(a/n: My birthday was a few weeks ago! So this blog is just slightly behind schedule.)
Now Playing: Night Changes by One Direction
I turn twenty in four days.
I always cry on my birthday. I think this is a surprisingly common behavior for lots of people. I couldn’t, really, tell you why this happens; It’s probably some combination of the pressure to be happy and the painful awareness that you are almost certainly less happy than you ought to be.
For the past few years, birthdays have also just been slightly unlucky. Something doesn’t work out, and I end up incongruously sad around the end of January. Unfortunately, this year hasn’t been any different. I’ve spent a lot of time crying recently.
I have a number of maladaptive coping mechanisms, but my inability to cry in front of other people is perhaps the most egregious. I know crying is a healthy outlet for big emotions, but there’s something terribly vulnerable about acknowledging that it is possible for anything to hurt you enough to make you cry. For the first time in a long time, I let a friend see me cry – not intentionally, I just ended up tearing up when trying to explain a situation. I hate crying. I am all too frequently disgusted at myself for trying too hard for too little return, caring (and hurting) too much, failing too often. Believing in one’s own infallibility is a dangerous drug. I’m far from perfect, but I often think that I should be able to handle difficulties that I cannot, and don’t need, to handle on my own.
At some point, while wiping warm tears from my face, I told my friend “I’m sorry, I’m too old for this.” He chuckled, and said “You’re 19.”
And that’s it, I suppose. I’m not too old for this. I’m not supposed to have everything figured out by now. “It’s okay for everything not to be fine.”
I found my first gray hair about a month ago. When I told my mother about it, her immediate response was to advise me: “don’t pull it out!” I understand why. The need to look young and beautiful is a shackle, the kind that you wear willingly to avoid the empty feeling of weightlessness. I’ve always looked eerily similar to my mom. Over winter break she showed me a picture from her medical school days, and I look just as much like her as I always have. It’s strange to feel as though some version of yourself is looking back at you from a yellowed photograph.
I have fine lines around my eyes now. I wonder if I’m supposed to feel as neutral about physical aging as I do. My mom, for the first time, has started to look at my skin approvingly – I started applying ointment, wearing sunscreen, and regularly moisturizing this year. I still haven’t grown out of hormonal acne of my tweens, but I’ve learned to control breakouts.
I wonder how much of life is simply learning oneself. I only use glass water bottles, because I can’t stand the taste of water that’s been sitting in a metal container for too long. I prefer drawing my eyeliner wing to the center of my lashes. I only really fall for people I don’t like.
There are other important lessons one learns, though. Crying is a lot less painful in the presence of friends. Hold on to the people you love. Hugs and hot chocolate can fix many (although not all) problems. It’s usually not better to leave things unsaid. Unkindness is practically never useful.
Getting older, I figure, is supposed to include deciding what you stand for. I think there are a few things that matter particularly to me. One of them is duty. I bear responsibility to my family, my friends, and my community. I really love the quiet satisfaction of acquiring knowledge, and the opportunity to use it. It is important to me to always think about the impacts of my actions and to take care of the people in my life.
For so long, I have also wanted to do as much good as possible with the time I’ve been allotted. But good is hard to quantify, and I am frequently shocked at how much I am motivated by the short-term goal of making people happy, rather than solely fixating on the grandiose vision of ‘goodness’ I had settled on at the age of thirteen. So, I suppose, I should add joy to the list. Striving for it, and endeavoring to cause it. Finding it in the little things. Noticing it swirling in the snow while I launch snowballs at my friends, floating in the sundubu we had for dinner a week ago, and in the abiding stillness of the Charles at midnight.
And yet, for all of this, I am still deeply tired. Youth is fleeting, and I am not always sure that I like being young, particularly. I am bad at accepting incompleteness. At points, my internal model for aging has been to envision it as a process of rectification, akin to getting up off the ground, brushing oneself off, and straightening a disheveled appearance. But I doubt that things are so linear, or that I am in all ways better than all past versions of myself. I have, at points, been more tolerant, disciplined, and forgiving than I am now. But all states of being are transient, and I am more confident and happier than I have been at most points in the past.
It is easy to lose perspective. Today during therapy I expressed that I was, in fact, stressed about everything. About the upcoming semester, my growing mountain of responsibilities, my job prospects, my muddy career aspirations, and my future in general. About aging, and feeling so… lost. About how difficult it can be to want to get out of bed in the morning. My therapist graciously snapped back to reality by reminding me that “Many of the things that stress you out are also the things that make you happy. You love these things.” She’s right. I choose to do things that are difficult because I deem them fruitful. It is important to remember that.
My friends have a running joke that my life is, in many ways, like a mediocre TV show. They’ll periodically joke that the “writers have lost the plot”, and bicker about who would be the fan-favorite character (to Mihir and Alison: you’re a *dynamic duo*, the audience couldn’t possibly choose a favorite). I think this is a nice way to think about life. Everything comes in seasons. You have arcs that are good and bad, and it’s more entertaining because it’s a mixed bag. Life is better if you can laugh at it. Good prevails, in the end.
And everything works out, eventually. People who are much older and wiser than me have promised that last one, so I’ll take a leap of faith and believe them.
Life is often more beautiful than it has any right to be, and the quaintest things have the best way of reminding you of that. Today on the walk back to Next, I watched a gaggle of Canada geese take flight into a clear blue sky, shaking snow off their feet during their ascent and honking annoyedly. Geese are lovely, absurd little creatures. People are, too.