Exactly 500 days ago, I wrote a post called Better than Ever at 37. I was 35 at the time. After projecting out my recovery schedule—factoring in chemo, radiation, mastectomies and reconstruction—I figured out that roughly by my 37th birthday, I’d be completely back to normal. Dare I say, even better than I was before. When I wrote that post, better meant healthy again, of course, but really it meant getting to finally experience living in married bliss with my husband, biological children in the relatively close distance. Just the scars on my humpty dumpty put back together again body to remind me of the intense journey I had been through.
It didn’t quite turn out that way.
But as life continues to teach me—stubbornly sending me the same lessons over and over and over until finally I pick up on it—my plans and the plans that God and the universe have in mind for me don’t always match up. And that when I trust that everything that’s possible may be beyond the scope of my limited peripheral vision, almost always, something even better comes up.
Will 37 look like how I had dreamt it up a year and half ago? Not even close. My cozy Arlington home where I lived with my budding family has changed to a tiny studio where the hallways often smell like piss and 3 am ragers from my upstairs neighbors are the norm. I am as single as they come, and actually spent the morning of my birthday rather depressingly face-to-face with my ex to notarize final divorce papers. Because of the medication I’m on and the bills I have, biological, or even adoptive children for that matter, are something that, if they even happen, are still several years in the future. And to be completely honest, at least once a day, there is some sort of rogue thought that enters my brain telling me I should be devastated that this is what 37 looks like. Absolutely and completely nothing like what I had planned it to be 500 days ago.
Truth is, however, the reality of 37–outside of those damn rogue thoughts–is shaping up to be pretty spectacular. I live, according to Google maps, just 300 feet from my sister and my very best friend, I am falling in love with life and myself again, maybe truly for the first time. The constant ache in the pit of my stomach that I lived with for so long is gone. I am present and grateful and have begun filling the huge hole in my heart with friendships and experiences I’d never imagine. I have climbed mountains and joined roller derby boot camps and am packing my weekends with road trips and adventures. And I don’t have to get anyone’s approval to do so, except maybe my sister’s. Just because she’s become my dog’s defacto surrogate caretaker when I’m gone. But she’s yet to turn down the prospect of puppy snuggles. I have traveled to Benin and India and Nashville and New York and today, less than a month after turning better than ever at 37, I learned I am being deployed to Nepal to help following the devastating earthquake that hit there in April.
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to do this type of work. I didn’t know at the tender age of seven what it was called, but I knew that’s what I wanted. I wanted to sit down with people, people who were different from me, different in their looks, different in how and where they had grown up. People who had been through things that were important to them, that had experiences I’d never had, things that had turned their lives upside down, things they wanted to share with the world. I wanted to tell their story and take their picture and in some way make them feel heard. Understood. And by telling their stories, make other people other care about them too. And prove that all those differences didn’t really much matter anyway; that we were much more the same than different.
And damn lucky dog that I am, that’s what I get to do.
So yeah, 37 is looking much differently than I had thought it would some 500 days ago. But I’m okay with that; I’m even kind of excited about it. Because it turns out, 37 looks better than I even imagined.