So, I had another birthday yesterday. I'm not big on surprises and cake on my birthdays. I've never once said "it's my birthday week".
Some of my past birthdays have also marked life changing tragedies. Going all the way back to my 17th birthday when my best friend from childhood, Les Riley, was killed in a car accident that I was supposed to be in too. I still feel the pain of that loss 26 years later. That was the first time in my young life I had felt the real pain the world holds for us all if we live long enough. It is hard to be alive and that was the first time I learned that lesson and of course it wouldn't be the last.
I used to dread this time of the year that for so many, is a happy time. Because of tragic times on my birthday Ive became reflective of my own life this time of year. Since the first anniversary of that loss I've always used that day to get away and go it solo for at least a few hours on 4/10. This, over the years, has evolved into something I've now come to cherish. I have used my Birthday as a reason to take everything from solo river trips to jumping on charter boats and going deep sea fishing.
Five years ago on April 10th, I was in the last days of my cross country solo hike. I was on a lonely road passing through the Kansas prairie; it was the first day I could see the Rocky Mountains in the distance. I had built the stamina to walk around 30-40 miles a day. I was in great physical shape by then but I was very road haggard from a journey that had already taken me over 1000 miles from home, and the whole world I had known.
When I saw those mountains, for the first time, so far off in the distance; I remember thinking once I got there I would never be the same again.
Now that I've had the years to reflect back on it, I realize I had already changed. When I left Florida, on foot, with nothing but a backpack. I didn't know it at the time but I was walking into a new life that I couldn't have even dreamed myself.
In my experience I believe I have been most changed and learned the most from the pain in my life. While I've spent years letting that pain tell me I would never have a life I could be truly happy living, that same pain has taught me that this is all temporary and it will one day be over. That's why instead of going back to Florida when my journey had to change after I was injured climbing I decided to come to Moab and meet this young lady I had enjoyed talking to online. While I thought all the fun was over; it hadn't even truly gotten started.
I woke up next to that young lady again this morning and we'll celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary next week. I'm still in Moab and will remain at the very least on the Colorado plateau she introduced me to four years ago now.
Pain brought me west. Pain in a life where my achievements would be referred to as "relatively successful" by some. I never could quite understand, be happy or content living that way. The southwest has given me all the things in life I wanted, yet had no idea how to obtain.
So, on my forty-third birthday, my solo excursion was a 12 mile trek up to the Priest & Nuns Towers just beside my home. After the approach that is the equivalent of walking up 233 flights of stairs in less than a mile I stood under those towers and gave thanks for all the pain that brought me to that point. I remembered all the people I loved that have gone before me and felt them with me on that ledge. There have been times I knew in my heart they would have been disappointed in me. On this birthday on that ledge, if they could see me now and knew how content and full of life and love that I have become, they would be happy. They would know that the gift they gave me in life is not going wasted and that birthdays to come don't have to be times of pain anymore.