J. Dana Trent

Author of the interfaith memoir, Saffron Cross

33 Lessons I’ve Learned in 33 Years

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Evening birthday walk at the NC Art Museum. I’m starring at the camera screen, because I love the expression on Fred’s face. Happiness.

And I will stroll the merry way
And jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear
Clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats
And they’ll get high
On a bluer ocean
Against tomorrow’s sky
And I will never grow so old again
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain

–Van Morrison, Sweet Thing (Astral Weeks, 1968)

The sun is finally shining in North Carolina. Baby green leaves hang delicately from the trees, and spring reminds us that everything is cyclical.

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. I ate three cookies for breakfast, walked in the sun, napped, read, wrote, and opened very thoughtful gifts. I spoke with and spent time with loved ones.

Birthdays shape and shift as we age, and what was once about driving and adulthood milestones is now distilled to cherished moments when the world stands still. We stop, breathe, examine, and take in all that is good.

The arrival of my 33rd birthday signaled the completion of a dream I set out to accomplish when I could barely hold a pencil. My first book was published at age 32; I’ve now lived 33 years, and am excited to consider what’s next.

Yesterday was the time to over-indulge in the literal icing while thinking about the metaphorical icing, Jimmy V style: Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going?

Last night before bed, my brother, Ron, sent me a text:
“Can’t wait to see how you change the world between now and your next birthday.”

These are the most amazing words someone can utter to you.

My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by folks like my brother. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, ministers, friends, strangers—it seemed as if there were always encouraging words around every corner, every set-back, every stepping stone. These weren’t accidents; they were Divine.

I know where I’ve been. And, I know where I am. It’s thanks to all of you.

33 Things You’ve Taught Me:

1. Every day is a chance to make things new.
2. The fine lines on my forehead will get worse, not better, and that’s OK.
3. Accomplishing dreams comes with great joy as well as its own set of challenges. Embrace both.
4. Always buy the real Q-Tips.
5. Done is the engine of more.
6. If you want to read and write, you must sit down and read and write. No one is going to send you a gilded invitation to do so (thanks, Anne Lamott).
7. Terrible drafts count.
8. Experiences are better than things.
9. You can’t do too much financial damage shopping at the Dollar Tree.
10. Dancing, rapping, and general silliness in your kitchen is acceptable and encouraged.
11. Let your slip show. 
12. Love your fat rolls, because the “Truffle Shuffle” is actually awesome.
13. Be present. Here. Now.
14. It’s not that serious.
15. The time is going to pass no matter what. In one or five years, what do you want to show for it? Harness your grit.
16. The Young and the Restless is a highly-recommended, delicious indulgence that can be listened to/watched while doing chores.
17. Reggae is uplifting and empowering.
18. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Thanks, Jesus.
19. You will always be embarrassed about something from your past. Everyone else is, too.
20. String bikinis are for 16-year-olds and those with superior genes. Well placed swimsuits work well for the rest of us.
21. Gratitude is the engine of happiness.
22. It’s never too late to learn how to be domestic.
23. Trampolines are the best invention. Ever.Trampolines

24. Your struggles do not define you, they mold you.
25. Develop your spirituality, as it is one of your best resources. It will nurture and sustain you.
26. Try new things: worship somewhere else, listen to another kind of music, read a book from a genre you think you can’t stand, eat weird foods, take road trips through farm towns, learn about a culture and people you haven’t yet encountered.
27. Everyone does not hate you. Folks actually think better of you than you realize.
28. No one is watching your every move. Everyone is busy doing their thing. You are not that important. This is good, because it offers you freedom to do your thing.
29. Smile at all children, anyone who works on their feet all day, and anyone whose job it is to greet others.
30. There is nothing wrong with listening to the same song on repeat for five hours. (cc: Fred Eaker).
31. Write in a journal each day. Even if it’s two words: “Today sucked.” Or, “Today rocked.”
32. Nurture impractical dreams. You never, ever know where they will take you.
33. Cookies and cake are a perfectly appropriate birthday breakfast, preferably with blue icing.

cookies

My Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Jon sent me these yesterday! Breakfast is served. (My family knows the way to my heart is through icing.)

Friends, share what YOU have learned in the comments below. I need enough answers to at least get me through the next 20 years. Share your accomplishments. Share your wisdom. Share your screw-ups. They’re all made of the same, beautiful stuff.

So, I know where I’ve been. I know where I am. Where am I going?

It always freaks me out that birthdays, like centuries, are always one year forward. This means that today, I’m in my 34th year.

My hope and prayer is that my 34th years will bring with it another book manuscript, a focus on fun, and an exploration of new disciplines.

And I will never, never, never
Grow so old again.

–Van Morrison, Sweet Thing

8 Comments

  1. To go with your #4, you should also always buy good toilet paper as well.

  2. Happy Bday Dana!!

    I pray every bday that goes by for you delivers progress to Saffron Cross and both yr efforts.

    Once again Happy Bday :-))

    Peace and blessings!!

    Agni

  3. Most surprising about you – #16. But I have had that experience too. Can’t wait to see what #34 will be.

    • Eva:

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I’m addicted to Y&R. It’s the only show I watch, which I suppose is good because we have no TV and it’s only an hour easted per day. 😉 I justify it by folding laundry and unloading the dish washer while I listen.

      Great seeing you yesterday,
      Dana

  4. Britainy Sholl

    April 12, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Never stop laughing, especially at yourself.

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