I woke up on Day 363 feeling a bit groggy.
Groggy? Who am I kidding?
I was hung-over something fierce. And I had Trey, my dad, and all of the other drink pushers in my life to thank for that, I suppose. My night ended with me skipping down the streets of Folly Beach while holding my birthday balloons, wearing a Viking helmet, and starting a dance party.
Despite the late night, I was up early, too excited (or too old) to sleep in. When I emerged from my cave of a room to find both Emilys and Mark and Jen sitting together in the living room, I smiled, thankful for these people who were in my life.
If the word for Day 362 was, "overwhelmed," then Day 363's word was "thankful."
I wasn’t thankful for everything. Like the raging headache I had. Even I, who has managed to be sappy about the most mundane activities (wine party, anyone?), can't find a way to be thankful about a hangover, but knowing that the reason I felt so bad is because I had so much fun the night before made the headache worth it. And I knew there was more fun and more people on the way.
I was (and still am) a very lucky girl.
After breakfast, and a riveting conversation about Quinoa with Jen (What is it? Where can I get it? Is it hard to make? What is it for real?), we headed to the beach. Again, I felt immense gratitude for the gorgeous weather, the sand between my toes, and the fact that I had nothing else to do but drink cold beers and bask in the glory of the day.
I was thankful that even with my worlds colliding right there on Folly Beach, that "Freak Out Steph," was nowhere to be found. Everyone was getting along, no one was revealing any of my dark secrets to the other, my friends really like each other.
I was thankful that everyone managed to feed themselves for lunch without me (despite my mom emailing me incessantly that I should at least offer my guests something.) I'm not a planner, what can I say?
I was mostly thankful that my co-workers, who had driven into town with a car that read, "Class of 2014 Fall Break," written on it, did not force me to dress in costume like they had forced our friend Devon, complete with fake mustaches, sombreros and mesh shirts.
The greatest thing about a beach party is that the entertainment is built in, and people could come and go as they pleased. There were football games on all day, so every hour, we'd lose someone to the house to check scores. Some of my friends with kids brought them early, wore them out and were ready to leave by mid-afternoon. Others, like Julie and Sean, drove up from Florida and arrived right when the sun was starting to set.
Not too long after they got there, I looked towards the oceanfront houses and saw Jeremiah and Lucia, my friends from Nashville, walking through the beach access towards us.
"Hey," I said, while waving, like it was completely normal for me to see them.
Five seconds later I realized, HOLY CRAP IT'S JEREMIAH AND LUCIA FROM NASHVILLE!!!!
There was hugging, there may have been squealing as I tried, and failed, to hide my shock and excitement as various phrases came spewing from my mouth.
"OH MY GOD!"
"WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING HERE?!"
"YOU SAID YOU COULDN'T MAKE IT!"
They made a last minute, spontaneous decision to come and drove all day to get there, just to be at the party. They'd have to get up early the next morning and drive all the way back. Most people would've said they were crazy to make such an effort, but these are the kind of choices that Project 29 to 30 is all about.
Drive 16 hours to party for five? Ok!
Again, overwhelmed. And completely thankful that these are the kinds of people I have in my life. We enjoyed the last few moments of sun before reluctantly schlepping back to the house.
Grouper Therapy was already buzzing with activity when we returned. Football was on TV, appetizers were on the table, and those who didn't make it to the beach had started to arrive for dinner. Emily was cheering Alabama on to victory (in a very close game), Danielle and Scott's kids were getting acquainted and chasing each other around the house, my mom and her friend Ellen were hard at work in the kitchen, prepping for the buffet.
Adam had brought the shrimp over from Day 361's outing, making Day 363's thing I've never done before was to eat food that I actually caught. My dad and his friend Wally and my brother's friend Trey had already started the Lowcountry boil underneath the house.
Everywhere I turned, there were things going on, and I did my best to soak it all up.
I thought that the surprises would end with Jeremiah and Lucia's arrival to the beach, but as the night progressed, there were more. Perhaps the day's other word, in addition to thankful, should be "surprises."
My sister-in-law Katie surprised me by decorating the kitchen with pictures of me when I was a child model (yeah, that's right, I was a child model, of the "JC Penny Easter fashion show" variety) and made a poster with pictures from the blog.
She and Emily were also cohorts in a Project 29 to 30 trivia game where guests had to answer questions about my life based on how it was written in the blog. I was shocked at how well my friends did. I thought my parents were the only ones who knew me so well.
