Happy Birthday and Happy Journey

I stand in front of an aqua Atlantic ocean, my feet in the sand of Miami’s South Beach, and wait for Julie, one of my much-loved college roommates, to emerge from her brief swim. Kristi is next to me, another college friend – a person I knew enough to appreciate while we were in school and have grown to adore now in our years since graduation – our common Louisiana roots and shared California residence bonds us for life. Lori and Tossy have beach chairs waiting for us. These women are my touchstones, all of them – rocks so I can sit or climb or lean and know I am supported by something real in this lifetime.

I almost didn’t make this trip to Miami.

I thought maybe it’s a stone I don’t need to touch this year. These friendships are so central to me that they defy time and space. They are part of my personal atmosphere. Which means they will be there whether I make it to Miami or not.

It seems ridiculous now, in front of the blue and below the sun, that I would hesitate. It is the year of extreme travel for our family, and I am getting clearer about my priorities. I am finally, after all of these years, applying one of my hardest life lessons: I can’t do it all. And when I thought I couldn’t do Miami, I called Julie and heard her voice and decided that I could. I had to. And so here I am, wrapping a towel around Julie’s shoulders and walking by her side back to a ring of 30+ women who graduated from my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, and have gathered to collectively celebrate our 40th birthday.

There are actually 50 women in total, in Miami, here to reunite and reminisce and recognize that despite our failed attempts over our college years, we were, indeed, growing up together. I don’t know all of the women. I’ve been seeing faces in the lobby and at the pool and I’m not sure if they are familiar because we passed each other daily in the freshmen dormitory, shower caddies in hand, or we shared a math study group or maybe a sorority pledge class or just a quick smoke in line anxiously awaiting the bouncer’s approval (or denial).

Many of the women I call friends – and that may mean we stayed up all night talking about a boy or editing each other’s papers or it may mean we flew to someone’s hometown to meet her parents or it may only mean we were friendly on the dance floor at an off-campus party, but that counts. It all counts. Because it was our job. Go to class. Learn. Make friends. Live. We had no idea how great we had it.

Except we do now.

The sun sets on our circle. Susan is talking about how she misses her mom, who passed five years ago too soon. Christina pours me another cup of white wine. It feels like no time has passed and lifetimes have gone by. We are all so the same but somehow way more present, no longer lurking behind who we think we should be – we are sitting up straight and close together in who we are.

We are done with trying to belong. We just know that we do.

This belonging is not a membership to a club or a clique or a love affair or an area of study or a hometown or a team or a career path. It’s not a belonging outside of ourselves.

We’ve lived long enough to belong to Life, our own life.

We’ve committed to experiences we can’t take back. We’ve fallen in love with people we can’t live without. We’ve changed our minds and backtracked and forged on again and in doing, tread a road that is specifically our own, and now we sit in reverence to our common ground. And in that way, we belong to each other.

I think this is what healing the world looks like.

I’ve been trying to figure out what 40 means. I am one month into the decade and ready for my insight. Give me the download. Maybe it will lead to one of those quippy lists that go viral online and I can be the writer who moves readers closer to some sort of distilled and hilarious and illuminating truth.

That hasn’t happened, yet.

Something else has: when it’s time to leave Miami, I miss my flight.

I look at the arrival time in California and think it is the departing time in Florida. It is not my proudest moment as a self-reliant “adult” woman with a gaggle of children anxiously awaiting her return home, but it’s also not completely surprising. So, I deal. I cry. Then, I deal. And get hopeful that somehow these stand-by hours will bring me closer to some sort of distilled and hilarious and illuminating truth – about anything.

And so, it’s during my 8th hour in the Miami International Airport when I hear a young woman a few feet away from me declare, “21 is a big birthday!” I glance up. She is standing among a pod of college kids, some sitting, some lying down – they are layered and overlapping, all arms and legs, men and women. Her pink cheeks are full and round and there is a smattering of acne around her jawline that moves up and down with her vigorous gum chewing.

She digs her hands into the pocket across the belly of her hooded gray sweatshirt that says Chapman University, “I think 22 is pretty fun, too.” Her friends nod. “And then you hit 30 and it’s like, you know, you’re old… you’re over the hill.”

