I’m headed to New Orleans today and I already know that it’s going to feed me.

Have you ever had an experience where you’ve planned something for yourself, or maybe someone you love, or both, and then God – the universe – fate – whatever you prefer to call that force – lines everything up to take what you planned and amplify its meaning and significance beyond anything you could have imagined on your own? That’s what this weekend is for me.

I turned 40 in November, as you may know, and you may also know, I am a planner. Not necessarily about all things – I am notorious for overestimating the number of tasks one can check off in a given day (oops!), but when it comes to gathering people, I have always been the social director. True fact: my best friend Dave called me “Julie McCoy” when we were in college (if you have to look this reference up you are not old, congratulations.) For as long as I can remember, this has been my jam. There are a lot of group texts in my phone, and that makes me happy.

So, when August rolled around, I sent an email to some of my closest lady friends and asked if they would join me in NOLA to celebrate my 40th; I figured it was best to get on everyone’s calendar early. When you have a Thanksgiving-ish birthday, you’re used to competing with the holidays, so I decided we’d put things off until the new year and extend my birthday season a bit! Plus, I’ve never been to New Orleans during Mardi Gras and something inside me wanted to soak up that energy.

I didn’t know then that I would be walking into this trip two weeks into a separation and a joint custody arrangement, three days fresh off of a meeting with a divorce attorney, and more ready to connect with my beloved friends and plug into the joy of revelry than I have perhaps ever been. I didn’t realize that the cast of characters who would be joining me, and the ones who’d be cheering me on through this season of my life would look so different than the list of names I might have guessed at one year ago. There are some returning old-timers, for sure, but there are some notable absences, some ouch-y surprises, and also some life-giving new additions (including some new-old friends, which is a category I’m getting so much richness from at this moment in my life.)

Mourning is hard work, real work: physically draining, full of surprises, and also, I’ve learned, expansive – if you let it be. To live fully necessarily means taking it all, the bitter pith with the sweet fruit. The bitter? It comes to us all, no invitation required. What I’ve learned is that sometimes you’ve got to schedule time for the sweet. 

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