As I sit here on the cusp of 32, it once again it feels like a season of change. I found myself uncomfortably remembering 23 when first degrees had been acquired and second degrees were in progress, and it was just short of the time when everyone would move more permanently into adulthood.
At 32, I feel that shift again. We begin to settle reluctantly into our understanding of who it is that we will be in this life. We take the long view now. We plan out retirements and watch investments crawl along. I wonder what life will be like under a new presidential administration because I have lived long enough to remember “before.”
At 32, I don’t feel comfortable at all. The gravity of how fleeting all of this is has settled firmly in my consciousness. Every decision has more weight, more meaning than before. This means that I call my dad just to tell him I love him. This also means I calculate risk constantly, incessantly.
In these days, I find myself appreciating the nakedness of youth just as it slips out of my grasp. I find ways to hold on to the optimism, even as the rest of my body forgets. I laugh out loud at how ridiculous I must sound asking 16 year olds about Snapchat, or unabashedly riding shopping carts down aisles. I cry at Cherrios commercials and Dove commercials…and Gatorade commercials. I think these are things become acceptable again when I am 60.
For the first time, I am watching other people’s children grow in front of me, instead of beside me. They each pass childhood milestones they cannot grasp, so I am their witness. I wonder about the decisions they will make and what they will think of our generation, because I understand for the first time that it will not be the same as my own.
I am finding deep appreciation for intangible things I’ve long taken for granted. For the sheer genius of democratic government, for the incredible systems we have created to deploy infrastructure, protect people, ensure international relationships. I’m hungry to pause all of my responsibilities and learn more.
I’m a little sorry that I have not mastered anything yet, but that has allowed me to experience many things—even if as a novice—and to appreciate them all the more when they are done skillfully.
What I do know is that over time I have cultivated a small community of people that I love and appreciate, and I understand that love and appreciation more fully than ever before. These people quiet my insecurities and fears, they celebrate my victories, they are a mirror for all the best and worst parts of myself—and for the first time in my life, I let my guard down for them because I know their presence in my life is not fleeting.
32 will be a quiet birthday. I have a tradition of greeting the sunrise in solitude and pausing to acknowledge the sunset. Tomorrow I will give thanks for the sheer joy of my days. For all of the people who have contributed to my journey. And then I’ll set about the task of figuring out what comes next.