I started this on Thursday, my twenty-sixth birthday. I finished it now, three days later.
Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Me,
This is the strangest, saddest birthday you've known. It's certainly not how you planned to begin your teen years, with strep throat and a cancelled birthday party and then, suddenly, a tragedy that dramatically changes the country you live in.
You'll have a party later, but not without some sense of guilt. I'm celebrating my life when others lost theirs, lost everything, lost their loved ones. You'll feel a little bit of this every year, and that's okay.
Thirteen years later, your birthday will approach and you'll be oddly excited. Twenty-five was great, but twenty-six? You're starting this year out with some grand adventures ahead. You've been blessed, learned how to practice gratitude a little more, released yourself from some of the guilt that isn't yours to bear thanks to the simple passing of time.
You'll also realize something else: we have to remember the bad and the sad. You sometimes want to stamp those things out of memory, just stop talking about them, forget...
Yet you have to remember them. They happened. They were, are real. You will have to speak of them and share.
But you don't have to think only of them. You don't have to dwell on them.
Understand that the bad and the sad don't need you to stay with them, in their shadowy spaces. You don't owe them that. They don't want or need that from you. The shadows don't require or desire your presence at all times, your undivided attention, your devotion.
Let the light--the happy, the full, the incredible--dust the edges of those shadows, make them less deep and dark and impenetrable. Let the light make the shadows manageable.
And, most importantly, don't forget to stand in the light. Let it fill you. Then carry it with you into the shadowy places.
When I tell people that my birthday is September eleventh, I often get pity. I don't want it.
I just want to acknowledge what happened once on that day thirteen years ago and to celebrate my birthday. These dark and light things will have to coexist. Don't get me wrong--I truly wish they didn't have to!--but life is full of dark and light and I've figured out a way to navigate this particular pairing.