When I was a little girl, I lived in constant fear of never reaching adulthood. I imagined every common cold to be cancer. Every cut or bruise to be fatal. I feared dying at every turn. I would pray every night for God to ‘please, please’ see me through to the morning. From the dark of night to the light of day. I would pray earnestly. So that it would hold me, so that I would wake to see another day. I would chant over and over again certain prayers or recitations. Because I feared the dark. Feared being alone.
Feared the quiet of those still, silent hours between midnight and dawn.
And there were more nights than I can recount that I was paralyzed by fear. Never thinking I’d manage to survive. Never thinking I’d live to revel in the coming light of day. And certainly never thought I’d live long enough to see the morn break, day in which my hair would have silver threads, fine lines spreading from the creases of my eyelids.
To see this.
This day that I turn 39.
It was a fearful childhood. An anxiety-ridden childhood. Those early days.
You can’t blame the Child, really. My family was peppered with tragic stories of lives affected by car accidents of one variety or another. Some leaving family members without the use of extremities. Others left with traumatic brain injury. Others, sorrowfully: dead. Horrific. It was. And still other family members born with life-long mental and physical conditions, leaving them dependent on their family members for sustenance. Or. Caught in mid-life heartbreaking crises of one variety or another. Such was the case of one gentle Aunt blinded as an adult, a special favorite of mine.
I grew to have a special affinity for those who were special. Exceptional. Those who were different and unique. Different, just like me. Just like my beloved extended family. Just like all of us, really. And I came to embrace empathy as a way of life. An understanding. A calling.
As a God-given gift.
And as my father was the minister in whichever community we happened to be living at the time, he and I would also make local visitations to the sick or shut-in within the extension of the local church. Those who were needy for comfort or a tender smile. Some mired in poverty. Others caught up in alcoholism. I saw a lot from my young vantage point.
It left me changed for the better. More compassionate. But also left me fearful and wary. Scared. Anxiety-driven.
My namesake was my Aunt Mary Anne, for whom the infamous youngest member of our family is also named. Before I was born, Aunt Mary Anne plunged to her death in a car full of bright, vibrant teenagers on the night of their high school graduation. Her story was told to me over and over again throughout my childhood, and she became to me almost a mythical figure. A young, bright light snuffed out before her small world was ready to let her go. But she was indeed ready. And her life had already made its mark, as seen in the record numbers of youths in attendance at her funeral. All witness to her abbreviated life, a testament to God’s grace and love. She was His hands and feet.
When I was about nine years old, my aunt on my mother’s side was involved in a serious, life-altering car accident. She was left severely brain-damaged and wheel-chair bound, as she continues to live to this very day. Whenever I see her, I reminded of what remains. And all that has been lost. And it breaks my heart.
She was just about my age when her light was dimmed. Just about thirty-nine years of age.
When I made the list Thirty-Nine Ways to Have a Beautiful Life, I was thinking of the gift it is to be alive. To be flourishing as a young-ish mother, teacher, wife and friend. What a gift it is: to be living. To be healthy. To have love. To be loved. And to have been given this gift each and every May 20th for what is now thirty-nine years.
Thirty-nine years. It has flown by in a flash. And yet. I have lived each and every moment, present and aware. Of how much I have been given. And aware of how very much I have to be grateful. And thirty-nine reasons are not the magnitude of a beautiful life. They are just the beginning. For I have only just begun (this list of countless ways in which one can live a beautiful and worthwhile life). And I could easily bring to mind thirty-nine more. That is the gift. To have lived to see and experience another day.
It is a GIFT.
I am so very grateful for the gift of today: these wild and precious thirty-nine years.