Reflections On My 21st Birthday
I can barely remember the day, but I have a hazy memory of turning thirteen; of finally being a teenager.
It was as if I was part of some ‘older’ club, even though I didn’t feel like I really fit in. Maybe everyone feels a little strange at that age, and if so, I was no exception to the rule.
When I was twelve, I thought everything would change once I turned thirteen. Instead, mostly everything appeared to remain the same. I felt the same insecurities. I still did most of the same things with friends. Maybe the only visible difference was a few extra vertical inches and a few extra zits.
During the summer before high school I had a similar feeling. I thought that as soon as I became an official high school student everything would change. I would somehow be older, (maybe cooler?) and I would do high school things.
If anything, I would definitely be more confident in high school. I wouldn’t be afraid to talk to girls like I was in 8th grade, of course. I’d be cooler than that.
When I sat down in my first ever history class, however, I discovered that indeed I hadn’t changed. I was still me, and I still had my silly roller backpack my mom insisted I use to save my back from those heavy books.
When I was in high school, I was positive that college would be different. I knew that as soon as I stepped on campus, everything would change. I’m sure I’d be a great student, super social, and stress free. Everything would be different once I was living in the dorms.
When I got to college, however, I was still me. The dorms were also smaller than I had expected, and my roommate had the habit of bringing friends to our place just as I was trying to sleep.
When I hit my 20th birthday, I was shocked that I was no longer a teenager, but I wasn’t shocked that everything was different. I was shocked that everything was, once again, the same.
Crossing this next barrier, nothing seemed to change.
Just this weekend, I turned 21 years old. Now I’m legally allowed to drink, and I’ve crossed one of the last barriers our society tells us young people to consider as important.
My last barrier to cross is college graduation, and I’ll don the cap and gown in just about two years.
Crossing these ‘barriers’ seems to have had little effect on my life.
For most of my youth, I dreamed that on certain days like these everything would shift, change, or perhaps be born anew. Now, I’m more skeptical.
But, even though these special days seem to have little effect on my perceptions, I have changed over these years, and I’ve grown in more ways than one.
I’ve seen my confidence rise, fall, and rise again.
I’ve seen my abilities steadily increase over the years.
I’ve searched for more meaningful human connection, and after much effort appear to be making headway into new territories I previously have been too afraid to explore.
My change, however, has never occurred when expected. Looking towards my ‘special days’ for change has seemed to mislead my perception.
I have never changed much on any given birthday or graduation, whether it was from middle school or high school. (I don’t expect to change much on my day of college graduation either.)
On days like these, I seem to remain just as I already am. The person I am just gets to experience a day a little unlike the rest.
Where I have changed, however, is in the space in between.
I’ve changed gradually over time. I’ve changed because I wanted to change. Sometimes I’ve changed because I felt like I had to.
I’ve changed because I felt pain, and wanted to avoid pain.
I’ve changed because I needed to cope with a situation life threw at me.
I’ve changed because new ‘friends’ made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin.
I’ve changed because I made commitments and tried to stick to them and some of the lessons I’ve learned have stuck back to me.
Without fail, however, I have changed in the long interim times between those specially marked holidays of my life. I’ve changed in the vacuum between the days with all the picture taking, fanfare, and joyful crying.
My 21st birthday was just this past weekend, but was the date really so special? Should it be marked for any reason, other than to perhaps keep time for some file to be analyzed when I pass away?
Just now, I’m thinking about a gravestone. When we’re buried, they mark your spot with two dates; the day you were born and the day you died.
In between those two dates (which are prominently portrayed in large, beautiful lettering) is a miniscule symbol. It’s often too small to see, and it is sometimes so covered in moss that you’ll miss it entirely.
It’s a small dash. It probably preoccupied the stonemason for just five or six hits with the chisel before he moved on, but this small dash represents the entire life of the man buried below. It stands for every hardship, failure, victory, defeat, laugh, cry, and love that man felt throughout his entire life. And yet it is so small that it is barely visible between the sacred dates when that man by chance took his first and last gasps of air.
Is it wrong to remember the dates, but not the man who lived between them?
Perhaps. I honestly don’t have a clue.
These are just my thoughts on the Monday morning following my long awaited 21st birthday…