1. I turned twenty-five a few months ago, putting me right smack in the middle of my twenties. At this point I’ve seen professional recognition, but also I drink water out of old jam jars because I don’t own any drinking glasses.
2. I feel myself on the cusp, fully adult but also still growing into adulthood. Sometimes self-assured, sometimes self-conscious, sometimes hardly believing that I’m the only one responsible for any of the choices that I make.
3. Last week, I left everything behind—ended a relationship, left a job, house, friends, and community. I packed everything into two suitcases, a backpack, and a carry-on and stepped on a plane back to my home country where I haven’t lived for four years.
4. This month, I’ll move to Washington, D.C., settle into a new apartment, start a new job, and start a graduate program. Within three short weeks, everything familiar and constant about my life will change. I can do this, I think, with a cautious excitement, but I have no idea what it’s going to be like.
5. I’ve moved more than ten times in the last few years. I know the things I can’t live more than a few days without (phone charger, nail clippers, hair bands) and what I can go a good long while without (drinking glasses, see above).
6. It wasn’t hard to sell or give away everything that had piled up in my room. It was harder to remember why I had bought so many things in the first place, so many opened bottles of lotion I don’t use, thrift store dresses I don’t wear, expired daily vitamins I meant to take.
7. Except for the books. I gave them away in stages, and only to the people I thought would really read them. A few books, ten or fifteen, I couldn’t part with, which is most of the reason why I needed a second checked bag.
8. I applied to this graduate program almost two years ago, and when I found out in May that my scholarship and savings wouldn’t cover the costs, I began to cry at my desk at work.
9. I haven’t yet learned how to keep myself from crying. Whether the tears are brought on by surprise or disappointment or anger or a particularly poignant Thai life insurance commercial, I can’t help the sudden onset of red eyes, snotty nose, blotchy face.
10. My coworker and I joke that our office needs crying booths.
11. When I found out that I couldn’t afford grad school, I spent a week looking for jobs before applying to one that felt perfect. I was called for an interview and offered the job before I even applied to a second job.
12. My life has always seemed to fall into place like that. Jobs, opportunities, scholarships, flight tickets purchased at the last minute by my mom and dad. My seemingly-charmed life has given me a clear head and a sense of stability and freedom.
13. This stability feels false after living in a country where two-thirds live below the poverty line and many suffer from the daily stress of worrying about money, sickness, or safety.
14. The guard outside the building where my choir practices makes less than $300 per month. He asked if I knew of any other place hiring guards. He couldn’t think of a career change—he was fifty-five and it was the only thing he’d ever done—but thought there must be someplace that would pay him minimum wage at least, or offer benefits. I took down his number knowing I wouldn’t be able to find him anything.
15. When I really listen to the burdens of other people’s lives, I feel sympathy twisting up my stomach and stopping up my mouth. It’s so unfair, so unjust, and yet so foreign to my experience that I don’t know what to say. I thought my stability would help me to help others, but instead it’s almost as if I inhabit a different world, one where hard work pays off and the only surprises are good news. It’s hard to understand the oppression and barriers that so many face, let alone extend advice that seems helpful.
16. I have a responsibility to do so anyway.
17. I think that I want to make a difference in the world, but sometimes my choices make me wonder if what I really want is to be comfortable and loved.
18. Someone told me once that the dreams I had in life—higher education, a family, a rewarding job, community—sounded too much like the things I was “supposed” to want and I can’t stop thinking about that.
19. The other night I dreamt I was holding a fat, warm, faceless baby. When I opened my eyes and my arms were empty, I felt a sharp and peculiar loss.
20. Sometimes my life seems to be something that is happening to me, washing over me like a current, and I feel detached, tethered only to daily responsibilities and the task at hand.
21. Sometimes my life seems to spark like a live wire, and I feel intoxicated by its opportunity and potential. Ideas pour out of me, I almost can’t speak the words fast enough, and I feel connected once again to a sense of meaning and purpose.
22. I sometimes hold contradictory beliefs with equal conviction. While I am aware of the tension, I am unable to give up either one.
23. I’m not interested in pretending that everything’s okay all the time, or that I have everything figured out.
24. Twenty-five is hard and confusing. Sometimes I feel ahead and sometimes I feel far behind. But I’m doing okay, I think. I know that.
25. I’m doing okay.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).