“As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.”
― Madeleine L’Engle
I wrote this essay last year on my birthday. I think it’s fun to see what I wrote as I reflect on everything that has transpired since then. I share it now for my own record-keeping, and to continue in the same spirit of reflection I engaged in last year.
Today is my birthday. I am twenty-two years old. I do not feel very different from how I felt yesterday, back when I was twenty-one and not twenty-two. I still have a zit on my chin, still don’t know how to do my taxes, and I still can’t decide if I like seafood or not. I thought that life would actually be quite different from what it actually is by the time I turned twenty-two. I imagined that I would feel much more grown up, much more capable, much more ready to “become an adult.” That my tastes would be refined, my opinions decided, my wardrobe sophisticated, my sense of humor witty and winsome.
In reality, I am neither refined nor sophisticated, and most days I feel like I’m simply masquerading as an adult. Sometimes I convince myself that I’m the only one who feels this way. But in my conversations over the years, as more candles get added to the cake and more of my friends become tax-payers, too, I’m finding that (as is common in my life) I was wrong.
All of us are still growing up. Me included.
At each age I come to, I am finding that though I really do look different, sound different, and think different, components of my childhood self never really have left me. Within me exist all my past selves, like traditional Russian nesting dolls piling one within the other. Within me nest: the creative self I discovered at age eight, the funny self I discovered at age ten, the independent self I discovered at fifteen, and the resilient self I found at sixteen. Year upon year, experience after experience, together they stack together, building one on top of another to make me into the image, thinker, sister, student, worker, daughter, friend, and woman that exists today.
Within me exist all my past selves, like traditional Russian nesting dolls piling one within the other.
So who am I today, on my twenty-second birthday, on April 15th, 2016? Who sits at this computer and writes today? I guess I am only able to answer those questions through the lens and layers of my identity that has been building up while I’ve been growing up.
Much of my present, twenty-two-year-old self who sits here and writes is the way she is because of the stories of my childhood. Things like catch and brothers and skinned knees and neighborhood football games and high school car ride conversations have come together, layer-by-layer, nesting doll by nesting doll, to make me into who I am today and help me figure out who I want to be. Being taken apart and put back together is a process that provides a greater understanding of why I am the way I am, of who I am and why I was made to be this way.
This is how my twenty-second year is beginning: with a reflection on the past twenty-one years. I feel the same as I did yesterday, but I know that, as Marilynne Robinson writes “somehow at the end of it I will be so utterly changed.”
Today’s present self is becoming tomorrow’s past self; new layers will be added inside of me nesting one within the other, exerting influence and shaping me into the person I am becoming.
I am growing up.
Question marks remain, anticipation is in the air. This year I will start a new job, move to a new place, meet new people, make new mistakes. I have no idea how things will unfold from here, what stories lie ahead. But as I’ve said before, what I do know is that is I don’t want my life story to be a set of blank pages about all the things I could have done, but never did. So with that in mind, I begin. I begin with a mindfulness about the past, an appreciation for the present, and a hope for the future.
Ahead are all kinds of ups and downs. Ahead are stories set in kitchens, told in car rides to the grocery story, set in my own postage stamp of native soil. Ahead are stories that will make me laugh, to the stories that will make my cry. Somehow at the end of it, I will be so utterly changed. So here’s to you, Twenty-Two.