On the eve of my 34th birthday this past Monday, I went for a run on one of my most favorite trails in the entire world: Midnight Hole in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the Eastern Tennessee/Western North Carolina border.
Total detachment. Total silence. On the weekend, Midnight Hole is packed with tourists. On a Monday, nobody around.
It’s only when you’re immersed in nature that you fully realize just how small you are in the grand scheme of things, and just how trivial things are that stress or worry you on a daily basis. You are one speck of beauty amid the floating magical dust of existence.
You also realize just how incredible it truly is to be here and alive in the world, this rock hurtling through space filled with hopes, dreams and wonder, the breath of humanity in utter awe of what today brought, what may be in store for tomorrow and the day after that.
To some, probably most, 34 isn’t a milestone. But, for me, it’s the end of wildest rollercoaster of a year in my existence, the beginning of a whole new chapter.
Just after my 33rd birthday last year, my life flipped upside down into a complete spiral. I was lost, foggy, with no sense of my old jovial, devil-may-care self. For the first time in my life, I didn’t recognize the face in the mirror. It scared me. I wanted to feel normal again.
So, I did what I always do when I’m spinning my wheels: hit the open road. I took off up north and out west, up north again and all around the southeast and greater Southern Appalachia. I tracked down old friends and made new ones. I laughed. I cried. I laughed some more. I shared and radiated love to all who I hold up high and mighty.
I did a lot of thinking during those thousands of endless miles. I always do a lot of thinking. Probably too much, truth-be-told. But, I suppose I’ve always been that old soul seeking out the big picture of whatever situation — good or bad — I found myself in.
Someone recently said to me, “Sorry you had such crappy times last year. Here’s to onward and upward.” Yes, I’m all about the “onward and upward” part. But I also have been learning to embrace sadness as I’ve gotten older. Instead of avoiding it or running away from it, how about heading straight at it with everything you’ve got? Tackle it before it tackles you.
I’m able to now find perspective even in sadness and dark times. And I feel lucky for that, to be able to see the big picture and appreciate the ability to be sad and why that emotional state is an important and vital part of life itself. The key to everything is to recognize the sadness and not be defined by it — at some point you must pull yourself out of it and into the next, bountiful chapter.
And I ended the last days of 2018 having achieved my biggest dream as a writer: an article published by Rolling Stone. It seemingly came out-of-nowhere, but also was the culmination of over a decade of blood, sweat and tears in this haphazard industry.
Y’all have witnessed the majority of those 12 years to the here and now of my passion (aka: career). And y’all always had my back, as I will always have yours, too. We’re all in this together. Don’t ever forget that.
So, as 33 transitions to 34, I’m filled to the brim with love, compassion, and, most of all, gratitude: to you and yours, and to the cosmos and infinite universe, whose questions I’ll forever ponder, whose answers I’ll forever chase after with a reckless, joyous abandon.
Picking up Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel On the Road is why I found myself on this current trajectory. He sparked a fire within me that’ll never dim. It grows brighter each and every year I find myself in the presence of birthday candles and loved ones. It’s a privilege to get old. Besides, it beats the alternative, eh?
Another circle around the sun, and I think of Kerouac and On the Road, his immortal words that continue to echo within the walls of my soul: “So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old …”
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Women of Waynesville will host a “Manly Man Auction” at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.
2 Folkmoot will hold the “Friendship Dinner” celebrating the Lunar New Year from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville.
3 The monthly “Cherokee Heritage Day” will continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
4 As part of the Winter Arts Smokies Style series, “The ART of Chocolate” will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, in Waynesville.
5 There will be an “Art & Wine Night” (aka: “Sip & Dip”) from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at the B&C Winery in Maggie Valley.