Trail Running

There are no mistakes. Only new paths to explore.
— Shantaram

I’ve never really felt the need to celebrate my birthday. I don’t make plans to go to special places, and I never ask for a party, cake, or gifts.

But today is my birthday and I feel overwhelmingly grateful for my life exactly as it is, and for the decades it’s taken me to earn this peace.

My friend Emily has a custom of asking her dinner guests about the pit and peak of their day. She encourages each person to share what has been the best moment of their day so far, and what has been the worst. Invariably, as listeners respond with envy or empathy, everyone around the table engages, the conversation grows, and the tone becomes more intimate.

I love this ritual. And I’ve begun adopting it myself.

As I sit here alone and assess an entire year of pits and peaks, the mountains are more apparent than the valleys. This year’s pit was fierce and still yells at me loudly, but while the peaks of this past year are softer, they are also more abundant.

In the first part of the year, I invested time, energy and my most vulnerable self into an attachment that weakened my self-esteem, decimated my immune system, and nearly killed me in Nashville.

But in the process of digging myself into and out of that hole, I built skills and confidence, and moved past limiting beliefs that have plagued me for years. And as I look back at the past twelve months, there are so many peaks, I don’t know how to choose just one. I met a spiritual advisor who has helped me see my resilience, nailed a pole pose I didn’t think was possible, performed in my first burlesque show, hiked Baldy Peak to catch the sunrise, coached a two-year college journalism team to first place in the nation, and taught in a yoga teacher training program where I helped students (and myself) release constrictions in our bodies and make space for growth. But perhaps most significantly, I learned to be more compassionate with myself, and find the gifts in dark spaces.

Is there more I need to let go of? Of course. But ultimately, the symbol of my birthday offers me a codified day to recognize how far I’ve come. And to appreciate the gift of getting older, knowing that it’s taken me this long to get to this sweet place, where the trail ahead looks steep, but inviting, and I have the energy and skill to climb it.


Michelle Dowd