The span of events between this day last year and this day this year have been immense. Last year’s birthday was a pretty wonderful one. Andrew and I had just returned from our honeymoon in Hawaii, and I got to spend a few blissful days with him and my family at the farm in Arkansas, soaking up the lush, rolling gold of the hay fields, gin & tonics and cookouts. We had a birthday cake and ice cream, we watched movies and languished in the summer heat, and it was all very quiet and small, we four together.
My parents gave me a beautiful antique locket with my new-last-name initials engraved on the back — purchased at the vintage store that way, mind you — and blurry photos of someone else’s beloved inside. I treasure it.
Now, birthday gifts aren’t near as important as the one-on-one time spent with my parents, the pets, my grandparents, my great-grandfather, and a few choice friends from back home. This year I flew back to Arkansas alone to revel in a few days of my favorite things and people — sangria by the pool with college roommates and childhood besties, cooking dinner for my family, falling asleep with the windows open to the sound of peepers and cicadas by the pond. A run along the gravel backroads, past grazing cattle and ponds. Immense sunrises filtered through the tangle of tomato plants. Chickens pecking at the flower beds, cats curling around my ankles, my parents just within hugging distance. This, this is what I treasure. This is the best birthday gift I could have asked for.
Twenty-three marks and entirely new set of challenges than did twenty-two. I will live somewhere else, I will possible go back to school and start a new career, I will write and run and struggle and strive, I will try my best to love and be loved. Somehow, it feels a little more important than the year before, as if all of those past experiences are building up with more pressure to create something bigger, more powerful, in this upcoming 365 days.
And what have I learned in twenty-three years on this earth? Oh, the same things I seem to learn and re-learn every year. To think before I speak. To put on mascara before I leave the house. To pay attention to people and details, to listen, to give abundantly despite my best efforts at selfishness. To enjoy a homemade chocolate cake but not too much or too often. To move and pray every day. To let go of regret and focus on making tomorrow a better day. To speak kindness and love or nothing at all. To think twice before making a purchase, to save rather than spend. To fight like hell for those I love. To loosen up. To eat more vegetables. To send a handwritten note or make a quick phone call.
So, happy birthday to me. Cheers to twenty-three years of lessons learned, good and bad, the hard way and the easy way. Cheers to family and friends, to a home that is steadfast and welcomes me no matter where I come from. Cheers to homemade cake and loyal pups and birthday presents that can’t come from any store. I’ll toast to that.