Congratulations to Mary E. Ryan for Winning the September 2023 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

What has been the best year of your life so far? Explain why.

Mary composed a novel and uplifting take on this question. Enjoy her winning submission:

My Best Year

Mary Ryan

They say when the date of your birthday matches the age you are turning — it’s your golden birthday and the year that follows is supposed to be your best year. Given that logic, no one past the age of 31 would have a best year! But what makes a best year? The year I was born? The year my children were born? The year I landed my dream job? Is it possible that every year can be your best year to date?

My golden birthday was when I turned 23. I was in the middle of a Saudi Arabian desert, serving in the United States Army. We were caught in a once-a-century flash flood, and I spent the day digging trenches to drain the desert. Perhaps not the most fun birthday — definitely not like the year I turned 6 and my parents threw me a surprise birthday party — but certainly a very memorable birthday.

That year went on with highs and lows. A most notable high was returning stateside to be reunited with my husband on our first anniversary! A notable low was returning with lung damage that ended my military career.

Historian and writer Alice Morse Earle (1851–1911) wrote, “Every day may not be good… but there’s something good in every day.” I challenge us to see our years in this way too. Like ocean waves, there will be best moments at the high tide and the harder, worst, least, lean times at low tide. Still, each depends on the other, as the waves never return to the shore in exactly the same way. We too never end the day in the same way as we started. Therefore, the person you are today is distinctly different from who you were on January 1 and not who you will be on December 31.

I think of my days as a young girl spent blissfully on the back of my horse, roaming and rambling the dense oak woods of our family farm. With arms spread wide, with a smile to match, face to sky in utter bliss, she could have never imagined what was still to come.

The flutter in my soul when meeting — the one. The explosion of love that erupted from my heart the moment I held my newborn son. That young mother could never have imagined there would be enough room to love even more when my daughter was born. And when a mother turned to grandmother, there was yet another trajectory adventure!

Yes, each year, the low tides have come with their loss and heartache. Still the waves keep coming, bringing their fresh change, because the beach, like us, is never the same twice. Each dawn ushers in an accumulation of days that quietly multiply into a year. Each one dripping with unknown promise. Therefore, I would have to say, most certainly, that my best year to date… is the one that is still to come.