A Birthday Tradition
For the last four years, I’ve been writing birthday blogs to myself. I suppose it’s now become a bit of a tradition, to share what’s on my mind, some upcoming goals, and what’s new in my life. So, in the spirit of tradition, I hope you enjoy this post on the eve of my twenty-sixth birthday.
The good thing about keeping a public journal, is that if I’m ever curious to know what I was thinking about at any given time in the past few years, I can just go back to my blog and read my entries from those dates. In time-hopping so seamlessly, the gradual, unnoticeable changes in day-to-day life, become more like gaping portals to forgotten past selves. Thus, in reading last year’s birthday post, I can confirm the old saying, “What a difference a year makes” to be one-hundred percent accurate.
Twenty-six-year-old Brian is in a much better place than twenty-five-year-old Brian. Last year, my housing situation, career prospects, and personal relationships were all at relative low-points. I even remember taking myself out to dinner to eat alone, and writing in my notebook that I was sorry; because I must have done something to anger the universe for so many different components of my life to be simultaneously unraveling.
Maybe the universe accepted my apology that night. Because slowly but surely, I’ve turned around every single one of those areas in my life, and now I’m left only with feelings of gratitude, to fill the remaining blank pages of my journals.
Last year, probably as a result of my feeling so helpless to control my somewhat gloomy external circumstances, I wrote about turning my gaze inwards toward something I could actually control, myself:
When you place the mastery of yourself as the central drama of your life, it suddenly becomes a much more difficult, and never ending challenge. I can always be more generous to people, more patient, thoughtful, useful, and so on. Additionally, by working on myself, I’m not placing the contentment with life on any other person or thing, as this is far too burdensome, and my own responsibility. Realizing this has taken time. But working on my life through the practice of mindful introspection has been, thus far, very rewarding.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, whether it’s through my own experiences or those of my friends and family, it’s that you absolutely can't control what happens to you. And not only can you not manipulate these external forces, they just so happen to behave like quicksand, in that the more you struggle and resist, the deeper you sink into harm. Thus, my cathartic quarter-life realization was a dramatic refocusing of my energy, from things outside my capacity to influence, to the very simple truth that the only thing I really can control every day is my own perspective on life. Twenty-five was less of a glory-filled conquering of the world and more like a surrender to the flowing nature that is, being alive.
My futile attempts to bend reality to my liking, has led to the ultimate humbling of ego. In the last line of Saint Francis’ prayer, it says, “It’s in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.” I think it’s exactly this kind of “surrendering” that Francis is writing about. We can’t reverse the arrow of time, we can’t help but grow old, and we can change our fate no more than a floating leaf along a rolling river.
Life is an exposure. We expose our true selves to those we love, we give our greatest efforts to our biggest sources of meaning, we share our deepest secrets with our closest companions, and we give the best years of our lives to those who will someday breathe life to our names long after we’re gone. Everything we try so desperately to hide, only ultimately ever hides us.
So this year, having accepted the fact that I can’t always control what people think, or what unexpected hurdles will inevitably get thrown my way, or even what shortcomings I may possess; I am liberated. Not because I don’t care, but because resisting the quicksand only makes it worse.
I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to celebrate another magical year on Earth. I’m grateful for the wonderful readers of this blog. And I’m grateful for the privilege to “expose” myself to you through the practice of writing. This blog has changed my life in so many wonderful ways. I’ve learned about the world, become friends with some of you, but most of all, I’ve gotten to know myself. So, here’s to another year of adventures, of good days, bad days, and all that comes with it.
Tomorrow I’ll be twenty-six. I’ll go to work, eat dinner, and go to bed, just like you. To everybody around me, it will be just another day. But for me, it marks another lap, another chance to reflect, and another opportunity to celebrate the person I’ve become. I’ll never be perfect, but I’ve learned how to surrender to the current, and find meaning along the way. So with that, all I have left is to say is thank you for reading, and I hope today is as special to you as it is to me.