29 on 29.
I’m not one for fancy celebrations. I am simply too non-materialistic for extravagant displays of celebratory expression. Don’t get me wrong, I believe deeply in the role of ritual and communal gathering to acknowledge and commemorate significant events and life transitions. I just don’t need cake for my kind of ritualistic celebrations. Well, until this year.
This year I turned 29. Not the perpetual I am really 47 kind of 29, but the real 29. Only once in your life will the date of your birth and your age align. This happens to be that year for me. I’m not one for creating significance out of randomness, but hey a lot of randomness ends up being pretty significant, so I will indulge.
On March 29th, 2019 somewhere around 8:30 AM I turned 29 years old, and for two whole minutes, I was older than my twin brother who was still a measly 28.
Birthdays up to this point have ranged from memorable childhood treasure hunts to time spent working in hospital. In general, I don’t plan anything for my birthday, mainly because in the past I haven’t really had the flexibility to do anything extravagant in the first place.
My typical birthday ritual has turned from one of opening presents and cards to one of reflection, an inward journey to express outward gratitude. This year was no different, only this time the gratitude just never seemed to stop.
To be honest, there was a time 6 years ago, just before my 23rd birthday when I wasn’t so sure I was going to make it to 23. I was 6 months into medical school and withering away, physically and mentally. I was always a skinny kid without much to lose, but I had withered away to skin and bones and a brain that was no longer working. Up to this point in my academic life, I was beyond an over-achiever. I was achieving things that one couldn’t even over-achieve at. I had transcended over-achievement. The only problem, I did not realize perfection was not possible or that my achievements were not sustainable either.
I had been president of my high school class from 10th to 12th grade, excelling in sports, with a GPA somewhere in the stratosphere. I graduated with a BS in Chemistry a semester early from the College William and Mary, receiving Summa Cum Laude recognition being somewhere in the top 1% of students. During the last 2 years of college I took part in research and worked part time as a emergency room scribe at a local hospital. I enjoyed my life, but my life did not have room for distractions. You didn’t just walk into medical school.
I was fortunate enough to get into the University of Virginia School of Medicine, my top school, but even before beginning I started getting some strange feelings that I needed to walk another path. Still very much stuck in the rational sphere, the early awakenings of my intuition were quickly left silenced by the ladder rungs of academic society beckoning to be climbed.
It wasn’t until the world came crashing down before my 23rd birthday that I realized I needed to walk another path. I just didn’t know at the time, if that path would lead me to another life or to remain in this one.
The story of my awakening is for another time or perhaps a future book, but I share this glimpse to let you see the significance of birthdays to me now. While I wouldn’t say I live every day like it is my last, I will often find myself engaged in activities that are a part of God’s plan before others or even my own at the expense of an expense, a lower grade or a massive inconvenience. I just don’t care about the nonsense.
This year, shortly after 8:30 AM, the gratitude circle started, beginning first with the most beautiful and thoughtful person I have ever met, my soon to be wife Kalia. Our relationship together is one of those “make meaning out of randomness things” I was mentioning earlier and is beyond remarkable. It certainly has not been easy in any way, like all relationships, as two souls seek to grow into one. Through every step of the last 2.5 years, she has been with me, encouraging me to walk my way, helping me grow my spiritual practice and trust in my intuition like no one else. Without her I would not be in Charlottesville now, would not have started my collaborative clinic Resilient Roots, would not likely be with any woman given the trajectory I was on before meeting her in the hospital. Love is mysterious. Love is miraculous. Love somehow found its way to me and I say thank you every day it hangs around.
Leaving the apartment I made my way to the clinic. The “clinic,” however, is nothing like your traditional clinic. It is a humble space, one small patient space and one working space for myself and my clinic partner, my brother in medicine: Ryan Hall. On this day, we were not seeing patients, but instead, conducting case reviews, reviewing new patients and going through recent and upcoming patients. For you see, care at Resilient Roots doesn’t start and stop during the appointments. We are constantly discussing recent changes, reviewing records, reviewing laboratory tests, researching and answering the questions of our patients. In our clinic, we recognize we need time for every patient, so we plan for it and commit to it every week. The ideas and plans that have come out of these hours of review are arguably more valuable than anything we conjure up during the visit itself, and the best part? It’s absolutely exhilarating.
At the end of my time in residency, I started to experience “The Dreads.” “The Dreads” is my term for the feeling upon waking of absolute dread, disillusionment and apathy that results from the thoughts of the work that is to come. I love medicine. I love holding space with people, but by the end of my residency training I was waking up with “The Dreads.” They are immobilizing, paralyzing, and for me, entirely ego-dystonic. They were the sign I needed change, and I have not looked back.
Since returning home to start Resilient Roots and be with my loved ones, I have not had the tiniest whiff of “The Dreads,” confirmation beyond doubt I am where I need to be, that I am pursuing my passion and my soul is at peace.
I feel beyond lucky, beyond grateful to be able to pursue my passions and actually choose to work on my birthday because I love what I do and who I am able to do it with.
I could practice medicine alone and I would be fine, but I would not be entirely happy and my patients would not benefit from the depth of my partner Ryan Hall and the exponential synergy created when we work together.
So yes, I was grateful to go to “work,” to be in a space with another who walks the same road of authentic wellness.
Dare I say, it was a party!
After our morning of work and lunch together, Ryan and I parted ways, beginning my way home much before the Friday rush hour traffic.
In my car, rested a birthday cake made by Sidney Hall: Ryan’s wife. I cannot tell you the last time I had a cake, let alone a birthday cake.
Calling this cake a birthday cake, however, is like calling Albert Einstein smart; silly descriptors like this come nowhere close to embodying the essence of the object or the individual.
Made from the deliberate thoughtfulness and artistry of Ryan’s wife, I was left wordless with the fact that 1). Someone would make and gift me such a divine cake and 2). I would actually be able to eat it and not expect some horrible negative ramifications.
Sidney makes a living, creating plant-based baked goods that become the first “fill in the blank” people have been able to have in years and years, and more than one tear of joy has been shed from her “cakeistry”
Making it home without indulging, I walked our dogs in the warm spring air, my ear buds popping with the song of the week on repeat.
Stepping inside to rest and make some dinner, I awaited the return of Kalia to share in the remainder of this day and her birthday gift.
Kalia, you see, knows me too well.
She can make my smile, laugh, cry and crumble without as much as a conscious thought.
And for my birthday, and my non-materialistic desires, there was no birthday “object,” but instead an interpretive report about the nature of our spiritual union.
Based on Mayan astrology, the report provided insights into the spiritual purpose of our union, the strengths, weaknesses and the mission before us.
Give me this 7 years ago and I wouldn’t have given it one glance.
Give it to me even 3 years ago and I would have asked who is this person I am divinely partnered with?
Even in the moment, present as ever with her as we read through this interpretation, I could not yet fully grasp the love and gratitude that would flow from me because of this “gift.”
It was not until the next day when I burst into tears while driving and listening to one of our songs that I was struck with the gratitude for her presence, pushing me in directions I previously would not have seen or been willing to explore.
The story of how we met defies logic, defies rationality and was assuredly a result of spiritual powers, and this moment only seemed to further emphasize to my heart how lucky I was to have her love and presence in my life.
Gratitude you see, is not a thought, it’s not actually even an action, it is a wordless feeling, felt in moments of absolute unconditional love, thoughtfulness and divine surrender. Gratitude is the recognition that you are a part of the greater whole and that others in the greater whole love you, care for you and deeply wish you well.
Birthdays, you see, were never meant for feeling older, richer, wiser, fuller or superficially loved.
Birthdays were meant for gratitude, deep and unwavering gratitude.
29 on 29
Dedicated to the flourishing of your being