On Birthdays, Piles of Rocks & Love

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved my birthday. Truth be told, I loved my birthday for well beyond the years that I might be described as “a kid.” I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to be surrounded by friends, family and anyone I had ever met. Another year was in the books. Another year was beginning. And it was good.

At some age I don’t really remember the celebration of all things life affirming that a birthday represented changed to a reminder of all things failed. Birthdays suddenly became about lost time, lost opportunities and the brevity of life. They become deeply introspective. Painful. And even as the parties were had, I couldn’t help but feel…lost. What I hadn’t done far outweighed what I had.

And, as my birthday approached this year (yesterday), these feelings weren’t any different. If anything, they were stronger, as the number – 45 – felt incredibly daunting. I told a friend that I was in this space and he replied, “I love birthdays!” with the implication to “get over it.” I explained that while this annual mental and emotional journey was difficult – good things could result (i.e. A Day Well Lived). I was sugarcoating how I really felt, though. I didn’t think anything good was going to come from the deep, dark space into which I had crawled.

I was wrong. Again.

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with cairns – the stacks of rocks left as trail markers. I wear them around my neck. I have little stacks of rocks in my kitchen. I have two on my desk at work. The delicate balance of these rock stacks move me. I am awed by the fact that the slightest bump can bring them crashing down. Or that the strongest will stand in the worst conditions. I feel inspired as I look for the rocks to place in the stacks and challenged by the way the rocks must fit together in order to maintain balance. I sometimes feel as though each rock represents a different part of my life, and each cairn a different path.

As my birthday approached, I became intrigued by the rocks that don’t make it into the stacks. At first I thought these rocks were of little importance. After all, they didn’t make it into the stack. I must not have felt they were important. I must have felt that they would cause the balance to come crashing down. They apparently weren’t worthy. Cast aside.

As I stared at the stack of rocks that sits on a kitchen counter – perhaps my favorite one – I started to think more deeply about the other rocks. The rocks scattered around the stack. For the first time I thought that maybe they represented something tremendously important. I thought that maybe they represent choice.

I had the choice to place these rocks in the cairn. I had the choice to start another stack. I had the choice to keep them scattered about to create some kind of base. I had the choice to remember the past and feel judged (or not judged) by it, or to be inspired by my evolution. I had the choice to feel grateful or sorry for myself. These other rocks represented a kind of…freedom.

Every time I build a cairn, there’s a certain satisfaction. I feel artistic. Creative. I feel original, as, even using the exact same rocks, nobody would build the same cairn I just did. Another reason to like them so. On those occasions when they do come crashing down, I feel a tinge of sadness, as that original creation will never be repeated exactly the same. Sadness replaced by excitement over the opportunity to build again.

As I sat on the couch last night, watching some friends eat, drink, talk and laugh, I realized that I’m mesmerized by cairns because I am one. Perhaps we all are. We’re all a delicate balance of different experiences, emotions, actions, successes, failures, hopes, dreams, beliefs, evolution, passions, people and more. These are our rocks. And we stack them in differently as our needs change. Some rocks are replaced by others. Some never make the stacks, but remain in the pile of choices around the stacks. Sometimes we have multiple stacks – perhaps one for a professional life, another for family life and still another for something more personal.

But like the actual cairns that are stacked in my kitchen or my office, balance can fail and we can/I can come crashing down. And as I watched these people in my house, it dawned on me that I like it that way. I need it that way. I need to lose balance and crash. I need to rebuild. I need to be challenged by the choices of which rocks make the stack. I don’t want my cairns to last forever. I want the pain. I need the sadness. I want to feel. I need to do a better job of accepting and celebrating the successes, but that’s just part of my journey. And that’s okay.

Mostly, though, as I watched the smiles and laughter is that I need to surround myself with love. It seems obvious. For some reason, though, it’s not. I need to surround myself with love. My own. For myself. I’m good at giving it. I suck at receiving it. I’m skeptical of it. I don’t think I’m worthy of it. I hide from it. I fight it. It wasn’t always that way, but over the years, that’s how I’ve become. I deflect it. I can’t afford to do that anymore. I have to trust my friends to love me for me. My family to love me for me. The Universe.

It’s natural for people to ask, “What do you want for your birthday?” I never have an answer, but I do now. Love. Love each other. Love yourself. Allow yourself to feel it. Live it. Surround yourself with it. I dreamt all about love last night. It wasn’t about a person or an action, but the feeling. I want to live in and around love. I want my work and my life to be driven by love. This dream felt…euphoric.

I know that age is just a number, but the honest truth is that 45 feels big to me. It feels old(er) to me. And that was the fear I was facing as the hours ticked down to the “big day.” The next big one is 50. 50! When did that happen? But, right now, I don’t feel that fear. Only love. Everything else will take care of itself.

Rock on.


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