On Diving into Life

Tuesday, August 2, 2016 • 5:41 a.m. EST

Sometimes getting older helps us see our most vulnerable truths.

I awoke to a dream of trying on clothes in an almost-abandoned mall. The store sold clothes specifically made for people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. I couldn’t really figure out why, as the condition doesn’t lend itself to needing specific clothes; quite the opposite. Most people would never be able to tell from the outside, the exterior, that I struggle with an autoimmune condition.

Regardless, I was trying on beautiful blue and gray dresses with long knit sweaters over them. They were perfect, my size, and on sale. I was walking back into the cavernous dressing rooms that felt like a behind-the-scenes place when I woke up, 5:07 a.m., ready for the day.

Like the good ole’, prednisone-fueled times, I thought to myself.

Earlier this week I started my annual birthday review, a walk down my brief history of celebrations and memories, from the pool party birthday days of my toe-headed youth to the first kegger my friends threw me for my 18th (sorry Dad).

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But mostly the photos from my early 20s kept resurfacing. The summer at the end of college, in my first apartment, when Lark and I spent nearly every afternoon at her pool, and the season felt as if it culminated with my 21st birthday kegger—an inebriated, music- and volleyball-filled party. I think the cops came, a few times, which felt like an accomplishment.

That moment stands out less then the moments of blissful freedom that defined those years. One song defined it best—Built to Spill’s “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” one of their 2006 releases from when I worked my afternoon radio DJ shift at WUTK, the college station.

At more than 7-minutes long, the drum- and guitar-filled jam was a rare treat to play on air. At the station, I shut the door and cranked it up in the booth as loud as it would go, thrashing around and singing to myself.

I still do that when I hear it. There’s something beautiful in not just remembering those totally bliss-filled moments, during a time of life when things were absolutely carefree. I’m so glad I experienced that. I’m so glad I can reminisce. I’m so glad I can still live so freely and with such courage.

But mostly I’m glad it’s in the past. Where I am now, whatever you want to call it, living with dreams of fun work-like clothes, waking up at 5 a.m. to listen to Otis Redding and write, and relishing in the “children” Charles and I adopted for my birthday this year—seven new cacti…those are the things I am excited about this year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to bop around, and I already have this week, to Goin’ Against Your Mind, as loudly and brashly as I did at age 20. A girlfriend recently indulged me in a multiple-cocktail daytime adventure, much like I would have in my mid-20s though with less of a hangover, and this weekend we’re going to float the Hiwassee, hopefully without the blistering burns I acquired in past years.

Nostalgia is sweet. Growing older is sweeter. Recognizing your place, on your karmic path, and finding the wisdom, and the emotional breakthroughs…and realizing, maybe for the first time, that you get to keep them all to yourself? That is the sweetest.

Visiting my Mom over the weekend, we flipped through family photos that had been my grandmothers. In one that was likely my first Christmas, Andy and Wendy, 2 and 4, were sitting beside me, looking cute with trim haircuts. I was a baby, looking drooly and somewhat satisfied in a bouncer seat. The three of us were all looking off, probably at Mom while Dad took the photo. I joked to Mom as we flipped through the photo, “Jeepers Mom, I look like I’m about to take a shit or I need to eat!” We laughed at the indistinguishable look of a baby.

Every birthday, every little shift and big experience, every breakthrough, every diagnosis is part of our path whether we like it or not. Sometimes we fly, something we can relish those sweet memories and moments. Sometimes we feel like we fail, thinking back on a year marked by disease, doctors, diagnosis and daily problems. But maybe being vulnerable and really diving into life isn’t defined by the birthday parties and memories or experiences we want to plan, but instead by the oh-shit moments that catch us off guard. Diving into life, without being able to control everything, somewhat unexpectedly, is what it’s all about.

Looking back, and looking forward
I’m receptive to the wild winds of the universe.
I’m receptive to all the shit that life throws me.
to autoimmune diseases, colds, cruddy eyes, biologics.
to mistakes and errors…
…that lead to some of life’s most beautiful discoveries.

I’m receptive to failing
I’m receptive to FLYING
to soaring
to embracing all of life’s gifts
all of the seeming failures, unmade beds, missed opportunities
that lead to breakthroughs. Gifts. Smiles. Sunshine.

I’m receptive to this karmic path.
I embrace my 30th year with a different, hopefully emotionally mature mindset.

And in so many ways, when I looked at that picture of myself, sitting among my siblings at age <1, either about to shit or needing to eat, I laugh now that not a lot has changed.

Not a lot has changed.

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