I've learned a lot of lessons this year.
This year I've learned a lot about being judgmental, and with that, some friendships have started to heal. I've learned how harsh and hurtful it can be, and how useless it is to project negativity into the universe. Instead I want my life to be a place where I hold only myself to the highest standards and am gentle with my expectations of the people around me. Learning over and over and over again how imperfect I am has lessened my critical eye.
This year I've learned about humility. I've learned the stomach-hollowing shame of bowing your head and asking for help, and that the punches that follow will land for months. I've learned that no matter how prepared you are against the what-ifs of the world, the world can - and will - still strike again and again in the most unlikely of places. And as I was told, learning to ask for help when it is needed is a skill I need to cultivate, and I can only hope that those that relentlessly continue to speak out against this never themselves need to ask for help. Asking, doing, and receiving has been one of the most beautiful acts of grace I've ever been blessed with. In my life.
This year I've learned about generosity, and not just financial in nature. And this generosity has changed me, has changed the way I think about myself and my journey. I'm starting to liberally practice the pay-it-forward mentality that should be what governs little pieces of my life, and I'm seeing what a quiet impact it can have on the world. Reaching out a hand to help someone for no reason at all, not wanting any attention or payback, just wanting to extend grace into the world - this is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago. There is a difference between writing a check every year to donate money to charity and actually spending time in sincerely selfless acts. Learning this lesson has been good for my soul.
This year I've learned about tragedy. That no matter how much you love your family, you can't shield them from the world, or from themselves. I've never been so scared as the nights that I sat straight up in bed after coming home from visiting Graham, silent in the dark, unable to move or even blink. I've never felt so helpless as the day I sat on the floor and he couldn't even drag himself out onto my lap because of the drugs that were dulling his pain. And people repeat and quote constantly, tell the people in your life that you love them now, don't wait, but it has never resonated so clearly with me as it did at that moment. Had I told him? Did he know?
This year I've learned about friendship. I've learned that no matter how much you want relationships to work, sometimes you lose. And even more importantly, that's okay. Just like you can't make someone love you, you can't force someone to grow up and learn lessons of their own, to be nurtured through experiencing tough times instead of fleeing. You can't even look at someone at say, this is what you need or this is what you SHOULD do. All you can do is be yourself, the best possible version of yourself, and know that relationships grow and change and fall away. Sometimes it's right that it's so hard, and sometimes it's right when your paths no longer are traveling in the same direction.
This year I've learned about cultivating a very different kind of strength. Not the throwing-a-piano kind of strength, but a strength that is more like will, that is iron in your backbone from your brain all the way down. This was not a year that was filled with wall-to-wall joy. This year was hard, and there was struggle and hardship and many nights of angry tears. But the strength begins to develop from brushing off the hits that sometimes feel like they will never stop coming, and finding a way to continuously move forward, even if it means dragging yourself by your fingernails while rocks rain down on your upturned face.
This year I've learned that I still have very little idea about what I want out of the world. I've learned that I can no longer tolerate high levels of stress at the expense of my own health and my family, and I'm not willing to sacrifice those things for a paycheck. That leaves me staring at an uncertain future, a clear path that has suddenly turned murky and is unrecognizable. But I've learned that I am no longer afraid of a future filled with question marks.
This year I've learned about peace. I can look back and reduce the past twelve months to some very quick moments. My dog was sick. My calf was torn. I finished an ironman. But these events are not simple flashes of time, they are rumbles in the foundation of my life. They are the flags in the ground at the moments of change, but they do not even begin to describe the effects that have rippled through the essential roots of who I am.
I've learned a lot of lessons this year, but I think the truest one I've learned is that I'm not done learning, in the fiercest and most sincere understanding of the word. I'm not done growing, I'm not done figuring out life. I'm going to keep making mistakes, I'm going to keep doing things wrong and falling flat on my face and offending people by accident and snapping at my husband when I am stressed out and never ever remembering to call someone back. Looking back on year ago, I told myself that where I was, that moment in time: that was what life was like when it was really, really good. This year wasn't like that. This year was painful and had moments that were much lower than the highs were high. But it hurts to grow, it stings to change, and it is a struggle to burst out of your old cocoon and into the person you were meant to be. And while the surface of my life may be covered with raw new skin, underneath those delicate flaps, the framework is stiffening into steel. I know, more firmly than ever, what is important to me, what I stand for, and what really matters. And if nothing else, your journey through life should be that clear. Taking step after step forward, no matter how small, but chasing the deepest desires of your heart, and discarding the rubble that has no purpose. That is what I stand for, that is the person I want to be, someone who loves fiercely and whose laughter rings through the house and who elevates the people around her instead of always looking for ways to yank the football away. I am still chasing that person, but someday, with a lot of luck, she will be me.
I love you. Happy Birthday.