We said farewell to a visiting relative with an early morning departure, then the house was silent while everyone else slept.
I'd just worked 3 back to back shifts during a week that likely contained the highest volume day in our emergency department's history. It was that brutal. As a souvenir, I'd brought with me a sniffle (unlikely to be influenza, as I did not feel like I was going to die in the way that is more typical of that disease) that kept me from sleeping the night before.
Today, however, that was left behind. My wife and kids piled into my now 11 year old Kia and drove an hour into the Santa Monica mountains. LA's notorious freeways for once cooperated, and there was no traffic.
We spent the drive listening to a book on CD as a family - The Mysterious Benedict Society - an activity we've come to enjoy sharing on long drives.
On arriving at our destination, we charged into a trail along a creek bed that gradually gave way to a small slot canyon terminating in a waterfall. It was exactly where I wanted to be, and exactly who I wanted to share it with.
I was thinking about how I compare with the me from 20 years ago, and here's what I came up with.
Then: Desire for companionship often thwarted by the voice in the back of my mind saying, "Would you seriously consider sharing custody of a child with this person for life if things go terribly awry?" Didn't stop my friends from indulging. Fewer than a handful have paid dearly for momentary pleasure.
Now: Reality with my wife is far better than any rom-com scenario I could have imagined. I feel like a more authentic version of myself when I'm around her. Icing on the cake: she's way cuter than I am.
Then: Medicine is so fascinating, I could spend every day immersed in it!
Now: Medicine is a platonic friend I can handle in just the right frequency. Our shared history is the basis for an ongoing relationship despite having grown apart over the years. Too much time together and we bicker.
Then: Hard to find an adult friend who was up for collecting agates on the beach, playing Cuban dominoes or flying a kite when the wind allowed.
Now: The kids are my ideal playmates and mostly share my recreational interests. Better still, they get my sense of humor in its more absurd moments.
Then: Weight-lifting, hiking, swimming laps...
Now: Weight-lifting, cycling, bodyboarding, hiking...I miss my less achy body version 1.0, but on the up side I'm eating more healthfully and feeling more fit than I have in the past decade. Not so much aging gracefully as alighting more gently than expected into middle age.
Then: Being a no frills person is viewed as kind of frumpy.
Now: Being a no frills person is viewed as kind of frumpy, but not by the eccentric frumps I selectively surround myself with, who can appreciate me.
Then: I thought like a 40-something but looked like a 20-something.
Now: My body has at long last caught up to my mind.
All of which is to say, having more years behind me than ahead of me, this was a birthday all about gratitude for my embarrassment of riches.
Thank you, dear reader, for being a part of that sense of wealth and making a weird old guy feel a part of something bigger.