That’s funny! I’m sure I said something (a lot of things) ridiculous like that when I was her age. I had no idea. She has no idea. I am her. She is me.  She doesn’t know, I didn’t know, you hit 30 and you are just starting to climb. And if you make it to 40, it’s a big birthday. It’s bigger than 21.

Because you’re not over the hill, you’re on top of it.

Invite your girlfriends, make a circle, take a seat and face each other, hearts in, pause and listen. You are beating, in perfect time, to your specific gratitude that feels unique and universal at once. You are here and you can decide to belong. You are beautiful and strong, full of wounds healed and some opening. You look better than you did at 21 because you’ve had a life and it means something and it’s worth something. You are capable. You’ve earned it. You’ve contributed and fallen short. You’ve made headway and failed miserably. You are still trying and learning how to trust – because that’s a daily endeavor – until you trust that your ability to try is your ability to trust. You are just getting started.

Except this time, the journey is not about moving up, it’s about moving in. Closer to yourself, more deeply connected to one another.

I’ve made a decision about my age: forty looks like a circle and feels like a prayer. It is the sun setting on everything you can’t remember from your youth and everything you do – it is the North Star rising into the great hope for all that you want to embrace and know on the over side of the hill.

Thank you, Miami.  Thank you, circle and love and life and getting this far.

Happy Birthday and Happy Journey!

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13 comments to Happy Birthday and Happy Journey

  • Jessica

    You so eloquently described exactly how I felt at our Miami reunion…so much stronger and centered and appreciative of life’s blessings and struggles. The time together was such a gift and I hope we continue to experience each other as we grow and learn more about life and ourselves and each other. We just have to keep choosing to be together, and I know I’ll feel like you did when deciding to come to this trip next year, I can’t not go. Thank you for the awesome blog!

    • jessica, how fun to connect with you and share the weekend. thank you for reading!!! feels great that you can relate to those feelings, too – that’s the most fun part about blogging, the instant connection that is made possible. sending you and your family so much love…xoxo

  • Yaya

    Just beautiful and so profound, Paige! As I readjust to the real world after Miami, I haven’t been able to put into words how I felt about being with everyone last weekend. Thank you for doing so!!! You perfectly captured everything my heart feels about all of you lovely women! Xoxoxo

  • Ann

    My favorite post of yours so far….you nailed it. Not only for someone turning 40 but for everyone at any age. You have such a gift Paige. Not only with words but listening, taking it all in and then turning it in to such thoughtful, wise insights that anyone can connect to – love it!

  • susie

    Dear Paige,

    I loved this so much. I am 68 and still feel like I am learning life’s lessons with my many blessings ….of which you are a huge blessing to me. Your writing and thoughts are so awesome and I loved the paragraphs of “not trying to belong” and “living life and belonging to each other.” To me that says it all that we do belong to each other-meaning we are present for each other and to help each other……I am thinking that is the greatest “belonging” there could be. I wish I had you as my friend when I was 40 to be on my journey but I am so very grateful you are part of my life now. Anyway, I wish you so much success in NYC and wish I could be there. I love you and Boyd and your children, Happy 40th…..take care, XO susie

    • Susie, thank you for commenting and being here with these posts! I love your voice and your heart and hearing all of your ideas – you are the BEST. Thank you for being an awesome friend…love you!! xox

  • Kim

    Wow! I have tears in my eyes. You captured every thought I had about our Miami weekend. Beautifully worded. Our college years were so fun. We learned, we laughed and we lived. And now at 40, the circle continues. This is 40!! Xo

  • Leila-Scott

    Amen, Paige. I am so glad we had a moment to connect on Sunday and hope there’s more to come!
    Sending tons of appreciation your way, LS

  • Cried. Cried. Cried. I love it when you speak the to the truth of women’s lives, Paige. This is such a moving piece. As you put your words down on the page, I feel my soul open up and feel more compassion for my own journey. One of my favorite gems of your wisdom: “You are still trying and learning how to trust – because that’s a daily endeavor – until you trust that your ability to try is your ability to trust. You are just getting started.” Sending you love and gratitude Paige. Keep on writing! xoxo T

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