Today I am twenty-five.
I like to think that I know myself well. After all, for the past 9,125 days I have been enfleshed in this one particular body and witnessed the world through the windows of these two particular eyes. I’ve spent lots of time twiddling my thumbs and thumbing through my thoughts. As I tunnel deeper into the mines of memory, I discover moments and murmurs which have burrowed deeply into the caverns of my brain, unbeknownst to me.
I like to think that I know myself well, but I begin to wonder if this self is actually mine. This shell oscillates between compacting my world into a 5’6 configuration of a body . . . to encapsulating an entire universe within itself.
Today I am twenty-five, but it has taken generations to assemble me for this day.
I am a quilt of a person. Stitched together unknowingly by sunlit triumphs and unforeseen sorrows, the late-night conversations and early-morning prayers, and the sweat-browed determination and humble commitment of all those who came before me. I am a tangle of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, one stitch of the bloodline sewing in as another unravels.
Today I am sixteen, and my soul quivers for adventure.
My brother overspent his monthly budget by calling me direct from Paris. As he congratulates me on surviving another year, I hear the whispers of conversation beyond him mingled with the clinking of glasses and sloshing of beverages. I hear the trickles of life shared in foreign pubs with old friends and new strangers.
My father’s father was born in China to missionaries who believed they were barren. He was raised as an alien among citizens, and I wonder at the trickles of life he shared with strangers and friends in a world that was not his own. Did he quiver for the adventure?
Today I am five, and losing history.
I never knew my father’s father. No, that’s not quite true. I knew him the day he died. I was there. In the room of machines with their minute blinking colored lights and the low hum of robotic life that outlived the patient whose life it had, until recently, sustained. I was five and he was old and dying and death scared me but I wish I could go back and ask him to entrust me the wonders of his travels. I wish we could share whispers in rooms of clinking glass and sloshing beverages. I wish I could tell him that I have legends of him stitched into my skin and that I am so proud to be his.
Today I am 21, and my body trembles from effort.
My mother called from Michigan and I tell her about my chores. I tell her my hands still shake from chainsawing and that old blisters have skinned over to roughened palms. I need my mother to know I experience the earth under my fingernails just like her, and just like her dad.
I’ll never be able to ask my mother’s father if he wanted to be a sugar-beet farmer. Or ask if it was only what he did to feed his wife and five children. I am a byproduct of his existence on earth and I crave the hardiness of calloused hands. Would he be proud? Where else can that joy spring from but a grandfather whose days were spent behind the plow?
Today I am twenty-four and three-hundred-sixty-four days old.
Maybe I want to be fantastical, pristine, and delicious? Or maybe I want to be entrenched deeply in wisdom of grandparents who survived world wars.
In a time and culture when being twenty-five, unmarried, and professional is a deeply respected symbol of detachedness, I cling to the strands of blood and body that tether me to this hallowed ground.
I’ve lived a mere quarter of a century, but I am centuries old.
Rebekah (’12) teaches English as a second language at Grand Rapids Community College. She does not drink coffee nor purchase Apple products.