A very dear friend of mine is celebrating a birthday today. She has inspired more than a few posts here on the blog and helped to reshape my very idea of friendship. She is very graciously wrapping up her 35th year of life, and in my opinion, the years have been well invested. That’s not to say they have been without struggle, but it’s evident by the people that surround her she is well respected and deeply loved by those who know her.
The moment gave me cause to stop and think again about milestones in our lives. What makes one? How do we mark them? Why do they matter? Milestones and moments of “coming of age” are important in the lives of our children and vary from culture to culture – from bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs to quinceaneras and sweet sixteens. Wedding anniversaries, years on a job, the first day of school (and the endless photos we parents subject our Facebook friends and Instagram followers to), the last day of school, the loss of a first tooth – all moments we mark in our lives and the lives of those we love.
I am regularly hanging out with people who celebrate milestones from the day they stopped dying. Alcohol or drugs had so consumed their lives that the moment they broke free of them became just as, if not more significant than they day they came into this world in the first place. Most of them will tell you that even after years or decades of freedom from addiction, they still celebrate most deeply the last 24 hours – or every morning they wake up in their own home and not in a strange bed, on a street corner or in a jail.
I have personally marked April 12, 2015 as the day the difference between self-care and desperate people-pleasing finally clicked in my head. It’s not the day I “mastered” the practice of it – still waiting on that milestone (not really, just seeking progress, not perfection) – but it’s the day it all made sense and a new journey began. I mark milestones in days free of depression – when I get ready for bed and realize in hindsight that I have been at peace the majority of the day, despite whatever circumstances have hit me.
We celebrate things in our lives that mean something to us, that contribute to who we are now and who we are becoming. One of the next milestones in my friend’s life will be when we get to call her “Dr.” as she finishes the requirements for her PhD. As much as that will celebrate what she has accomplished, it will look with great hope and anticipation to what she has in store and the great impact she will continue to have on so many lives. The years we mark as we observe our birthdays are much the same. We celebrate what has transpired and passed, but we look with great excitement all that is yet to come.
Happy birthday, my friend – and to all of us who are privileged celebrate another one – however we may choose to mark it.
(And yes, incase you were wondering it is exactly this line of thinking that makes me the life of any birthday party!)