I turned 30 this year.
Unlike many of my peers (and those who have come before me), I’ve always been kind of excited for my thirties. My mom always said I was three going on thirty, so maybe I internalized it as my true age. It wasn’t like my twenties had been all that kind to me either: my dad’s cancer, a house fire, and neuro Lyme are enough to make one long for better days. And that’s what the dawning of a new decade was for me.
I thought a lot about my thirtieth birthday through time. I wanted to do something big, something special to bring in the decade that seemed to announce to the world that, twelve years later, you are actually now an adult (for me, an adult with a house, two dogs, a husband, and two young kids). What I planned for a decade was a trip to London and Scotland. While I had been to London when I was fifteen on a school trip, I wanted time to soak in the English culture. And I wanted to spend my birthday at Wimbledon. I also wanted to travel the Scottish Highlands, hoping that Diana Gabaldon had not led me astray in my love of the Scottish heritage. And then they announced London as the host city for the 2012 Olympics, an event that would fall shortly after my birthday. And then I got pregnant. I didn’t want to travel abroad with a four month old, and I didn’t really want to be caught in the chaos that would be preparation for the Olympics (though I would love to go to those one day as well).
As it turned out, Dan’s brother planned his wedding for the week before the big 3-0. And he was getting married two hours from where I grew up in Virginia (across the country from where we lived and where his brother had grown up). The beach, rolling hills of Virginia, and D.C. were going to have to be an adequate substitute for Scotland. But still, I had no idea what I wanted to do to mark the birthday that I felt was one of the biggest in my life thus far.
My mom turned sixty two days before me. Thirty had been rough for her (though who could blame her since she was nine months pregnant), and sixty seemed to be another birthday milestone that reminded all of us that this life is short. We were together in Virginia, and I felt like there was a missed opportunity for embracing what should have been a celebration of her life thus far and all of the life left in front of her. I wanted to mark my birthday in a meaningful way, doing something that reflected both the struggles and triumphs of my first thirty years. Thirty acts of kindness was created. Thirty acts for thirty years.
I can honestly say that it was the best birthday I’ve had. I asked friends to participate as well, doing an act of kindness for others in lieu of gifts. What was amazing to me was that in being selfless, I found that others were actually more invested in my birthday. Instead of just the Facebook Happy Birthdays, I had messages of dinners made, Starbucks bought, neighbors called. What a gift!
As it turned out, the day was over before thirty acts were complete. But the day wasn’t about hitting a number, achieving a goal. It was about happiness and love. And the twenty+ acts I did perform were meaningful. I took Subway sandwiches to a fire station, honoring the firemen who go out of their way to protect us; I handed out $10 bills to random people, which was actually one of the most difficult acts, not because I had a hard time letting go of $10 but because it’s kind of awkward and outside the bounds of societal norms to hand people money, telling them to have a good day; I picked up shopping carts at Target. We posted messages along a walking trail; I brought flowers to a cancer wing at the hospital and asked them to give them to someone having a particularly hard day; I visited the mother of my oldest friend from preschool who lost her husband when I was in college and who I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I spent time with my husband; I treated myself. Kindness.
I’ve reflected a lot on that day, about how much joy was created in my life as a result. Christmas, too, is a time for kindness, for joy. I have complained in the past about how much I give to others, how much time I invest in finding the right gift (I truly love getting people the perfect gift). And yet, I never feel that time reciprocated. I get cheese puffs (we don’t eat cheese puffs), cash, and from others, nothing. So I decided to pare down my Christmas list, buying only a few things for a few family members, and instead focusing on others, those for whom I expect nothing in return. This year Christmas will be about investing in others, giving – but in a way that gives more meaning to the Christmas season to me. And in a way that brings me joy. I hope you will join me on the journey.