Another year, another birthday. Except this year, itís a milestone birthday. Iíll celebrate 30 years of living on Friday, Oct. 8. Gideon and I have plans ó some of which he wonít reveal ó but right now, my biggest plan is to reflect on the past 30 years and everything Iíve learned about myself, other people and how to navigate this chaotic world around us.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson anybody learns with age is perspective. We grow up in such a small world centered around our family, friends and community. Eventually, something happens to expand our circle. We realize the strangers we meet have complex lives. We begin to see our differences as illuminating, not a point of contention.
As far as that goes, I was a late bloomer. A very, very late bloomer. It wasnít until 2006 that I discovered thereís a great big world outside of my hometown, a one-mile strip in southwest Arkansas with two restaurants, three gas stations and a post office the size of a closet. My classmates drove to school on ATVs and lawnmowers. It was the kind of small town youíd hear about in a country western song.
But in 2006, I was hoisted out of that small town and into another continent. My mom signed me up to take a trip to Europe with a group of peers. Over a month, we traveled to France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. I remember breathtaking architecture and more gelato than one person can possibly eat. Somehow, I managed.
The program put us up with local families for a home-stay visit halfway through the trip. Thatís when I met Christina and Matthias, who took me on a strenuous hike all the way up an Austrian mountain. I had never done so much physical activity in my life. Standing at the top of the mountain, a strange feeling hit me.
It was the first time I ever did something I didnít think I could do. It made me want to keep challenging myself, to never stop climbing those metaphorical mountains.
When that summer ended, I started high school. Those four years felt so slow, but they werenít. Whatís that saying? Life comes at you fast. I graduated the top of my class, went to college and flopped hard. That year, I got my first C in school. I also started dating my first serious boyfriend, a person who turned my world upside down in the worst way.
Regular readers know how that story goes. He was abusive, I was naive and he knew it. We dated for nearly four years, time that blurs together like a bad recurring dream. When I got out, I hated myself. I couldnít look in the mirror for a long time without having intrusive thoughts. It was this job, this community and my wonderful husband that guided me through the darkness.
When I joined the Carroll County News team in 2014, I felt worthless, like I had lost a part of myself Iíd never find again. Then I started writing. As many of you have seen over the years, I never stopped. Writing was a way to process all those negative feelings ó a very public form of therapy, if you will.
And boy did it work! Nearly eight years later, I have learned the most important lesson of all, just in time to kick off the next 30 years. No matter how miserable you are, itís not forever. Keep living and connecting with others, and thereís nothing you canít do. Iíve become the queen of finding the silver lining. Perspective is everything.
That part of me I thought I lost forever? I found it, and somehow it kept growing. Today, I live in a beautiful home with the kindest partner and five lively, loving kitties. I love my job, community, friends and family. As I look back on the last 30 years, I am thankful for the challenges. Itís those difficult moments that showed me what Iím made of: determination, compassion and a lot of caffeine.
As my 20s come to a close, I want to thank you for reading my column. You are all a big part of my life, whether weíve met one another or not. I canít wait to keep living and learning in this place I call home. Happy birthday to me ó emphasis on ďhappy!Ē