the flavor of discontent

The day we found out about the first blizzard, my husband was turning 26.

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Luckily, I had all sorts fancy ingredients in our fridge-a tub of bruschetta, a grapefruit the size of a soup bowl, salty peels of prosciutto-and a new cookbook with three recipes designed to remind us of Italy. But word was spreading like wildfire, "Campus closed! Classes cancelled!", and my own thoughts raced to seize the last remnant of a quiet evening at home, the sort of birthday he wanted this year. 

I don't write a lot about my husband here and he's never stated much of an opinion about this little online space. Oh, he's knows it exists, but let's just say he hasn't signed up for an email subscription. 

He's the more private of the two of us. (Shocking, I know.) and definitely the more suspicious one of social media, blogs included.

 He hasn't had social media  accounts for a few months now, and in the welcome absence of opinionated posts and "personalized ad experiences", he may have forgotten how those little sites can affect the things that actually make a difference, like friends remembering your birthday.

I've got a Facebook and I still forget the dates and neglect to type the "Hey! It's your day! Hope it's special!" quips on someone's wall.

Every day I see you, every time you come to mind, I'm glad you were born. Isn't that enough?!

Well, maybe it is, but the birthday boy felt the lack of remembrance this year. 

For some reason, he kept relating this year to year 22 as he reflected on what's shifted and changed in his life. Maybe 22 mattered in some remarkable way. It was the end of college, the start of our story, the first anticlimactic step into adulthood.

In the 4 years since 22, what have I accomplished? he asked.

It's funny how the questions we ask reveal what we're really thinking. 

Inherent in the question was his conclusion: not much

And I wish I could change the definitions for him or give him a different set of question saltogether, but I can't. So in my proudest voice, I list off a few notables:

You navigated 9 different countries. 

You've held 3 nephews and a niece. 

You got married to the best woman you'll ever meet. (What? He did!)

You adapted to new jobs, and with each one you left it in better shape than it was in when you began. 

I realize as I rattle off my list and he goes on folding blankets that this whole exercise is really more about me than him. I can't stand to sit with dissatisfaction. Being dissatisfied is not comfortable or cheery. You can't just plop a smiley face after it and call it a day.

"The last 4 years were sort of a wash. :) "

Yah, it just doesn't work.

I'll admit it's much more my style to sweeten every sour thing with a spoonful of sugar. But on Monday night, as I squeezed the bowl-sized grapefruit and fried up strips of crispy cured ham, it became evident to me how much we need the tastes that make us pucker up and salivate. 

The discontentment of a few years could mean the difference of a lifetime.

I think of how many people I know who've sat on their questions and their fears, brushing them off in favor of feeling secure, of not wanting to rock the boat or change their "normal". How they held in the worries for days, then months, then years, first because they thought the worries would go away, and then because they didn't know how to make a  life without them.

I think of others I know who've taken bold steps forward, not knowing where the path may lead, but allowing their angst to propel them rather than anchoring them in place. The friend who takes herself on new adventures when she feels stuck and unsure. The mentor who makes a hard career change with more questions than answers. The parent who moves into a new apartment, then courageously flings open her doors and makes it a home.

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And maybe this is me just trying to sweeten a bitter cup for the one my soul loves, but what I've concluded this year is that the best birthday gift I could offer  is to let his discontent be. It's a high cost to the positive part of me, but even this sharp and sometimes bitter taste is part of the flavor of a feast. 

While the blizzard winds pick up speed and howl around us, I slice a hunk of grapefruit cake, add a dollop of  crème fraîche, and light a candle for the day he was born.

He hushes the flame and we toast to the gift of another year, and to the many flavors of the years that lie ahead.