The One Where Everything’s Different

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Tomorrow happens.
Tomorrow happens.

At 4:37 a.m. Central Time, I turned 35.

I’m completely unfazed. I’m less interested and less affected by the occasion than anticipated.

But the build-up to today in my head was a little bit bigger than other birthdays.

Because even though the only constant in this life is change, this is my first birthday where everything feels different.

Statistically speaking, if life’s a race, I’m at the halfway point.

I am mathematically likely to die between the ages of 70-71, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

I’m not to a place in life where I spend a lot of time worrying about that. In fact, none at all. I always try to stay aware (unsuccessfully) that my clock could stop ticking any second. It’s hard to live passionately and with purpose if you’re not always aware of how precious life and time really are.

I am the sentimental sort. Always have been.

I am acutely aware of certain meaningful anniversaries. I like flipping the calendar on New Year’s. And I tend to think of birthdays like our own personal New Year’s. An opportunity to grow. To have a better year than the last.

Turning 30 was a pretty big milestone in a lot of ways.

I had been married five years. We just had our son. I was employed in a different industry.

I don’t remember how I felt on my 30th birthday. But I tend to always think five years down the road. About the metaphorical tomorrow.

Divorce Changes Everything

My wife and I used to talk about it a lot.

We’d learn of friends having marital problems. And there were others who seemed destined to have them. And of course, there were those wearing their masks, pretending everything was okay.

She and I would be driving around, or sitting at the dinner table, or hanging out in the living room.

The math said about half of our friends’ marriages wouldn’t make it.

But who? Certainly not ours! We love each other too much. That could never happen.

Maybe them, we’d say about a particular couple. Or possibly them, we’d say about others.

But not us.

We said it a bunch of times.

Not us.

But here we are. Five years later.


And it was us.

It was me.

And now 35 feels so much bigger. If life was still “normal,” today would be even more of a non-issue than I consider it now. I don’t feel particularly weird. On the inside of me. There is more peace with the milestone than anticipated.

But that five-year plan? Gone.

And now there must be a new one. At least, that’s what my brain wants to do. It always wants this nice and neat and safe five-year plan where I have my eye on some end goal. Something to chase and work for.

And at age 35, I don’t have that.

I have absolutely no idea what my life might look like five years from now.

That has always been true.

But I just didn’t know it until now. And that’s the great lesson for me today. The reminder that our plans don’t always work out the way we want them to, or thought they might. That we are not promised tomorrow at all.

But the Sun Will Rise

With or without me.

The earth will spin. The sun will rise.

That’s my gift this year. And it’s my favorite gift of any I might receive. That growth. That maturity. That knowledge.

I thought of an important math equation on my drive to work this morning. I’m probably not the first person to come up with it:

My Choices + Time = Today

And acknowledgement of that equation—that truth—is my gift today.

I am here because of my choices combined with the natural course of time.

And wherever I am on my 40th birthday will be determined in large part by whatever My Choices are moving forward.

In my career. In my friendships. With my family. And in my romantic pursuits.

I’m 35.

And I’m getting sweet and thoughtful “Happy Birthday” text messages from girls I didn’t know 365 days ago.


Because the future is uncertain.

Because life happens.

Chuck Noland said it in Cast Away.

“And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

Maybe nothing.

Maybe something.

But for sure—opportunity.

If I wake, tomorrow happened.


Because anything can happen.

And a lot of those possibilities are really good.

56 thoughts on “The One Where Everything’s Different”

  1. It’s just so rough when plans change.. but change is inevitable unfortunately eh? God, people used to try and drill that into my head for years, telling me that nothing ever stays the same and you kind of always have to be a little bit prepared to have the rug yanked out from beneath you at any moment…
    My life is definitely not what I pictured it to be, years ago. I definitely thought I’d be in a different and better position in life but it just didn’t work that way and now I also find myself thrown up into the air not really knowing what I should do next or where the wind (or tide) is going to take me…
    It sucks.
    I don’t like it.
    I’m unhappy.

