One month until the birthday.

In exactly one month, I’ll be thirty-eight years old. That’s hard to believe considering how clearly I remember eighteen. What used to feel like inching towards forty now feels like I’m racing towards it full speed ahead.  When did so much time pass?

Every year around my birthday, I swing from the highs of birthday lunches, dinners, flowers, gifts, and joy to the lows of contemplation, fear and shock. I broadcast the fact of my birthday, but I broadcast equally my horror where it is concerned. Right now, I’m feeling the contemplation come more heavily, earlier in the process.

Thirty-eight sounds old.  But I don’t feel old.  I feel like this.

I love this picture. First of all, I think I was a really cute kid. I’ll spare you the wide array of baby photos of myself that I just adore. This one, though, taken when I was three, captures me.  I was a kid who often sat quietly doing my own thing, totally unaware that anyone was watching. I never cared much for what I wore. I often had messy hair. I remember laughing a ton and reading even more. And I remember that my mind worked constantly, thinking big and thinking of what comes next. I don’t know what I was planning right in this moment, but I see a plan in my eyes.  I see a patience for the right opportunity to make my move.  It captures who I was then and who I think I will always be.

I don’t see myself as thirty-eight years old.  I’m just a very mature three.

The Abundance of Thursday and Friday.

I am equal parts excited and exhausted. I could stay up all night working on the cool projects in front of me, or I could pass out instantly right this minute. My mind is headed one way, and my body another.  Somehow this weekend, I need to work and write a speech for Toastmasters and see some friends and family and actually get some rest. The weekend before me feels loaded.  The days behind me were rich. Rich and wonderful.

Wonderful things:

My Aunt Sony and cousin Matt have had plans to come here for Thanksgiving. Yesterday morning, I learned that my other cousin Tina and her children will be spending Thanksgiving with us, too. Tina has three gorgeous children, the youngest of which is her Mini-Me.  Their names are Brendan, Darren and Ella.

They are stunning, right?  I’ve never met Ella.  This Thanksgiving, I get to have the four of them in my home, and I can’t wait. I’m so grateful that they, Sony and Matt wanted to spend their Thanksgiving here with us.

At lunch yesterday, I got to catch up with my friend Paula.  I met Paula back in 1996 or 1997. She was my supervisor at my first law firm.  Even when we were logging pipe and indexing documents, she was my friend.  Over the years, I’ve watched her be a wife and mom and sister and lawyer and friend. Yesterday, she caught me up on things that have been happening in her life over the past few months. I won’t get into the details here, but I will say that her willingness to give of herself and her time to help her friends floors me. I love her strength and selflessness. This is a picture of us from my birthday a few years ago:

I am grateful to know her and to have had the gift of her friendship for nearly 15 years.

Austin Bat Cave hit its $25,000 Kickstarter goal three days before the deadline!  We had a board meeting last night, and I arrived at the meeting to hear that news. I am overwhelmed at how generous my friends have been. From $20 to $500, my friends stepped in and offered their support in a huge way.  Many people did. I’m proud of this organization and the people it serves. I’m grateful I get to participate in the magic of it all.

Late last night, I got to work with a friend of mine on a writing project. She is a trusted friend. She is my client. I am her client. We are friends and have been quite easily since we met years ago. We were up until 1 a.m. working, and I hardly noticed the time.  It’s a gift to get to do something you love with and for someone you love.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to have my own business and to get to work with my friends.

Today, I stepped out to the Royal Blue grocery to pick up what has become my staple lunch – a roasted sweet potato sandwich with a Nutella rice crispy treat. As I was walking back to the office, sipping my iced tea, I caught myself feeling relaxed.  Friday is a big deadline day in my office, so we’re crazy busy every Friday. Today was hectic and frustrating at times, but when I stepped out for lunch, I realized I’m comfortable where I am. It’s been a long time since I felt really comfortable at work. My comfort has everything to do with being around good people who are old friends. This office feels like home.  It’s where I started my career as a lawyer. It’s where I grew up. And though I left in 2007, I continued to love this place and the people in it. I love the familiarity of these halls.  I love that my boss feels comfortable enough with me to touch my face and ask me why it’s bruised. (Oral surgery. Not wonderful.)  I love that I can work incredibly hard but still laugh throughout the day.  I love that I know that the people around me appreciate what I do and trust me to do it well. I just love being here.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here once again.

In the last forty-eight hours, I’ve been overwhelmed by goodness. And now it’s Friday night, and I get to go home and read.  I’m sure that when I curl up on the couch with Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino, Bread and Butter will curl up with me. It’ll be something like this:

There is goodness all around me.  It’s really too much.

Reading about The Camino.

I recent wrote about having seen The Way, the new Emilio Estevez/Martin Sheen movie that is, in part, about the Camino de Santiago, a famous hike along northern Spain. Since seeing the movie, I picked up Hape Kerkeling’s I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago. I also picked up Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit and Paul Coelho’s The Pilgrimage.

Kerkerling is a German comedian. Initially, his writing felt dismissive about the journey, and his commentary felt surface and uninterested. But I continued to read because I hate stopping a book, and I’m so glad I did.  I’m nearly done now, and he seems to have fallen for the experience. He writes about highlights and frustrations, including the people he met along the way who tended to be a little bit of both. And just yesterday, I found myself underlining incessantly.

