Today I turn 40 years old.

40 years before I was born Pearl Harbor hadn’t even happened yet. That’s a fact I can’t unlearn.

I’m one of the luckiest people on earth. I was raised by a fantastic family in an incredible community. I love that I was raised in a town where, to this day, I could knock on any one of a dozen front doors and be invited in for dinner, including just popping into grandma and grandpa’s where I’m guaranteed at least a sandwich. I am grateful for that.

You can pick your nose, and you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family, and I was born into a kind, loud, caring, loud, funny, loud, boisterous, loud, and loving family – immediate and extended. I don’t know what the actual term is for a cousin’s child is, because they’re all just nieces and nephews to me.

I’ve been very fortunate along the way to make some of the best friends I could ever want. Not a lot of people get to spend 14 years going to school with the same group of 20 or so, but I’m one of those lucky ones. I have even been lucky enough to have one particular friend hold a figurative mirror to up to my life and ask me if I like what I see at a time when I needed it. In college, whether through class, the gym, or bands, I made some great friends in the college town that became my second home town. I found the joy of writing, rehearsing and performing music there. I also met my brilliant, lovely, hilarious wife there.

She was adventurous enough to come with me, up-and-leave that college town; her home town, leave her job, sell her house, and move to the big Twin Cities in search of jobs that would provide the kinds of challenges we just couldn’t find in that college town. Together we bought, remodeled, and / or sold four houses, said goodbye to my old dog and her old cat, adopted a dog, fostered a bunch of dogs, adopted a couple of cats, provided hospice care for a couple of dogs, and generally lived a pretty good life.

I made countertops for too long. Then I made fighter jet and satellite and 4-wheeler engine parts. Then I made heart valves, then MRI-Guided Neurosurgical Lasers (and yes, it is as cool as it sounds), and now I make tools for cardiac surgeons. I also learned along the way that my job is just that, a job, and that it doesn’t define me.

I also fancied myself as an athlete. High school sports taught me the best way to compensate for being 5’8”, 145# was to hit the weight room and run extra sprints. Track taught me that there was a direct correlation; the harder I worked the faster I got. I also learned that I can make myself more uncomfortable than most for 2 laps. Marathons and GORUCK taught me that can be uncomfortable for 4-17 hours straight, and that typically you will pass out before you die. Crossfit taught me that life doesn’t get any easier, you just add more weight.

My 30s gave me a scare when I found out I had a congenital heart defect. Then I found out it required open-heart surgery to fix. That sounded uncomfortable, so I asked if we could just wait it out and was told, “If we don’t fix it you’ll be dead by age 50.”

So we fixed it. And it was uncomfortable. And I struggled with cognitive issues for years after. I thought I was going to lose my job because my brain just didn’t work the same.

But I recovered, and this whole process; heart defect-surgery-recovery, was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. It has given me the ability to connect to friends and family struggling with memory issues, stroke recovery, MS, and for some, their own open-heart operations, in a way that I could never have done without the gift that was my heart defect.

But I’m 40 now. Repaired heart-or-no, if I’m lucky, I’m half-way home. I’m excited to see what I can do with the time I’ve been given.

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