dreams and ideas (or other people’s). Life is stranger and has more potential than you will ever guess.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. This seems to be a common theme I get from people, including instructors, so I am trying to tell myself now that it’s okay to be my own best ally instead of my worst enemy.
- Find the people who make you come alive and don’t despair if it seems like they’re hard to find.
- Hug and hold and touch the people you love because you don’t know how long you get them. I have never been more acutely aware of this as I am now as I interact with the elderly population in the hospital and extended care. Take nothing for granted, it’s all a gift.
- If you want to say something, don’t wait for people to draw it out of you because they probably won’t and you’ll just be annoyed.
- Even if you speak the language of guilt fluently, try not to let it drive everything you do.
- Little moments matter more than perfectly fulfilling your plans, especially when kids are involved.
- You will never regret loving people more, even if it hurts. And it will hurt.
I think that is plenty of advice to see me through the next year along with the words of Sara Groves in her song This Cup. I generally have some sort of song that I am “feeling” when my birthday rolls around. This year, with life upended and crazy and not enough of me to go around my goal and my prayer is to be right here. Here in the present instead of worrying about what lies a month down the road or wishing life were somehow different; easier and more pulled together.
So take up what we’ve been given
Welcome the edge of our days
Hemmed in by sunrise and sunset
By our youth and by our age
Thank God for our dependence
Here’s to our chasm of need
And how it binds us together
In faith and vulnerability
This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy