Personal Writing

Out with one decade and in with the new

December 28, 2022 early am

I’m up in the early, pitch dark silence of York, England, sitting in the living room of the beautiful AirBnB I rented nearly a year ago for just this occasion, the final day of my 5th decade. A number of people I love are asleep in this house with me: the incomparable Dr Marry, my spectacular mother, her partner Bob, my beloved Quinn and his girl Leona. All, and my brother Wes for part of it, have made the trek across the pond to celebrate this milestone birthday with me—something I have been planning since Dr Marry and I celebrated my 46th birthday in Yorkshire in 2018.

The extraordinary number of moving parts to this trip has finally caught up with me, and I have a head cold. Two countries (France and England) for Mother, Bob and Wes, three locations in England (Windsor, York and London), five AirBnB flats, three car rentals (including one that could “comfortably” carry six very tall Americans for the 4+ hour trek to York. Do you know how difficult it is to find a car that size in England??? Now imagine driving it. Dr Marry, once again, you are the hero of this tale), two, three-course dinner reservations (one for 10 and one for six), one afternoon tea reservation (at Betty’s in York), combining some of my family with all of Dr Marry’s for Christmas Day (thanks again for the incredible hosting, Chris and Jane!), the regular pressure of the holidays and not having seen any of Dr Marry’s family since February 2020…and all while all trains and airport baggage handlers and security forces are on strike. No wonder I’m a bit under the weather!

Back row L-R: Bob, Wes, Dr Marry, Quinn, Leona and Mother. Front: DD, Mike, Jean and Jane.

But I’m so, so happy.

I can’t believe we pulled this off. When we got out of the car yesterday in York, I finally felt the stress slide down my back and slither away to find another unsuspecting host to climb. I slept through the night last night for the first time since we got to England because, while this isn’t everyone’s final destination for the trip, getting six of us to York was the most complicated piece to the puzzle. And we did it.

This trip feels like a victory lap for this past decade: one that has been filled with the highest highs and lowest lows of my life:

  • I so clearly remember holding that preemie on January 13, 1996, doing the quick math to realize I would be 41 when he went off to college. For years, I lived in dread of that day, but it came and went, and I not only survived it, but I’ve thrived in the years since, as has he.
  • Dr Marry went into the hospital early in my 44th year. I don’t need to regale you with the details of those six weeks, or the difficult years leading up to it because there’s plenty of content you can find if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
  • Dr Marry came out of rehab an utterly changed man, and the great joy of these past nearly six years has been the rekindling of our union, our partnership, our love—in so many ways, these years are the only ones that matter because we never had anything like this even before the drinking nearly destroyed us both.
  • I continued my passion for arts advocacy and spent all of this decade valiantly fighting for the arts. I will always be proud of this work.
  • I was gifted by the Universe with my next chapter’s work in my 47th year. And that happened while I faced (and overcome) a number of personal fears I’ve had for much of my life.
  • We put our sweet Lilly-girl down.
  • I’ve had health (including surviving COVID pre-vaccine), some wealth, comfort, incredible travel, spent time with those I love, celebrated old and new friendships, abundantly fed my curiosity about so many things, seen my spouse not only recover from a debilitating, and often deadly, disease but come gloriously into his own professionally and personally and watched my child flourish in so many ways.

As I chant to myself when trying to take my mind off the grind of a particularly challenging moment in spin class: I’m grateful because I’ve tried and failed. I’ve fallen and gotten back up again. I’m grateful for the gifts I was given at birth and for the skills I’ve acquired along the way. I’m grateful for the hard times because they showed me what I’m really made of; I’m grateful for the joyful times because I’ve been present for them. I’m grateful for the privileges I have been unfairly granted and I’m grateful for the places, experiences and opportunities where I’ve earned what I have. I’m grateful for the family I was given and for the one that I chose. I’m grateful because my life is abundant, joyful, challenging and rich in all the ways that matter most.

I start this day, my final day of the (hopefully) first half of my life, happy beyond my wildest imagination, grateful for what has been and filled with anticipation for what is to come. My heart is full, my mind is spinning with ideas, my back is strong and I’m ready, confident, grateful and excited to take this next step.

You might not be celebrating a milestone birthday, or any kind of birthday at all, but the great thing about an end of year birthday is that it occurs the same time as when so many others are taking stock of their last year and looking ahead to the next. Take some time over these next few days to put together a retrospective of your own—what’s worked, what’s been joyful? What’s failed, what’s been difficult? Then, most importantly, what did you learn from it all, how did it change you, what are you taking away from it?

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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