Several years ago, I began a tradition with my uncle. On his birthday, I flood him with questions pertaining to the year that has passed and what he has learned over the course of the last 365 days. I ask him questions like: “What have you learned?” “What were you most grateful for?” “What are your goals for the next 365?”
He answers all of my questions patiently and, sometimes, begrudgingly.
When it comes time for my birthday, he does the same, asking me: “How have you grown?” “When were you proudest?” “Any regrets?”
This year, I expected something similar and I had even prepared some answers for the questions I predicted he would ask. I was excited and anxious to tell him all I had learned, how I had hit rock bottom, but my faith, friends, and family helped me build a foundation again. How I learned to be grateful each and every day for a big, blue sky and the warm honey of my dog’s eyes. How I was adopting play into my life again and beginning to lose (or, perhaps, loosen) the Type-A, perfectionist gene that chained the first 29 years of my life.
Little did I know, he didn’t ask me any of the questions he and I regurgitated to each other every July 31 and November 13. We sat through dinner with talk only of the amazing calamari, the richness of the chicken parm (chicken saltimbocca, in my case), and the craziness of work. We hugged outside of the restaurant and got into our separate cars to drive home. When he arrived at my house a few hours later, we sat through a movie with talk only of its ludicrousness. (It was one of the Fast and Furious movies. My brother’s choosing, not my own.)
Finally, before he left, he looked at me and asked: “Where do you find yourself today?”
I thought for a moment and then replied: “On a precipice.”
He nodded, satisfied, because he knew that this was the most honest answer I could give. It explained a lot, despite its ambiguity. It hinted of potential, but of uncertainty. New adventures and new paths taken on partially-blind faith. It spoke of fear, yes, but of hope.
In my early twenties, a situation like mine would have driven me to the brink of insanity. I lived my life needing to know. Needing certainty. I needed to know the exact amount of hours each new job requires, the exact amount of pay each one offers, the exact plan for each moment I spend in the classroom, the exact future of each personal relationship, the exact moment everything will go right, and that I will be exactly fine when things inevitably come crashing down on me.
If I had to wait, if I was told to be comfortable in the not knowing, I would melt down, divert the vulnerable feelings into exercise, cleaning, or micromanaging others.
And, most likely, I would cry.
However, I stand now at the precipice, ready to embark on a new stage in my life. Old relationships are entering new phases or ending all together. Exciting opportunities I never thought possible are presenting themselves. And, as much as I would like to avoid cliches, it’s apparent that as one door has closed in my life, others have opened with enthusiasm and warmth.
But what is new, what is truly remarkable, has been that I feel ready for what is coming next. I have a firm belief that things will work out and that I will be strong enough to handle any adversity. Though I have my doubts, I know they are not incongruous with my faith, because doubts and faith can live together in harmony. Certainty and faith, however, cannot. Though the steps forward are new and the risk for failure is great, I feel certain that I can and will land on my feet.
For what is failure (and a birthday) but a celebration that at least you tried?