My best friend for many years succumbed to cancer six years ago. I cried for her. Cried for her babies. And as her birthday loomed (five weeks ahead of mine) I felt an ache in my heart that she’d never see her five kids grow up. And how that day, for them, would never again be a time of joyous celebration, no matter how positive a spin they applied, or how brave a face they learned to wear.
I tell you this, not for empathy, but because it made me look
differently at birthdays and the traditional celebration around them; and five years ago, I began my own tradition.
Every year during my birthday month, I go on a four or five-day road trip. I make no serious plans, other than my first night’s accommodation. And make few rules, except that I go alone. No exceptions. I take no laptop, no Blackberry, no Sidekick. I don’t check voice or email, and my cell phone remains turned off.
I travel lightly. But there are some things I always pack and one of those things is my copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, now so dog-eared that it’s held together with tape, and so overly marked with neon yellow highlighter and red exclamation points that there are few pages left as the publisher intended. I may re-read some of it. All of it. Or none of it.
My oversize black leather-bound sketch book also goes with me. Not because I sketch. But so that I can brainstorm and scribble and mind-map whatever pops into my head without being restricted by blue lines breaking up the page, or the size limitations of a normal notebook.
I take good hiking boots and two waterproof jackets. And even if it hails and storms all day long, I walk for a couple of hours every day, preferably on the beach, wind in the hair, feet splashing in the shallow surf. I also pack today’s favorite chi-chi outfit and four-inch-heels so I can take myself out to at least one super fancy dinner.
Without pressure, I like to reflect on the past year: Did I do what I set out to do? Did I enjoy it? Was it worth it? And assuming I’m lucky enough to have a next year, I think about new projects I want to develop. I think about what I want to do more of, less of; where I want to give my time and energy, and with whom I want to spend it. And I think about how I can make a difference, in my own small way.
This year I don’t feel like driving somewhere different each day as I have on past road trips. So I’ve booked a beachfront suite on one of my favorite beaches. There’s a large writing desk facing the ocean, and the French windows open onto white sand that stretches south for several miles. I’m looking forward to being lulled to sleep by crashing surf. And nudged awake by crying seagulls and 5-star room service.
When I get home, always invigorated, always reignited with passion and reverence for this life we live, I begin my New Year—the day after my birth day. This tradition is my birthday gift to myself. I hope you do something nice for yourself on your own special day.
Smile at the Rain artwork by Beth Hendrickson Logan.