Sunday, February 12, 2012

Birthday Thoughts

"Birthdays are good for you. Statics show that the people who have the most live the longest."
~Reverend Larry Lorenzoni

On february sixth, two thousand and twelve, I turned 24 years old. Not a fantastical birthday, by any means- you still don't have the right to rent a car, but you've already been bequeathed the right to buy cigarettes and to gamble. Alcohol is no longer new and exciting- it's an old story. 24 is, from the outside, just another normal year- and a normal year sounded more appealing to the 23 year old me than anything else.

Every year on the corresponding weekend to my birthday, I find myself driving up to into the mountains, heading to a small retreat center where a small group of messianic kids are looking forward to a weekend of decent food, good lessons, and great friends. Once upon a time, I was a camper, spending time with my friends and finding myself feeling accepted for just a few days. It was enough to get me to the summer, where trips with my friends who believed that same way I did. And now, as a counselor, I have the opportunity to show the same kind of acceptance to the kids who are coming for the same reasons I was, and honestly, it's a highlight of my year.

But the retreat means more to me now that I work at it, because it's been a place of self-reflection. Coming up to my birthday, I am always a wreck of emotions and questions- self discovery not unlike that which I addressed in my new years post (feel free to journey back and see what I mean). But going to Wonderful Winter Weekend (the retreat) is more than a vacation- it's a chance to step out of myself and become my alter ego. I am Skittlez, the fun counselor who gets to often teach the teens their bible lessons and run drama games as an all camp activity. Skittlez has no life outside of camp- she lives for kids, bunk beds, pudding pies with graham cracker crusts, and worship music. She's impartial to my job, my drama, and my life.

Which makes her the greatest of evaluators. Because she's not affiliated to any of it.

Normally, I go through a process of transitioning from myself to my alter-ego. The prep work involves a change of mindset, the ability to let go of the bothersome things happening in my world, the exhausting process of not getting enough sleep and learning not to be cranky... it's all involved. I start the night before the trip, trying to convince myself that I am no longer me. I try to slide out of my life into a place of goodness and joy. But it never quite works.

Until the year before I turned 24. Because this year, there was no transition. Suddenly, I was Skittlez. And I didn't have anything to lose. There was nothing to hide, nothing to analyze. There was no life that I wanted to escape from. I molded into myself- it was a simplistic change of name. My heart stayed the same.

My campers noticed the change- I've worked with them for a long time. And they have changed a lot too- they have grown from bubbly little girls, to akward pre-teens, to anxious young teens,  and finally into beautiful young women who know how to get ready in the morning, how to pack, and how to walk to meals without my help. They go to bed without being told six times. They put greens on their plates at meals with no prompting. The danger is that now, they are old enough to know when I am faking a smile. But this year, there was nothing to fake. We had a great weekend, my girls and I- I was in a good place, and they didn't need a counselor in the same way, so I mostly got to be a friend.

It was the midst of these girls and their capability that the evaluation started. I started to look back over all that has gone on, from when I started working with them up until that very weekend. And I realized that in the grand scheme of life, 23 had been a hard year, filled with a lot of different problems and tragedies that I was not ready for. I'd gone through more than I'd been able to remember.

But somehow it had all slipped off me- there was no drama, no problems, no exhaustion. There was no mindset to change- I was already filled with joy and happiness. And Skittlez got to have a whole weekend of easy happiness with the campers without needing to fight off the life waiting for her at home. There wasn't issues lingering behind me. There was only the future spinning ahead, and suddenly, the feelings of acceptance and warmth that I so want to be transferring to my girls was back on me again, blanketing me in warmth. A new year was coming, and I was comfortable and ready.

It's a bit of a bi-polar story, really. But aren't all birthdays? They are the change from one year of our life into the next. We transition from one kind of year to another- big to small, bad to good, dramatic to chill (that was the change from 22-23). And hit in the face with 24, I realized my seemingly normal year was going to be anything but, because no matter what happens in the next 12 months, my attitude will have gone from serene to whatever comes next. I hope it's passionate, really. I think I'm ready for that mindset.

But whatever it turns out to be, it's going to be great. And that alone is fantastical.