Twenty Eight Years

Twenty eight years ago today, at 7:25pm, as a gentle snow was falling outside, I came into the world.

A lot has happened since then. For me, my birthday, more than New Year’s, or some other date, is about self-reflection, self-assessment, a wholesale examination of my goals, my values, and my success in reaching my goals and honoring my values.

Fall is my favorite season, not only due to the mood and tone of Halloween and Thanksgiving, not just for the fall color and the smell of impending winter. The year runs in cycles- birth, growth, degeneration and death. People run in cycles too. Not with the calendar, per say, but on a general regular cycle of birth, growth, degeneration, death, and rebirth. This cycle is essential to growth, to furthering ourselves as people. Fight it as hard as you can, but you battle in vain. Cycles of life are inevitable. Just as the branches bear that new lime green growth in early spring, and the leaves stretch to the sky in the summer, before drying out and showing the stress of the year in their color, then falling to the ground and the tree lays dormant until it is safe again to sprout new growth, people experience the same cycle of change and rebirth.

Winter reminds me that although something looks dead, it is probably just lying dormant until it is safe to sprout new growth. That comforts me, as it gives me permission, when I need to, to lay dormant, to stop growing, to wait for better conditions. I know in the core of my soul that the breeze will blow warm one morning, and I’ll see fit to put out new growth.

The fall, though, is the most important part of the cycle. We don’t mourn the loss of the leaves. We celebrate their last hurrah, the last show of color and life before death. As they fall away, they open up new views. Things we couldn’t see with the leaves in the way. All of a sudden the light comes in where it didn’t before, at new angles. The days grow shorter, so these bursts of light are short lived, but if we aren’t too busy, we can see things in an entirely different manner- in that new light. So the degeneration, for me, sets the stage for dormancy- for examining those new angles, for seeing the trees without the leaves. There is a clarity there, that if properly captured, provides a lot to think about while waiting for the warm winds of spring. There is great beauty in death- all shades and kinds of death- as it strips away anything lacking meaning and worth.

Today, as I look back on where I started from, how I got here, and where exactly I am, there is a great deal of satisfaction and contentment. I have found my professional calling and am in hot pursuit of it. These opportunities; both to have the position I do and to be able to pursue my education, they mean the world to me. I have a home, a real house that is mine, a community to lay down roots in, to belong and to feel belonging. A place of permanence and security. Lest it feel cold and empty, I have a wonderful husband to share it with. Our house can’t hold all the love we have for each other. We are soul mates, truly, not only because I believe that we were meant to be together, but because we have decided to be soul mates. That’s how lucky I am- my husband will do whatever it takes to be and stay my soul mate, and he appreciates the significance of it. I adore that man, I always have, and my biggest complaint about him has always been not having his undivided attention when I wanted or expected it. There’s a deep longing for it, for him, for that connection, for the expression of that connection. It can’t be achieved half-heartedly. I am a successful, blessed woman. Surely, I don’t deserve most of what I have. Then again, maybe, just maybe, I do.

So, in that I have a career, a house and a husband, at 28 years old, I have more than some people ever have. What kind of goals can I set at this point? Looking at my bare branches, seeing my trunk in the fleeting fall light, I can see things. Things to reach for, things to try, to want. There is an excitement in that, and also a feeling of ungratefulness- that with all I have, I still want more.

What do I want? I want a more concrete sense of self. An identity and self concept that stretch far beyond being someone’s wife, friend, employee, daughter, student, sister. There is a level of knowing yourself, the core of your being, that escapes me. I cannot reach it. To some extent it will always be, as we are always evolving, always cycling through, and it’s hard to shoot a moving target. Yet, there is a sense of security, of stillness, and a mixture of pride and humility that comes from greater self-awareness. That is what I want. What I crave.

My mother always told me that it was her job to raise me for others to love. That it was my job to be the type of person that other people could and would love. That I shouldn’t do this, or say that, or act this way, because people didn’t like it. Not because it was wrong. Not because it was not who I was, but because it would hamper affection for me. No one likes a tattletale. No one likes a crybaby. No one likes a sore loser. No one likes a chatty Cathy. No one likes a Polly Pouter. I have to raise you for others to love, and even if you hate me because of it, if I’ve raised you so that others love you, I’ve done my job. She meant it. She meant every word. What she saw in it, I see there as well. Judgments are made every second, and any behavior not sanctioned by the white-gloved rule writers can make the difference.

But. But. But. I have worried and cried and wondered and hoped and obsessed, and tried, and chased, and played hard to get, and played dead courting other’s love. I have measured my self worth by the number of people who love me, by how much they love me, by how much time and effort and money and energy they put into loving me. I have always been caught up about my birthday and what is or is not done, because to me that was a very real sign of my station in life. I was raised for others to love. More love means I’m successful. Less love, not enough love, quiet love, weak love, cheap love, casual love is failure. Failure. If you don’t love me, I am a failure. I was raised for others to love. If you don’t love me, what have I done wrong?

This is not the greatest world view for an important reason that I cannot ignore, even if it isn’t the focus here. I love my friends and family. I appreciate them for who they are as people, outside and above how much they love me. I work hard at letting people know how much I love them. I must admit, though, that I am not as aware of them and their feelings as I could be, and there is always something selfish about my love- I give it to receive it. There are other reasons, good reasons, but that is always a part of my motivation, and it isn’t pure, and I hate that.

Beyond that, though, beyond a love that is far from perfect, because the giver and the receiver (but particularly the giver!) are far from perfect, there’s something so much more basically destructive and painful.

I don’t know who I am, because I am so busy worrying about what you think of me, and whether you love me, and how much, that I am whoever you want or need me to be. I am whoever I need to be at that moment, to win your love and approval, to bond with you, to be the girl her mother raised “for others to love”.

So, this year, I want to be the girl that loves. I want to love you, blindly, carelessly, without strings, without doubt and fear and the specter of rejection and failure. I want to love myself. Particularly, especially, mostly when others find it hard. When I need it the most. When it is most dangerous. I want to love myself and love you so much that I am happy whether or not you give a rat’s ass.

That’s what I want for my birthday this year.

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5 Responses

  1. Happy birthday (yesterday)! I hope you get what you want 🙂

  2. Great post. I hope you find what you are looking for and are able to spend sometime with yourself and the person you want to be this year.

    Happy Birthday

  3. …and I hope you get everything you want!
    Happy Birthday Cat!
    I love you!

  4. Thanks everyone! 🙂

  5. Wow, I love this post. I can relate. I was raised with ‘people won’t like you if you do this or that’ and you end up with the wrong priorities. Why do I waste my time caring whether random people like me or not? These days I just care that my husband loves me!

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