    But yeah I’ll still try to smile I guess. I take things one day at a time and try to keep faith that somehow this is all working towards the better good. What else can I do?
    I wish the same for you as well. At least all of us have each other and all our different insights to carry us forward.

    Happy Birthday btw. <3 🙂

    1. No one sees the big changes coming. And maybe there’s no way to be ready. Just gotta try to psychologically prepare, I guess.

      I don’t think it will ever be easy.

      Hugs back, Jade. And thank you.

  2. Happy Birthday Matt! You put a lot of good out there and I believe that when you do that, good comes back to you. Maybe 35 will be the year you write your first book! The possibilities are endless…. Hope you have a great day!

  3. Happy Birthday Matt!! I discovered some time ago my own version of that equation.. and y’know what? sometimes not knowing, not planning is the biggest liberation of all.. that way you get to do things that you would never have expected to.. like writing a blog, meeting some amazing people and then writing a book (no pressure!!). Have a great day!!

    1. Thank you, Chris. I never intend to quit trying. Hope you’re well and that your potential relocation plans are going smoothly!

      1. Relocation is stagnant. I have an editing gig, which is not much and temporary, but I’m writing for an alternative newspaper now, and posts are updated on Tuesdays… it’s life in Syracuse with a lot of snark and positive vibe, starting posts out on a low note and ending with a high/funny note.

        Might be taking a few road trips this summer. Keep you posted if I am in your direction.

  4. My birthday was only OK with a few high points scattered throughout.

    Next year I turn 40 and I really don’t know how I’m going to handle it if I’m still alone. I don’t know who looks down the road and ever considers the prospect of being single at 40.

    In the meantime the best we can do is take our “yuck” and turn into “yum.” Woe to those who find themselves in crummy situations and don’t try to figure out a way to make it purposeful or meaningful or redemptive. I think this could be a reason for your resilience-y-ness? (I love making up words) What you are doing through this blog and with your son is purposeful. Meaningful. Redemptive.
    Happy Birthday, Matt.

    1. I try to think of things in EXACTLY those terms. And I know that you know that.

      But thank you for recognizing and saying so. Appreciate you very much. 🙂

  5. Happy Birthday MBTTTR! I love birthdays, they are so full of fun and possibilities! My next one is the big 4 – 0! And my friends and I will celebrate in Vegas baby! Due to a ton of different factors, I only celebrate big every 10 years, and what bigger way than Vegas!

    So, enjoy another year, take time to look back, reflect and then make a pie chart to determine where you spend your time and make sure your life is in balance so that moving forward you know where and how you want to spend your time! My wish for you this next year is that you do what you love!

  6. This is such an important reminder. Just because the skies look clear today, doesn’t mean that there’s not a storm on the way. We never know what tomorrow will bring and that’s exactly why we must cherish the ‘now’. As I was telling someone just this morning, “You’re not dead. You’re very much alive and therefore you must live.” Enjoy the now. Enjoy the new friendships. Also congratulations on hitting 35! Happy Birthday!!

  7. when you’re 20 or 25, you have a 5 and 10 year plan and that’s great, because life is still kind of great and effortless right? But sometimes we go through sh(*t and sometimes it’s traumatic and life change and heart changing and character changing and that 5 year plan? well it becomes a day to day plan. Because as shitty as today was, you know that tomorrow holds promises of something better. You might still feel shitty tomorrow, but you might feel less shitty tomorrow than you did today and it might not mean you feel less shitty tomorrow tomorrow, but maybe only 20 or 50 tomorrows from now.

    But that’s life.. it’s change and sometimes that change takes a while.

    Happy birthday Matt.
    Here’s to more tomorrows

    1. A walk-ah!!! That’s the best. I don’t hear a Boston accent when I read you! I need to get work on that. 😉

      Thank you!

  8. Happy happy birthday, Matt! I’m turning 40 this year, and let me tell you (if it helps at all) – I had no idea what my life would look like in 2014 five years ago. And I couldn’t love where I am, and who I am right now, more. I never had a plan; I just kind of stumbled into awesomeness.

