"Only those who risk failing greatly can ever succeed greatly." –RFK
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Birthdays after 40 can still be fun
I thought about canceling my birthday this year. I don't really mind birthdays; they're not so bad, really. On one hand, they're just another day on the calendar, just a number for how many years we've been around. On the other hand, they're definitely a day for us to call our moms and thank them for birthing us. Not that we had a choice in the matter, but I think it's nice to remember our parents if they are around.
My mother is a blessing. I'd say she's even a saint for raising me. I wasn't the easiest kid to raise. Even as an adult, she is ever present, ever motherly, and now too, a best friend to me.
So why cancel my birthday? I don't know. Guess I wasn't excited about it this year. I guess for the first time, I actually feel a little older. Now, I don't feel old, but just a little older. You see, birthdays for me are times to reflect. I don't do it consciously. Rather, I just find myself reflecting.
I remember when I turned 30. I woke in a panic. That has never happened to me before. I certainly didn't feel old. I was happy where I was in my life. I have never felt a "clock ticking" or some of the things I hear from some other women as they get older. I envied no one. I was satisfied. True, I was working hard. I had completed medical school at a later age than most of my peers. I had lived on my own for 13 years by that time. I was confident and had a good life. So, why the panic?
I remember the stone-hard truth that hit me like an unexpected truck. I was thirty, and while I was happy with my life and had no regrets - in the big picture - I was in great debt. It was "good" debt - school loans. It was an enormous debt that I accrued with full intention. But it was enormous. For some reason, that morning when I woke on my 30th birthday, I was struck by the fact that I was 30 years old with nearly a quarter million dollars to pay back to the government for my education.
Yes, that's what I said: a quarter million.
That's a lot of money, yes? Yes.
It was a "responsible" debt as educations are priceless, right? Hmm. It's still a very large debt. I was assured I'd be able to pay it back. My medical school peers, after all, drove nice cars and had condos and took vacations. In contrast, I drove my '91 Cavalier into the ground. (I finally "donated" it in 2003, leaky pop-up sun roof and its bumpers in the trunk from several Chicago-style accidents over the years.) In contrast, I took loans for living expenses as well as for my priceless education. I even took loans so that I could travel for medical school and residency interviews.
I attended Northwestern University Medical School and did my Physiatry residency at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Good school? You betcha. I was accepted all over, but I could only get a full financial ride from Northwestern. It was a lot more money in the end, but it was the only way I could afford it at all. So, that's where I went. It was an honor to attend there and I consider myself very lucky. It also put me in great debt.
For some reason, that was my "30-year-old" scare.
I got over it.
Tomorrow, it will have been 11 years since that day. One quarter of my lifetime ago. I suppose it's time to reflect again.
I am happy with my life. I have made reasonably good choices as an adult. I have screwed up and learned, which is the best we can expect to do, right? I have chosen the right career for me. I love what I do. Being a Physiatrist is a natural expression of who I am and what I want to do in the world.
My personal life is good too. Again, I am happy with my choices. We do the best we can to make the right choices, and when we make choices, we do the best we can to make those choices right. Right?
I was prompted today to reflect because the good people in my life just don't stop being good to me! I am absolutely blessed to have a great family, a wonderful boyfriend, and caring friends. These people in my life keep me smiling. Today, they did not let me cancel my birthday. Gloria is my medical assistant. She started my day with treats and a rose from her garden and a Mini Mouse balloon. Now, one can't help but be filled with joy and gratitude from that, eh? We put the treats out for my patients today and many helped themselves to cake and cookies, and they also wished me a happy birthday. More warm fuzzy feelings for me. It was nice.
Then, one patient I have been treating on a regular basis for a while came in. He, too, wished me a happy birthday and said that he wished he had known in advance of his appointment today. Well, he left and came back with his Russian interpreter, and they brought me these flowers.
Wow. What an incredibly nice thing!
So, now that the work day is done and I reflect, I must admit that birthdays are nice. I think birthdays are days to remember all the good people in our lives, a day to appreciate them and how much they care and make us smile. Perhaps birthdays are actually more about them than us after all. Yes, I think a birthday is the perfect day to celebrate the people in our lives.
Forget the clock, the number, the debt, the car, the education, all that. Remember the people - family, friends, loved ones. After all, they are what our lives are all about year after year after year.
I am an ultra runner, physician and have been medical director of some of the toughest ultras. I tend to be a mover and a shaker and louder than my size suggests. However, my Gemini twin is gentler and contemplative, an artist, a writer, and a poet. I am a dog lover, a believer in souls, and have a special affinity for those who struggle because I have been there.
This is my crazy lovable huggable Weimaraner, Steely Dan. I call him Steely. He left us in January of this year at only 6 years from lymphoma that did not respond to chemotherapy treatments. Steely was a total goof. He loved trail running, road running, treadmill running, new experiences, making eye contact, sleeping on his back, me, kids, and liver treats. He was Zappa's best friend. We miss him dearly.
This is Stella. A rescue from the shelter. She's about 6 months old and a Border Collie. She is a joyous bundle of energy and curiosity and now also Zappa best friend. She will make a nice running partner when she grows up.
This is the now the big brother of my family - a rescued Greyhound. His name is Frank Zappa. I call him Zappa. He's 7 years old and has learned all about life beyond the track and crate from Steely when he was with us. It was very rewarding to watch his personality bloom as he settled into the family. And yes, he runs like the wind!
This is Natasha, my dearest friend. She was with me through college, medical school, residency, and she moved with me from Chicago to Spokane several years ago. She was my best running partner for 10 years. My sweet Natasha died from bone cancer in 2006. I miss her still. I hung a windchimes over the deck outside. When it chimes, I smile and think she has finally -- wherever she is now -- caught a squirrel!