My birthday is tomorrow. I close my twenty second chapter of life and embark on my twenty third, a year that will solidly place me at the end of my early twenties, on the brink of “actual adulthood,” as I like to think of it (as opposed to all that fake adulting I’ve been doing thus far).
The past few years, my birthday has been undeniably entwined with another’s – Jenny’s. Jenny was born a day before me, but two years later. And she was called home to God far too early, if you ask for my selfish opinion although, as always, I’m sure He had His reasons.
Every (recent) year, I’ve looked at the first two days of August as a chance to reflect, recharge, and redirect. It’s more of a New Year to me than the first of January, since this really marks the start of my next cycle around the sun. And I’ve begun to use these days to ask myself: am I living life to the fullest?
I don’t ask myself that in a glamorous, or cheesy way. I ask myself that in a reflective way. I ask myself that to ensure that I am doing everything I can to be the best reflection of God that I can be, to be the best version of myself.
Granted, that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I’m inherently flawed as a human, and that means that I will, inevitably, make mistakes. Needless to say, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes during my 22nd year, and I’m sure I’ll make just as many, if not more, in my next year.
But if there’s one thing I definitely learned this year, it’s that being the best version of yourself doesn’t mean you are constantly living perfectly. It just means that, as those unavoidable mistakes come around, you learn from them. You grow from them. You recognize the error of your ways, acknowledge the lesson, and forgive yourself. If you hurt someone, you apologize. If you forget something, you do better next time. You take what happened and you embed it in yourself as a learning experience, a seed that will take root and grow and eventually, the lesson that came from the mistake will become an inherent part of who you are.
I’ve learned a lot in the past year about loyalty, love, and loss. If I had to pick three takeaways, those would be them. I learned that to be loyal, you sometimes have to do the hard thing, because otherwise, you’ll do something really stupid that will end up hurting someone even more. I learned that to love, you have to truly let your guard down, and become a person you didn’t know you were capable of being, but who might be the truest version of yourself to date. I learned that loss is a heartbreaking truth of life, but that so much love (and loyalty) are found in that season of grief.
And now, on Jenny’s birthday, I look back at those lessons and I ask myself: have I become a better version of myself in the past year? I like to think that I have. Some people may not, and probably won’t, agree with me. But they aren’t the people I’m worried about. The people whose opinions I cherish most are the people who have helped me get to this stage of life, who have been the building blocks upon which I’ve built the most rock-solid foundation I’ve ever had.
On August 1, I like to think about what I’m doing to enrich my life, and those around me. That’s what Jenny did, and continues to do. My memories of her may be brief, but they are so, so bright. She is a light in my life, and a guiding beacon of hope. She may no longer be here on Earth, but her spirit – that spunky, sassy spirit – has never faded.
Jenny didn’t get to toast her twenty first, but I sure as hell can.
So here’s to you, J. To your light, to your sparkle. Thank you for being my guardian angel, and for constantly being my motivation to do better, be better. You may not have gotten the years that you deserved, but in your honor, I pledge to continue focusing on fulfillment – of my own life, and of others.
I hope you’re eating cake for breakfast and jumping on trampolines made of clouds.