I opened my eyes only for a second before I wrapped up tighter in the the 11-year old quilt that my grandparents gave us for our wedding. My husband’s winter beard scratched my face as he leaned in to whisper.

Happy Birthday.”

I closed my eyes again and tried to drift back to sleep. Of all days that warranted sleeping in, a birthday topped the list. But my body trained to not sleep much past 7 or 7:30 couldn’t rest, and the sounds of wagging tails from dogs eager to go outside secured my alertness.

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Soon, my 6-year-old daughter joined me. In moments I hope never flee my memory she slid under the quilt and snuggled up next to me. My nose could immediately tell she broke her streak – she didn’t sleep dry last night.

I knew she’d be bummed.

Before encouraging her to change out of a wet pull-up and get ready for the day, I paused. Little hands holding mine and a silky Elsa nightgown were parts of age 33 I never anticipated, but the blessings I did not want to miss.

Happy Birthday Mama!” She was most excited for the day.

A box of donuts replacing the semi-healthy cereal and strong Starbucks coffee broke up the standard morning routine. I went straight for the donut with sprinkles. No matter how many candles poke into my cakes, my love for sprinkles will never die. I ate one and a half donuts.

I opened gifts and cards. At age 33, my wish list is small. I have all I need and most of what I want. Gifts are different these days. Gifts show me love, yes. But they also show me the pieces of myself I’ve given away. My love for writing and words. The comfort I find in a warm blanket. The encouragement I enjoy when tasting new wine with friends. The joy I radiate after showering with handmade soap.

They’re pieces of me that stick with others. Pieces that may seem simple and small but give my life meaning. Pieces I’ve fought to keep over the years. Pieces that make me feel alive.

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I check the clock. It’s time for my daughter to go to her bus stop. The windchill triggers excuses for me to wave goodbye through the cold glass door and watch her meet up with her friends. I keep my eyes focused on the three girls until they board the bus and their colorful stocking hats disappear.

I log on to the computer and a blast of notifications pop up on the screen to welcome me. Birthdays are different than those of my earlier years. Everyone seems to know it’s a special day. I hear from friends I’ve not seen in decades; strangers I’ve connected with across the country send well wishes. A few extend their remarks by texting or tweeting.

Happy Birthday!” everyone says. A chorus of very different and diverse people all unify to say the same thing. It’s nice.

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I go about my day which feels like most other days. I check my email and calendar, respond to co-worker questions and join meetings. An appointment in the afternoon gives me an excuse to take a half day. I run a few more errands before going back home. Nobody in the stores knows it’s my special day. Sometimes, if I’m honest, I do still feel the childlike urge to let them know it’s my birthday. But I don’t… because I’m 33.

I pick up the house before the “party.” My husband starts a fire. A low  key dinner at home with our parents is all I want. My friend prepares an amazing meal for us – homemade pot pie and mashed potatoes. We drink sangria and eat smores. I enjoy the evening with those who poured their lives into getting me to this day. Those who sacrificed more than I’ll ever know, who’ve held their tongues more than I can imagine. Those who’ve shown love is patient and kind. Those who’ve poured out so much.

This day is as monumental for them as it is for me. I’m finally old enough to see that.

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The evening winds down and we wipe down my farmhouse table. I smile that so many of us gathered around it. I stop and reflect on past birthdays I wasn’t so sure I’d see, and I pray that there’s a few more ahead for me.

And then I let myself wonder for a bit:  what’s so special about age 33?

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My thoughts turn to someone who chose to make his 33rd birthday his last. Someone who’s birth is remembered by the twinkling lights and silent nights this time of year. Someone who’s very presence was the greatest gift this Earth has ever known. Someone who mastered all of his Earthly to-dos in 33 short years.

I let my mind wonder at the mystery. Then I ponder:  why age 33? I turn my pondering to prayers because I don’t get it. I’m led to be thankful and offer gratitude.

I say thanks for the quilt and the whiskers. The little feet and the sweet treats. The hot coffee. The poems and cards. The texts and tweets. The friendship and food. The space to rest and the time to reflect. The wisdom of those who raised me. The opportunity to pass it along.

And it’s there I find peace. Not because I fully understand the power of age 33. But because in the stillness I meet that someone who chose to make his 33rd his last so I’d have the chance to be truly thankful and live free.