Birthday Wishes

IMG_1116Recently, my son sent me a text asking what I would like for my birthday this year.  I wasted no time in sending the answer:  a beachfront condo on Sanibel Island, a wrinkle-free neck, skinny thighs and good eyesight.  Even though I graciously told him he could select which of the gifts he would prefer to give me, I didn’t get a reply.  Perhaps he was too busy comparing the costs and labor involved in each of my selections before settling on his final choice.

I remember very well how easily I used to come up with a list of things I wanted for my birthday.  Like most children raised on lots of television, I always had a ready list of new toys and games I had seen advertised and that I was dying to have.  Later, as a teenager and young adult, I yearned for a wardrobe full of expensive and beautiful clothes that would allow me to have whatever look was trendy at the time.  Still later, as a not-so-young adult, there were always books, jewelry, a few clothes and other various household items that I would be pleased to receive, so even then the question of “what do you want for your birthday?” wasn’t hard to answer.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere in my journey through middle age, I just stopped wanting quite so many things.  Maybe I don’t long for beautiful clothes any more because I know that those clothes probably aren’t going to look all that great on my middle-aged body.  (And I’m actually okay with that:  one of the benefits of aging is that I no longer feel the pressure to strive for the “perfect” appearance.)  I don’t mind wearing the same few necklaces and bracelets each time I go out, and as for household items, my house is already as full as I want it to be.

I still love books, but years of diligently collecting the works of my favorite authors means that my bookshelves are basically full.  I don’t want to end up like my father, who had more than sixty boxes of books that he insisted on bringing with him on each of our family’s many moves.  (A family friend once commented, “By the time your dad finally gets all his books unpacked and on his shelves, it’s basically time to start packing them up again for the next move.”)  I go through my books every so often, getting rid of the ones that I no longer read so that I have room for any new books I add to my collection.  So far, my system is working, because I haven’t bought a new bookshelf in years.

So now, at the age of almost fifty-eight, I have a hard time coming up with a birthday wish list of things that anyone who isn’t fabulously wealthy (beachfront condos don’t come cheap) could actually buy for me.  And that’s a good thing, because it means I have reached the point where I have figured out that the things that I want the most, and the things that are the most important to me, have absolutely nothing to do with money.

Traveling Light

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I have never been a person who is comfortable with having a lot of “stuff.”  Maybe that’s the result of spending part of my childhood in a five-room apartment, where I was allotted two drawers, half of a small closet and three narrow shelves in which to store all my belongings, although I have to say that I never felt I needed more space.  Later, when I was heading off to college, my family was also moving to another state, so I had to pack up everything I owned at the same time.  I don’t remember how much I packed to take with me to college, but I do remember that the rest of my possessions fit neatly into two medium-sized cardboard boxes.  And the movers lost one of them.  I took that as a further sign that, in the grand scheme of things, I was not intended to have a lot of possessions.

All I do know is that if life is a journey, and I believe it is, then I prefer to “travel light.”  I don’t want a lot of material possessions weighing me down, especially since I can’t stand clutter or mess.  As far as I am concerned, having a lot of things just means I have to spend way too much time keeping all those things cleaned and organized, and that’s not how I want to spend my time.

But lately, I’ve come to realize that “traveling light” is not just about material possessions.  One of the advantages of being middle aged is that we are just over the half-way point of our life’s journey.  We can look back over the long road of where we’ve been and clearly see what worked, what could have been done better, and what was a downright disaster.  But we can also look forward to a road ahead that is still long enough (if we’re lucky) that we can make the needed adjustments to get us closer to living the life we want to live.  And I think the key to that is also “traveling light.”

I may have screwed up a lot in my life, but that doesn’t mean I have to carry that guilt or embarrassment with me forever.   And like everyone who has ever been in any kind of relationship, I’ve had my share of hurt feelings and disappointments over the years, but that doesn’t mean I have to nurse those grudges for the rest of my life.  That’s just too much baggage, and all it does is weigh me down.  It makes so much more sense to forgive, both myself for the things I’ve done that I’m not so proud of, and others for the times they have unintentionally hurt me, and move on.

With my material possessions, I’m constantly evaluating what I have, deciding if it’s worth keeping or if it’s time to let it go.  And I think that’s the best way to handle my emotional baggage as well:  decide what is good and worth keeping because it enhances my life; and what is no longer worth hanging on to because it doesn’t serve any positive purpose.  Because I really believe that if I want to get the most out of life, I always need to “travel light.”