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This past Feb. 23, I celebrated my 39th birthday. Every year on my birthday, I make a reflection of the past year and take with me what worked, let go of what didn't and make plans and goals for the upcoming year. For me, a birthday is not an anniversary of my birth; it's more a re-birth — a new opportunity.

But as I approach "the big 40," this past birthday I engaged in a more in-depth reflection. This one, as it draws me closer to a new decade in my life, had to be meaningful and detailed. I decided to have a conversation with my younger self. As I grew up, I always thought that when I grew older I would want to ask my younger self if she was proud with what I have achieved; if I'd done what she really wanted; if I had the life that she imagined. And so, the conversation began.

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There I was, face-to-face with that thin, frail, pale, bald 17-year-old girl, who had just survived cancer and, with it, had a wake-up call and a rearrangement of all her priorities and life goals. She smiled at me. When I asked her if she was happy with her life, she nodded and said, "you are doing just fine," with that contagious smile she always had, even in the worst of times.

She said she was most proud of how I had faced life after cancer; how she noticed it made me stronger but also more compassionate. She also admires how I haven't been afraid of life or death anymore, but instead focus on living and giving my best every single day.

She said she was really proud of how I always insist on looking for the good in people and how I continuously strive to better the lives of those who cross my path; how I give my best to them in hopes that they can leave my side having learned something or being inspired in some way, no matter how small.

She also said she was moved by my never-ending desire to help others, which culminated in my decision to "rescue" my dream of becoming a nurse and help others going through what I experienced by going back to college to get a second degree.

She smiled as she recognized the lovely mother I became, and admired the decision of putting my dream on hold while I dedicated myself to raise "my other three dreams" — my three children.

I asked her, what about those dreams she had of writing a book, making a name in the literature world, traveling the world? Was she disappointed that I hadn't achieved those yet?

"Why would I be disappointed," she replied in a surprised tone. "Instead of just one book, you have written many stories, stories that have filled the hearts of many others. With that, you have made true my dream of touching many lives. You haven't traveled the world as you quite imagined, but you have visited different places and have made many memories with your family that we both will forever treasure, and that is worth more than visiting the Coliseum or the Trevi Fountain on our own."

"But it wasn't exactly what you had in mind," I pointed out to her.

"It has been better," she said.

"I am proud of you — do not doubt it. I am pleased with the life that you have lived and I look forward to all the new dreams that you will forge from now on," she said.

"Sometimes dreams change, sometimes we modify dreams and sometimes we just make new ones. And it is OK as long we are happy with ourselves. I am, and so should be you," she told me as she smiled again and winked as a sign of approval and encouragement.

As I said before, her smile is really contagious, so I smiled, too. I felt at ease, as I understood that my younger self was proud of the life I have chosen, or actually, the life that chose me. I invite you to have a conversation with your younger self, revisit all the dreams and goals your younger self had, work toward them or make new ones, and every once in a while, go back and talk to your younger self, as our younger selves can remind us of the things that really mattered to us.

Marta Cruz-Alicea writes every other week for the Life & Times section of the Carroll County Times.

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