“You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

-from “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann

And here we are again, another year later, me reflecting on the wonder that is my miniscule existence on such a vast, diverse planet that is still so. small. when you look up at the stars. Seriously though, I used to associate birthdays with making decisions and people asking me “what I wanted” and me never having an answer–from a very young age, I didn’t understand why I needed to want something? I was so content, just me in my own vast world that only required my imagination and my openness to experience. I realize this is a privileged stance, to not be aware of any pressing need, but I think it is so noteworthy to remember how I felt when presented with the culture’s norms for the first time. Why was it so weird that I didn’t want to sit down and write a list of things that I wanted? What I really loved about birthdays and what I looked forward to every year was my whole family gathering around our huge, shiny oak table in the dining room that we only used on special occasions (and for fort-making). I liked how I got to sit in the velvet Queen chair at the head of the table, with my puppy in my lap, and spend the evening in fits of laughter with my siblings. I liked how my Noni came over to spend the evening with us, and I’d listen to her lovely Spanish lilt tell me about that hot Alabama summer when I was born while my dad made her a cup of the darkest espresso to go with her slice of cake. Every year since my parents built their dream home with that shiny oak table, we have repeated this ritual, and although I’m not at home-home on my exact birth date this year, I know that soon I will be. And my family will gather and celebrate this year that I have been given.

My 21st year has been incredibly uplifting, bringing a lightness and an agency to my young adult life that I had yet to experience. I am so humbled every day that I am on this earth – I am a learner, a seeker, a pursuer of the flames. Not with the aim to passively feel the heat but rather to create the spark. One of my recent goals has been to just start doing the things that roll through my list-obsessed brain throughout the day. Not the daily to-do list that requires checking off “send this email, buy avocados, pack that tupperware, Clorox wipe my counter” (yeah, Clorox wipes, calm down, I’m not tryna full-blown adult yet). I’m more focused on acting on my heart-felt impulses–those urges that come from my true self deep down, like that voice that tells me I’d really like to walk across the street to admire that person’s garden. That inkling to go on a walk with no destination. That thought that maybe I should message that person and tell them how much I appreciate their friendship. Stuff like that – I’ve just been doing them. And let me tell you, it feels good. And it helps me feel like an active contributor to the world, like I’m making moves and shifting time and having an impact just by walking on the other side of the street (some real Pay It Forward, everything-has-a-connection type ish). I think it is all about living less out of habit and more out of intent.

This year has brought me to another side of the world, quite literally. I’ve been confronted with my ignorance head-on, forced to grapple with my privilege and the overwhelming need out there. I want to see and to help and to use the leg-up I was born with to booster those that weren’t. As I learn my strengths, and come to accept my weaknesses, I am motivated to sharpen my abilities even further. At this point in my life, if there is one thing I know I want for sure, it is that I want to be able to open my arms and say to the world: Here is what I have to give. It is the very best of me – my true self, without compromise, without guilt. How can I help? And in addition, I desire to know when to be quiet and just listen, to learn and be humbled and question my existing beliefs.

My heart has been changed by my experiences abroad. I have thought deeply about what exactly it was that triggered a change, what about my time in another country has so profoundly shifted not only my worldview, but also my self-concept. And I don’t think it was actually any one big thing – I must have been in the right position and right time in my life to accept whatever riches this new life experience had to offer, and I also won’t deny the magic I have found in a city that speaks to me on so many different levels.

My twenty-first year was one that grounded me in a world so much bigger than my restrictive mind. It has opened me up to light and given me a mirror to shine this light on others. I want to have a generous spirit, I want to be a conduit of joy. I would like my energy to be receptive to all that others have to teach and give me. I don’t want to view myself as an end-all-be-all, an earthly being focused solely on this body here and now. I found so much inspiration in a mantra I heard repeated in a talk by Nathalie Croix, yoga & meditation master. She says one of her favorite teachers always told her, “You are not the water, you are the faucet.” It gives me much more purpose and drive to think of myself merely as another cog in a much bigger wheel, where I move and connect with others and my purpose is found in the push and pull.

But more than anything, I am just so damn grateful for another birthday. I recently listened to a podcast where Sheena Mannina of Raw Republic highlighted the merits of “expressing gratitude and appreciation for this existence that you’ve been given.” How simply beautiful. So much of life nowadays seems to be centered around a “winning” mentality, but Lord let me tell you, I am just happy to be playing the game. We aren’t ever promised even another day on this planet, so to have a marker reminding you that you have reached another year? Yeah, that’s something I’m gonna get excited about. Not the cake or the candles or the “all-about-me” (which are all good, fun things to celebrate) – I get more hyped up thinking about a time when I honestly couldn’t envision myself past 18, when life seemed more like a shadowy possibility that I wasn’t 100% sure I was on board with, and comparing that to now: a young woman with ambition, with a vision I can’t define but I know is there. And the feeling that that is enough. Creating this reality is my intention.

I hope you find me here at 23, authentic and honest in my ups and my downs, having learned even an increment more about how to serve my higher purpose while also bringing joy. And for now, I’m gonna go out and hold hands and smile and laugh too much and have resting serious face and wear sneakers with everything and climb trees to see the world. Because that’s just what I do.

xx mm