Happy new year! Well, happy new year for me. I’m now 42 and one day.
My middle-age birthdays tend to steer me toward introspection with a healthy dash of gratitude, all wrapped up in joy.
Joy because I’m celebrating another year not promised. Because I get to continue to be mom to Cooper and Katie. Because when I consider all that I’ve learned in the past 12 months and all that’s still out there to experience, I can’t help but feel a little giddy.
Introspection kicked in early this week, when dear friends found and shared a photo of baby Katie and her daddy — my late husband, Steve.
The image was snapped at a bowling alley birthday party. Katie is nestled in an infant carrier, covered in a floral receiving blanket, grasping Steve’s right index finger with her tiny hand and staring at his face.
Steve, in turn, is totally focused on Katie. His profile is turned away from the camera, but you can still glimpse his smile and unadulterated delight in his chubby-cheeked daughter.
I love these little post-Steve discoveries, for me and for Cooper and Katie. The photo offers tangible proof of Steve’s devotion. And yet, the great thing about their dad is that we don’t really need a photo. We carry with us — all the time — all the love Steve poured out. And he didn’t even make it to 41.
The photo is remarkable to me now because it’s a snapshot of our everyday lives before cancer and death. Steve wasn’t posing. He was just caught in the act of doting.
How many of my everyday moments would be so flattering? Am I kind to strangers? Do all — or even most — of my interactions reflect the care and affection I feel toward my colleagues and students? Do the people I love the most know truly how much I love them?
I’m afraid the answer isn’t yes often enough. The good news, though, is I have the gift of today and tomorrow. There aren’t do-overs, but I get fresh chances with each new day of my 43rd year.
What does that look like? I’ve started a list.
Less multitasking when I’m with people. Resisting the urge to check my iPhone every few minutes. Being fully engaged in conversations.
Editing words and tone before I speak. Choosing sincerity over sarcasm more often. Lavishing my children and my students with encouragement.
Expressing thankfulness. Sharing more. Judging less.
It’s an ambitious list. Results may be sketchy.
Yet I can’t wait to get started — because I get to be 42, because I’m thankful for the years I’ve had, and because I might have another 42 years in me. I don’t want to waste a moment.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.