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  >  Inspire   >  35 and Alone. Happy Birthday.

I woke up on the first day of my 35th year to find the snow that had started falling the day before continued through the night. It clung to the trees and electric wires, ambled down in delicate flecks as light as feathers.  I watched it from my window, head aching, like I was inside of a snow globe. I was alone.

It wasn’t a surprise; I wake up alone every day. I had no plans of having someone with me in the morning. But, as my tension headache after a night of grinding my teeth could attest, it felt different on this day.

I’ve recently lost someone I care deeply about. To clarify, they’re not dead. But we decided—I decided—not to be in one another’s lives anymore. This is undoubtedly one of the things that caused my teeth to connect while I slept, to dig into one another. Sometimes when things feel big and scary, the path forward unknown, my teeth will do this. It is as if they are stepping in to help, trying to protect us, to hold us together in the best way they know how—tightly.

It can be hard to decide to do a thing when it does not have to be done. To walk away from something that isn’t bad. From something that is good. To listen to that little gnawing that something isn’t right rather than plenty of visible evidence that everything is just fine. It is hard.

Wondering all along if you’re shooting for a far-off planet you’ll never reach. Wondering if you’re unpleasable, impossible. Whether it’s all in your head.

Goodbyes are scary. They are hard.

But we can do hard things.

I had another hard goodbye last fall, this one family. It was a gaping wound that has since healed into a thin little sliver, barely visible. But like a papercut, the loss makes itself known in the mildest of occasions. A squeeze of a lime, running fingers through your hair. Buying your first home completely on your own. A happy birthday text in lieu of an embrace, a relationship.

These moments are hard. But we can do hard things.

And we can even do them sober.

It was under this veil that I would enter my 35th year. Not terribly sad but feeling loss. Not lonely per se, but feeling, in all its weight, their absence—the aloneness.

I thought about this in the days leading up to my birthday. I hoped I wouldn’t end up having a pity party for myself like I had on Christmas Eve. That night I’d realized, while wandering through the grocery store, collecting items for Christmas breakfast, that I had no dinner plans for myself, and indeed, nothing to cook. I ended up washing my frozen raviolis down with some sorry-for-myself tears. You know, “everyone else has a family,” yadda-yadda-yadda, and other lies we tell ourselves as part of the pity party rotation.

With friends and family far away, I knew I’d be spending the day by myself. And I braced for it. For the feelings that might come. Encouraged myself toward contentment, happiness even. Gratitude—for there is so much to be grateful for.

I have many blessings. The best friends. Who go out of their way to mail me sweet gifts and talk about me to others in ways that make me blush. Who accept me and my eccentricities even when they don’t understand us. Who may not be into changing their own personal lifestyle but cheer me on—loudly—when I decide to change mine. Who never nay-say. Who see me, even through the walls I’ve worked hard at building up.

I have family that I love. I have people in my life who inspire me, encourage me, and some who help me believe in myself. I have a job I love. A new home I’m comfortable in. I received a million Happy Birthday wishes via social media from all of you. Okay, not a million, but more than 80! And isn’t that nice?!

There is much to celebrate.

And yet…

Taken from my morning pages on January 27:

On the morning of my birthday, I sit looking ‘round my still-unfurnished living space. My family and my friends all far away. The ache in my head from the grinding of my teeth. The ache of the wound of the absence of the two people who are missing from my life.

But it isn’t a pity party. Merely an observation.

The fact that I’m alone is deafening. Obvious. Like a filter on a photo. It covers everything. You can see the difference, the alterations—moody tones or faded lines, scattered lighting, a vignette. The difference is clear—but only if you’ve seen the original photo. Otherwise, you see what you see and believe it to be true.

There is a starkness—waking up alone on your birthday. Thirty-five. Drinking your coffee while the silence surrounds you and the snow falls outside.

But there is something else, too. A tiny, growing feeling. A tiny, gnawing knowing that this starkness signals new beginnings.

Having nothing signals possibility.

Sitting in the silence alone, at the dawn of a new year of life is much like the first page of a new book. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But that does not cause us despair. Instead, it makes us tingle with possibility. Or, at the very least, want to know what happens next. And so, we turn the page. We read the lines. We discover.

Everything could happen.

It is a blank canvas this morning. How could I possibly be sad about that?

The truth of the matter is I had a lovely, low-key birthday. I got my car repaired, built a bookshelf, and even had a surprise visitor. None of the trappings of a pre-30s or pre-pandemic birthday, but none were necessary.

The loss I felt did not dissipate with the day, but it did not seize it either. It simply is; A thing existing.

This post was personal, and I wondered if I really wanted to share it. But I think it is important to remember something: We can celebrate the wonders of this life, even as we experience loss. We can be happy and sad, excited and terrified, very much alone, and not at the same time. Existence is paradoxical, at least for humans, and we are allowed to feel all the things all at once.

If you needed this reminder too, I hope you got what you needed.

<3

airplane logo from awheelinthesky.com

Much of my content is related to travel and flight attendant life. But if you’d like to read more soul-searchy, personal, spilling-your-guts, life-lesson type of stuff, then by all means, click on. Consider checking out these posts:

Six Months of Sober: Why I Quit Drinking
On Comfort, Coasting, and Job Security
Just Keep Swimming
Discomfort at its Finest
Breaking Your Own Rules
A Different Kind of Homesick
Lessons in the Sky: Gratitude at 30,000 Feet

There are plenty more (I’m becoming an expert at spilling my guts) but those should give you a taste of what we’re doing around here. Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear from you! If you think there is a topic I should be tackling, let me know about it.

Comments:

  • Rae

    January 28, 2021

    Love you Tone. Happiest of birthdays, my friend.

    reply...
  • Heidi Lynn

    January 28, 2021

    Needed this reminder , thank you for sharing! Xo

    reply...
  • Robin Tobin

    January 29, 2021

    Happy birthday! I can identify with what you said.You said it perfectly and will help all others that can identify and not able to find their own words.
    💞🐾

    reply...
  • Crystal

    January 31, 2021

    Blank canvases are made to be filled in and I know just the courageous 35 year old human that’ll get it done in just her style. Thank you again for sharing! And when you’re ready come on down for some free beach time with me! ♥️♥️

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  • Jonathan

    May 30, 2021

    I read this post today and it hit quite close to home. While I am not a world traveler (I work in tech), and haven’t traveled nearly as much as I would like (yes five days a week/2 weeks a year SUCKS), I found your words somewhat comforting. I turned 38 this year, alone, surrounded by nothing but my small apartment and a cake I bought for myself. I had the vid calls with friends and family, but it’s not the same. I didn’t get depressed nor felt invigorated, I just existed. It was just another day. I appreciate what you wrote and will keep it as a reminder that not every day can be rosy. And that’s ok.

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