    Make a plan, or don’t; stumble into awesomeness, maybe. Either way, I predict that this birthday is just one in a long line of amazing birthdays for you, stretching on and on and on.

    Hope you had a wonderful day!

  9. I guess I’ll jump on the band wagon here.
    Happy birthday, Matt.
    As the Animaniacs theme song says “Expect the unexpected.” Cartoon wisdom to live by.
    At least I’m pretty sure it says that. I may need to Google for verification.

    1. 🙂 Thank you. I promise this wasn’t supposed to be a Happy Birthday, Matt thing. I thought this idea of a non-existent five-year plan was relevant.

      1. It is relevant. I definitely understand what you’re talking about here.
        And that was a legitimate and genuine happy birthday….just like everyone else’s. 🙂

  10. From the perspective of 57, turning 48 in a few weeks…35 will be fine. Yet I know what you’re saying…for you, this year, is unlike any other. You’re doing a good thing with it, learning, growing, figuring out what might come next, and learning you might just have to go with the flow. Happy almost birthday. I think this next one is going to be amazing for you.

      1. Haha. I knew one of those was off! Thank you very much for the well wishes and understanding where I’m coming from.

  11. Happy birthday to you. The 35 year mark eh? Man I remember those days, seems like yesterday. I remember when I turned 30 then 40 and I kept wondering when I would finally REALLY grow up. When my first child was born in my 20’s something in me changed and I did grow up some I think.

    Now with this divorce I feel like something in me is changing again but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s either another level or growing up or perhaps I just can’t see what it is because of the wide range of emotions I experience on any given day, things are cloudy.

    Still I know the future, in large part, is what I make it. I’ve got so much to be thankful for and I am.

    1. I’m so glad you feel that way, Vince. This time is hard enough without tail spinning into depression and negativity.

      I don’t know what you will be one year from now. I am not you.

      But I know you have every reason to feel hopeful. I continue to appreciate you being a part of this and sharing your story with me and everyone here. Hope you have a good night, sir.

  12. Happy Birthday, Matt! Hope you had a great time on your special day! All you can do is learn from your past, live in the present and be grateful for the future. You’re a lucky man with so many possibilities that have yet to find you.

  13. Possibility, Potential and Plenitude! All yours for the asking! Happy Birthday – – (is that why your mother visited?) and I also agree with Maggie – – this title drew me in immediately and I think you’re on to something here with chapter names in your book!

    1. My birthday was, indeed, the reason for mom’s visit (which was completely pleasant after that first night). Things have a way of working out.

      I should whine less. 🙂

  14. Happy Birthday, Matt!

    May you always have the awareness and courage to follow your heart.

    That’s a whole lot of insights you’ve been sharing on your personal New Year’s. 🙂

    Much love,

          1. I found it very encouraging!

            It made me so happy that people finally come to conclusions like those mentioned in the film and are talking about it, publicy. I very much liked that professor from Illinois who started happiness research in the 80’s and was wondering why people in the beginning looked strangely at his researches while they considered it completely normal to do the same kind of research about depressions. 😉 Also, the documentary touched my heart a lot in many ways and yes, I did cry, too. (Which is a good thing in this case).

            Well, I hope, although it seems to have been very different from what you knew, that you enjoyed your Birthday and are having a great day and week! – Lots of changes going on for many, now. 🙂

  15. Happy Birthday! Turning 35 was my scary birthday. You’re handling it much better than I did. Or at least I think you are. There was a lot of Pirate’s Punch when I turned 35. 40 was the easiest. 40 means you’re no longer weird; you’re eccentric. I’m embracing the hell out of that.

    The important part of birthdays is to keep having them for as long as you can and pack as much life as you can in between. Good luck to you in the coming year.

    1. Thank you very much! Strictly from an aging standpoint, turning 35 was a nonfactor.

      Appreciate the note and the reminder to squeeze as much life as I can between now and the end.

      Such an important reminder for everyone, every day.

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Matt Fray

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