Mo, Justin, and Devon gave me a wicker box full of random items that turned into a game for me. I had to dig through each of the items and explain how they related to Project 29 to 30. I wrote the damn thing, and I was surprised at how many of them I had to stop and think about. Thanks to this very generous gift, I am now the proud owner of my very own set of Tarot cards, a box of Dryel, and red nail polish.
My mom surprised me with an extremely special gift, a necklace that was hers back in the 1970s that I repeatedly tried to steal when I was in college and would come home for breaks. After all of these years and failed attempts, she finally let me have it. To go with the $7 wooden necklace, she gave me a beautiful gold bracelet that should I ever grow up, has my thirties written all over it.
Amanda surprised me, again, with her ability to dress fashionably even when the odds are stacked against her. She realized on her way out of town that she'd left her hanging bag in Atlanta, so was forced to go to Cato Women's Fashions on James Island to purchase something to wear (Charleston is full of hip boutiques, but Folly Beach is not). She knocked it out of the park, per usual.
I surprised myself with my ability to shotgun a beer (wait, make that "inability") and to imitate Antoine Dodson of, "Hide your kids, hide your wife," fame.
I remain eternally grateful for life's many surprises.
At some point, right before the birthday cake, I made some awkward remarks thanking everyone for coming and thanking them for their support. I'm usually pretty good at public speaking and speeches of this nature, but fumbled over myself; I couldn't quite put how I was feeling into words. Even now, all these months later, I'm finding it hard to articulate exactly how it felt to be surrounded by so many people who love me and to be given so many generous gifts. Overwhelming, certainly. And, as much as I hate to say it, I found the whole experience quite embarrassing as well.
Strange that I could feel embarrassed over a party that I'd planned for myself. It's not as if I didn't know I'd have to publicly thank my guests at some point. Yet as I stood there, in front of everyone staring at me, I really wished that we were celebrating someone else. Celebrating other people's good news comes very easy to me. I feel like an old pro. Celebrating my own is another story.
When we are children, even the smallest milestones are all celebrated with thunderous applause and paparazzi style photo shoots. I've even seen babies, likely mimicking those around them, even clap for themselves after crawling across the room. But as adults, most of us work hard to fade into the background, hoping that our accomplishments will go unnoticed, for fear, I suppose, that if we called attention to them and to ourselves, that we might seem self-centered or boastful.
Thanks to two very centered parents who taught me from a very young age that I am not, nor will I ever be, the center of the universe, I'd like to think I'm a humble person. But this birthday was, this year had been, in the words of our Vice President, a "big fucking deal," for me. I'd done something big. These people who had flown and driven in from out of town standing in front of me eating Lowcountry boil understood that. Why was I so tongue-tied in front of them?
While I'm forever grateful that I took on this project to do a new thing everyday, and writing about my life, I did, over the course of entire year, become the most self-centered version of myself. Focusing on writing and checking things off my bucket list often came ahead of nurturing relationships. I put me first, even when it felt unnatural and in many ways, this party, that I threw for myself, was a culmination of just that. And it embarrassed me that these people who I'd used, and sometimes abused, for my own project were standing there supporting me anyway.
Plus, having all eyes on me, reacting to everything I said and every move I made, for an entire weekend was unnerving, and isn't the kind of attention I crave. There were times when I felt like a pinball bouncing around trying to keep everyone entertained and happy, and I worried that I wouldn't spend enough quality time with any one person in order to give them the sincere thank you that they deserved.
I suppose in many ways, too, I celebrated myself all year long, breaking away from the mundane and saying, "Yes!" to new experiences. The party felt like the very rich icing on an already very rich cake. Saying the right words to the people who made it possible felt like an impossible task.
Somewhere in the gray area between a self important bad-ass attitude and the demure fading into the background approach to life is a place where being proud of ourselves and celebrating our own triumphs is an acceptable thing to do. I'm still struggling with that gray, too, I guess, but I hope someday I find it.
After all, if we don't celebrate our own milestones in life, then who will?
Maybe my next celebration won't involve a boozy beach party; I'm already looking forward to more low key parties in the future. But I'd like to think that with each passing year, I'll find a way to acknowledge that I am another year wiser, with a year's worth of new experiences, complete with successes and failures to add to the memory pile.
Even if it's just a toast of cheap champagne to say, "Cheers! I'm still here! I'm still alive!"
And it is a big fucking deal.