I have two favorite passages so far.  In describing how he encountered God on the Camino, Kerkerling writes:

“To encounter God, you first have to issue an invitation to Him; He does not come without being asked – a divine form of good manners.  It’s up to us.”

I’m not sure I wholly agree with the theology in that statement, but I don’t question that he’s describing his experience accurately and that alone makes it truth.  To me, the book just reads differently from that moment on.

The other passage I love involves a pilgrim he met along the way:

“She spent eight months teaching English to monks in the Dharamsala in northern India, where the Dalai Lama was living in exile, and in return a Rinpoche instructed her in Buddhist teachings.  Anything I’ve read about Buddhism is kids’ stuff in comparison to the wealth of experience she gained there, which she now generously shares with me.  Her most significant lesson from the eight months is one simple sentence from the Dalai Lama: ‘Drop the thought! When something upsets you about the job or anywhere else, just drop the thought. Don’t chew away at it, because dropping is the only way of releasing it.'”

As a master dweller, this lesson stops me cold. I dwell on everything. I worry. I think. I rethink. I imagine and reimagine.  I look at it this way and that way and try to dissect every piece of it. I journal on it and reread the entries.  I talk to myself about it and remind myself about the discussions I had.  Years later, I find myself still wondering about…just stuff.  Did he mean that?  Did I handle that correctly?  Why did she say that?  Should I care?  Could things have been different?

Drop the thought? I think that could be freeing but it would require a major rewiring of my systems. I’m not sure that much of me would remain.

I haven’t yet set foot on the Camino de Santiago but it’s already begun to change me.

Drop the thought.  Interesting.

Italy Part 3: The Colosseum

On my first full day in Rome, I visited the Colosseum. It’s a huge outdoor amphitheater where gladiators fought and people gathered for events like executions and dramas. It’s massive.

I took some notes on how this public forum was used as an execution site by pitting a gladiator against a prisoner. I noted that seating in the Colosseum depended on class.  I even stood in awe of the underground walkways that date back to the the late 70s.  Not the 1970s but 70 A.D.

But looking back on my pictures and my notes from that day, what strikes me most is the reference in my notes about the phrase “all roads lead to Rome.” Apparently, the Romans paved miles and miles of road all stemming from the center point of Rome.  It’s not clear from my notes whether the Colosseum was the center point. I think that’s what our guide was saying, but I’m not sure. What I’m clear on is that  somewhere in Rome was the equivalent of a 0 km marker, and all roads spanned out from there and led back to that point.

This image of all roads leading to Rome has been on my mind lately.  It’s comforting to think that you could have been on those roads and just turned around and found your way back to Rome. I wish we could navigate so easily today.

Where is my Rome? What is my Rome? Am I on a path to it or away from it or am I nowhere near it at all? I sometimes want fewer choices than I have. I want to know how I am supposed to be spending my time.  Who or what deserves my attention? Am I pursuing the right things?  I want the path to center to be more clear. I want at least to know that I’m on it.

This issue hit home with me today during my Toastmasters meeting.  The theme today was alter egos.  We talked about Superman and Clark Kent and such characters.  I know it was meant to be lighthearted, but it sent me into a headspin or perhaps a tailspin. I thought about who I’d want to be if I could be anyone, and I realized that I’ve spent far too many years wanting to be someone else.

In elementary school, I wanted to be Dacia. Aside from being smart and kind, she could do back handsprings all the way across the gym floor, whereas I couldn’t even manage a back walkover. In middle school, I wanted to be Kate because she had this gorgeous curly hair and could write and dance.  I felt awkward and not cute, and I spent more time talking to boys about her than anything else. In high school, I still wanted to be Dacia and Kate, but when I went to boarding school, then I wanted to be Kishie and Karyn too. Kishie could sing so beautifully, and she had the most laid back and gentle spirit about her. I’d never met anyone like her.  And Karyn had the determination of a real athlete and the scars to prove it. I watched her swim and envied her grace in the water. I watched her in the minutes and sometimes hours before her race and envied her focus on the task at hand. And outside of the pool, she struck me as both strong and accessible.  She taught me to journal and opened my world up to music I had never heard.  I can still see us listening to the Alarm’sSpirit of ’76 and watching her gesture the act of carving out a future with her two bare hands. What a song. Karyn introduced me to it. I wanted to be her.

Even today, I want to be Dacia, Kate, Kishie, Karyn and a number of other women I’ve met along the way.  I love these women, and I love the lives they have built – the families they have built. They have marriages and children and jobs they love and do well. I know we all struggle in our own ways, but I feel like they’re in Rome, and I’m out on some random road wondering which direction Rome is and whether I even belong there.

At some point, I need to get comfortable with just being Taline.  And at some point I need to believe that “just” doesn’t belong in that sentence.  It’s hard though.  I’ve had nearly thirty-eight years of practice at wanting to be someone else. It’ll take me time to break that habit. Maybe lots of time.

[deep breaths]

All roads lead to Rome, huh? Maybe. But I guess I need to remember also that Rome wasn’t built in a day.