Saturday, November 22, 2008
As I write, it is a classic November day. From inside my cozy kitchen, I see that the sky is a solid sheet of grey. A playful breeze is tickling the trees, making them laugh and sway ever so gently. It is Saturday morning, the start of a gloriously open and uncluttered weekend, the kind my soul needs every so often. A soul needs to breathe.
The moments I spend writing are the calmest moments of my week. I feel open to inspiration, like I am a large bowl, waiting to catch raindrops of meaning falling from the clouds of the universe. I’m feeling particularly inspired today because Monday, the day that this piece will make its public debut, is my birthday. I did the math: it turns out I will be 27 years old on Monday.
In this decade of my life, the days, weeks, months go by so fast that every time my birthday shows up again on the calendar, it feels surreal, like I’m in some sort of odd, dream-like state. Really? I’m 23, 24, 25, 26 years old now? I feel almost ageless, like my age is irrelevant to my path and my future of unseen possibilities. When I first pondered the idea of turning 27, I felt a little sad. 27 is dangerously close to 30, and 30 is the end of the carefree, 20-something life. Then I realized my 20-something life has been anything but carefree. I’ve been plagued by doubt, uncertainty, loneliness, and exhaustion. In other words, I’ve been in graduate school almost the entire time. But now, I’m so close to finishing my degree. I’m still plagued by loneliness and exhaustion, as well as another downer, boredom, but I feel like the doubt and uncertainty are starting to dissipate. It’s a great relief.
I knew before I graduated from college that I would be heading to graduate school with barely a hiccup between the two. The journey was like pushing off of the shore of my childhood in a boat, waving good-bye to my family and friends, safety and security. At first, my boat felt rock-solid: I had a great education, a good head on my shoulders, a little money in the bank. The waters were a little rough sometimes, but nothing my boat and I couldn’t handle. I was joined by a boyfriend for a time, but after a while he jumped out of my boat and swam back to his own. Afterwards, my boat felt cold and empty, but it was my boat again. In his absence, I was free to stop trying to impress him, an impossible task at best. I was also free to stop worrying about the future of our relationship, a future in which I saw myself never happy but always trying to make him happy, another impossible task. But I promised myself that I wouldn’t give up on love, that in time, I would be ready for love and romance and sex. I was able to keep that promise.
I kept rowing along, resting when necessary, occasionally visiting with other 20-somethings as we bobbed in the sea. Everyone had a similar story: with flags of independence flapping in the breeze above their boats, my 20-something friends told tales of new jobs and new marriages, of facing down uncertainties with courage and grace. Their stories of fear and failure, and of rising above failure to try again, filled me with hope. I thanked my lucky stars that I don’t really have to make this journey alone, even though it feels that way.
But still, my boat keeps springing leaks. Sometimes they are minor, and I do my best to plug the leak and I keep rowing along. Sometimes they are monstrous gaping wounds, and the water starts rushing into my fragile little boat. I start crying and cursing, hating every minute of this damn 20-something voyage I’m on. I want someone to save me, to take me back to shore. I want to forget I ever left shore in the first place. Sometimes there are emergency rescue missions: my brother and sister-in-law will come by in their yacht and invite me on board. They fish my boat out of the water and repair the holes while soothing me with homecooked meals and deploying my niece to entertain me for hours. Other times, Matt zips by in his speed boat, notices I’m on the verge of sinking, and offers to pull me on board for a little while. We share a glass of wine, a meal, a cuddle, and then I hop back into my boat and he speeds off again.
The saving grace of this 20-something journey is that it’s a one-time trip. Once I reach the shores of age 30 and beyond, there will be no need to repeat the battles for autonomy and self-sufficiency that characterize my 20-something life. To my mind, the chances for financial and emotional security only get better with age. There are, of course, no guarantees, but the pain of 20-something failure will light the pathway toward 30-something happiness. I feel like I’m more than halfway there.
Rather than mourn the end of my 20s, I am ready to celebrate it. From inside my boat, I can see the shoreline of 30-something land, and everyone there is cheering me on, telling me to row faster and get back on solid ground. As they cheer, I am waving hello to a new decade and a new chance to live life on my terms, and for a moment, I forget that I’m still miles from land.
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A brief housekeeping note: I have no recipe for you today. I figure you are very busy putting the final touches on your Thanksgiving menu, so you are preoccupied with plenty of recipes already. I do, however, have a very special treat planned for Wednesday. I can’t wait to share it with you, but for now, it’s a surprise. This is your only clue.
Have a lovely week, dear reader.