Last night I met a twenty-something who is in her last year of undergraduate work. She seemed so young, so bright-eyed and comfortable. As I listened to her talk about her classes and the choices she would make when she finished them, I swear I heard my knees creak. Grey hair and crotchetiness grew.
She—the younger twenty-something—asked me how old I was later in the conversation. It took a few moments to come up with the number—twenty-seven (and a half!)—because birthdays are banal. Such annual cake-eating events have taught me only that I can eat an unusual amount of birthday cake, but given me no better understanding of what it means to grow old on this earth of ours. But I remember the moments that did. The real “birthdays”:
22 and far away from family on Christmas Day. After church that morning, my friends decided to go out to eat at a restaurant and then see a movie. We lived in South Korea, and we had just gotten up out of the subway. We were walking on sidewalks under an overpass, and I suddenly wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. My friends convinced me to watch the movie instead.
24 and I’ve got this weird mole. A hair grew out of it! On my face! And then the hair stopped growing (praise Jesus), but now there’s a white ring around it.
26 and contemplating something dangerous. I turned to my friend Helen and saw she had the same calculating look in her eye.
It would be cool, the look said, but it might require a trip to the hospital if those goes badly. I agreed.
“You should do it,” I encouraged, like a good and wussy friend. “I can’t. I just turned twenty-six and I forgot to sign up for health insurance.”
Helen pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. “So did I.”
We did not do the dangerous thing. We did sign up for health insurance . . . eventually.
26.5 and I found out that the weird mole is probably okay. It probably wasn’t at first, but now it is. It’s a halo mole! Also around this time: I became comfortable talking about a hair-growing mole on my face.
27 and I spoke with my manager about “my concerns.” I have been told this is what you do when the people who hired you seem to have forgotten all the things they said during the interview process. My manager slouched in his chair, checked his watch, and shrugged. I was reminded of Janice in accounting. (Bonus: there actually was a Jan in accounting at this company!)
I can see the harbingers of the next few years’ “birthdays:” My parents are retiring, my grandparents fading, my nephews learning how to talk. Like most people my age, I hunger for social justice and watch for where I can help. A journal article published. Maybe I’ll even participate in an entirely civil conversation about women’s roles in the church someday. Who knows? Getting old can be pretty wild stuff.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).