Wednesday, October 21, 2009

on turning twenty.three

I feel a pressure to be as particularly nostalgic and appropriately reflective as befits my twenty.third birthday. Over the past few weeks I have felt the weight of this momentous occasion. Not that the twenty-third birthday is any more significant than, say 22, or 24, in terms of privileges now obtained or legal statuses now awarded. But there is something rather portentous in the occasion of turning 23, and is perhaps more implicit than anybody has every thought to admit. Inspiring stories about that pivotal twenty-third birthday are rare, if exist at all. I'll concede that even I wasn't pleased with the particular number of this year's annual celebration of achieving one more year on this bittersweet earth. Twenty-three has the taint of a forgotten year, a mere steppingstone between the beautifully even numbers of twenty-two and twenty-four.
[The only odd-numbered birthday I fully embraced was my twenty-first, and that for its obvious celebratory achievement of a certain legal status.]

As October 21 approached this year - in the year with an equally desirable number yet full of extremely consequential milestones and accomplishments - I began to feel the weight of the significance of this birthday. It was a quiet, almost secretive pressure - like feeling a hand upon your chest in the middle of the night but being unable to tell anyone about it lest they don't believe such an unusual phenomenon actually occurred. If I find much consequence in this forlorn and forgotten of years, I am definitely spending too much time in personal reflection.

Nevertheless, I know that in twenty years I will appreciate these reflections and musings about turning twenty-three that I am about commit to paper [or our generation's conveniently efficient and eco-friendly journaling alternative]. So I will attempt to pen into being as fluidly and coherently as possible these ghostly visions swimming about the introspective section of my brain.

Perhaps it has to do more with the place in live at which I find myself whilst turning twenty-three that I feel this grand weight upon my reflective muscles. Of course, twenty-two was the year for grand accomplishments and experiences of culmination -
graduation from college [with honors]
the wedding of my best childhood [and current] friend
finally getting to California, to Hawaii
getting into grad school, deciding to take the year off
looking for, finding, and moving into an apartment in the BIG CITY
paying the first rent, utility bills, making the first budget
looking for, finding, and starting the first real-life job

All of those achievements and grand, sweeping, exciting, highly anticipated "firsts" are eternally committed to that gloriously even [and symmetrical] number of 22.
[Confession: I am secretly THRILLED that each of those things happened when I was 22. It is in fact my favorite age, when based solely on the aura of the numbers, and I would not have given those lasts, onlys, and firsts to any other age than twenty-two.]
With all of those endings and beginnings left in the hands of a friend so lovingly remembered but so realistically fading into the past, what is in store for twenty-three?

I've decided that 23 is a transitional age. I am no longer a college student, and verging on no longer being a fresh "recent grad." I've been in my apartment for a few months, had my job for a few months, been doing the [hellish] commute for a few months - most of the exciting "firsts"
first job
first apartment
first rent
first birthday out of college
first meeting-the-neighbors party
first visit home not on a college break
have already happened. What remains is the drudgery of day-to-day. Granted, I never plan to live so that that word can even tenuously find a foothold in my life. But I have this, uneasy, realization that
this is the rest of my life.
No longer can we hide behind the "I'm just a college student" mantra. Twenty-three is the year when people begin to expect things of you. Yes, I am still a young adult. Yes, I am still in my twenties. But I am an entire year past the age I was in college. Now is the time I must begin to accomplish things in my life. Maybe it's this: in college, we are transitioning, minimally, every eight weeks. Classes change, living situations change, we're going from home, to school, to home, to school, from job to job, from roommate to roommate. But, here in the world of a twenty-three year old, life will probably remain the same, more or less, the majority of the time.

That scares the hell out of me. I have found the form that silent pressure upon my chest takes when caressed into being: I'm just scared. I'm scared of mediocrity, [worse] of being content with mediocrity, of failing because I was content to be content with mediocrity. I'm terrified I will never go back to grad school because I can't figure out that perfect program for me. I'm terrified of defaulting on my loans because I can't figure out how to properly budget and save money. At twenty-three I am suddenly feeling the weight of all of the responsibilities that came when I was twenty-two but were overshadowed by all the glamorous firsts of this new and exciting life after college. Twenty-three is the first real, full year of being an adult. I don't know if I'm ready for that.

But, the thing is. I have to be. Life, that fickle thing, does not stop for me. It does not pause for those few days, hell, for even a few seconds, for me to get my head on straight, take a deep breath, and begin to tackle those real-life responsibilities. I wrote before that I always thought there was some magic ingredient to being an adult, to being composed, responsible, real-life qualified. Come to find out, there's no such thing. I would venture to say that [almost, because there are those that would not admit this] every adult on this earth has had the same panicked, deer-in-the-headlights moment, the feeling of being thrown into the football game with no knowledge of the playbook and watching 300lb men hurling themselves at you.

I think that, no matter how old we get, we will always feel the same on the inside - simply ourselves. Occasionally we will look in the mirror and wonder how we got to be that old - where those wrinkles came from, when our hair began to turn gray. But, after all of this introspection, I can find comfort in the fact that no matter what life throws my way, I will always, always, be Ashley.

And it is only Ashley [and God, of course] that has control over my life. If I am terrified about being mediocre, I have the power to make absolute certain that my life is not mediocre. Perhaps my impossibly high standards for myself will have to change - not lower, but change - so that I am able to enjoy each stage of my life without constantly feeling like I am not living up to this magnificent life God granted me.

I hope, over the years, that I am able to lose that fear of failure, so that I will not be afraid to do something lest it doesn't turn out exactly the way I expected. But I hope, I pray, I entreat God, that I never lose that fear of mediocrity. It is that fear of being content, of losing my ambitions, my passion for life, that keeps me from constantly seeking out challenges, those moments and opportunities for reeducation. It is a balance I'm sure I will never achieve, but simply being conscious of it will help me immensely along the way.

So, twenty-three, o forgotten year, here's to a year of transitions, of embarking upon that new road of my life which has yet to be charted - that road that is terrifying, and probably is full of potholes, lots and lots of construction, road rage, and who knows what other pitfalls - but a road that is also full of those gloriously freeing road-trip, blue-sky, singing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs with the wind blowing vigorously in my face moments.

In twenty-three years, it's those moments I'll remember. It's time I started more passionately searching for them.

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