I turned thirty-three a couple of weeks ago. It was, in many respects, a completely ordinary Thursday: I brewed a cup of tea and ate a scone for breakfast, spent my commute reading, walked across Harvard Yard to Morning Prayers before heading to the office.
From there, the day unfolded as so many of them do: full of emails, tasks, small triumphs and frustrations, along with the two standing meetings I have on Thursdays. I walked many of my favorite, familiar paths through Harvard Square, from the Yard to the office to Darwin’s and back again, going about my day under a vivid, arching, bold blue sky.
The day also felt special in some ways: my husband and several sweet friends made sure I felt celebrated, and my colleagues fêted me (between meetings) with croissants and a card they had all signed. One of the joys of social media is receiving birthday wishes from friends near and far, and I checked in a few times during the day to savor those. My parents were visiting from Texas, so they treated J and me to dinner at Pomodoro in the North End.
Last year on my birthday, I was in my fourth month of job hunting: frustrated, lonely, tired, deeply sad. I hadn’t yet landed the temp gig that would lead to the job I have now, and I was struggling mightily with my sense of identity and self-worth. So this year, when a friend asked why I was at work on my birthday, I was able to tell her: coming to work that day was exactly what I wanted.
My friend Lindsey wrote a couple of years ago that her fortieth birthday was all about real life: simple tasks and routines, family dinner, daily joys. Her words resonated in my head this year as I answered email, wrote and rewrote to-do lists, talked with colleagues about work projects and politics, and slipped away to Darwin’s at lunchtime for black bean soup and chitchat with my people there. I sat on a bench outside later that afternoon, sipping an iced tea and taking deep breaths to clear my head. And I thought, again, of Lindsey’s words: more of this.
Thirty-three is a place both rich and demanding: I have responsibilities at work, church and home, which often means trying to juggle a lot of balls. Thirty-three is gradually learning to ask for help with the juggling. Thirty-three is grateful that my husband and others are willing to step up and help me – but I still have to ask, and keep asking.
Thirty-three is speaking up more often, stretching out to take up a bit more space in this world. Thirty-three is leaning into my daily routines, my trusted relationships, my work neighborhood, and treasuring them all while leaving room for surprises.
Thirty-three is reading a lot of books and blogs (always) but also learning to step away from the constant information barrage: to take a long walk with my thoughts for company, or sit outside watching the sky.
Thirty-three is more aware of this world’s heartache than I’ve ever been, and also asking what I can do to make a small daily difference where I am.
Thirty-three is doing a lot of listening, and also a lot of talking, about the big questions: vocation and adulthood, politics and faith, marriage and friendship. Thirty-three also knows that the small things can save our lives every single day.
Thirty-three is growing more confident in my own skin, more accepting of my flaws (and other people’s), more and more grateful for this rich, messy, heartbreaking, quietly miraculous life.