That was kind of hard to do.
Those flickering candles winked at me over and over and over again as if to say, “Hey there, Jen! I know you want to rattle off a list of things in your head. You know what I’m talking about. Go ahead. Wish for that new MacBook Pro computer, or that your landlord won’t raise your rent this year, or that Israel will finally find peace. Come on, Jen! You can do it!
But I didn’t.
I didn’t think about the future or the past or the parts of me that want to be somewhere, or someone else, some days.
I thought about what I had.
In that moment, I closed my eyes and leaned in toward the cake and the hot hot heated candles and I thought about every single thing I was grateful for. The people, the places, and the things that were still stuck beside me at that exact moment.
Birthdays, it’s taken me 27 years to learn, are not about getting new things or squeezing your eyes shut and making sweet delicate wishes for the future.
It’s about appreciating what’s in front of you at this very moment.
We never do that, you know?
Maybe we do on Thanksgiving, as we’re stuffing our faces with overcooked turkey and cranberry stuffing. Maybe we even do it when it’s too late. Once we’ve already lost something that we didn’t realize meant everything to us.
But why does it have to be that way? Why does everything have to fall apart or slip out of the palm of our hands like a bar of Dove soap in the shower for us to see how disgustingly perfect it is?
It’s because we’re all living 45 steps ahead of ourselves. We’re creating lives and personas and stories that don’t mimic who we are.
Who we are is punching us in the gut saying, “Hello! Can anyone hear me? Does anyone know how wonderful I am?”
One that will wake me up in the middle of the night and have me smiling for an eternity. One that, for anyone following, may look so gorgeously glamorous behind three Instagram filters and cautiously written Facebook posts.
But in real life, it’s a bit of a mess.
I’m married to my to-do list(s) and when I decide to have an affair, I flirt heavily with my inbox(es). And when I need a break from those two stunningly dangerous things, I’m mapping out who I need to contact and what I need to accomplish before I can allow my head to hit the pillow and my alarm clock to shake me up when the sun yawns hello.
Lately, even when I’m standing still, I can still feel myself swaying toward four directions all at once.
When you’re on an adventure, you don’t want to stop.
No, not ever.
Even when people give you hints that you need to pull over and sit down on a bench and take deep, deep yoga breaths. You don’t stop even when you’re body tells you that if you don’t give it a break or a nap or a meal that includes more than just carbs, it’s going to shut down.
This year has taught me that If I don’t slow down – if we all don’t slow down- and delete Facebook off our phones and resist the urge to take photos of memories and moments and people we could enjoy more in real life, in the 45 seconds we have them in front of us, than the photo we’ll store on iCloud and forget about, we’ll slowly learn that this precious life is a gigantic waste.
I went out to dinner with a friend last week, who in so many words, told me that I need to wake up.
Told me that if I don’t, if I keep on keeping on this way, I’m going to lose everything in my life that actually matters.
So yesterday, I looked at those candles. All 27 of them standing on top of my delicious carvel ice cream cake and I said something very different to them.
“Look at me. I’m alive. I don’t have it all. I want it all. But none of that matters. Everything I have in this moment is everything I need. Okay?”
It’s time to wake up.
Happy birthday. I love you.
Ps. Thanks for sticking by my side. It means the entire world to me. I hope one day we sit across from each other and over a slice of pizza laugh about the awkward moments and the embarrassing stories we wish were fiction but are not. The ones that are who we are. Until that day comes, thanks for being there for me – virtually.