Waking up 21
♪♫♪ Didn’t they tell us don’t rush into things, didn’t you flash your green eyes at me / Didn’t you calm my fears with a Cheshire cat smile?
As I’m writing this, I’m astounded that I have only hours left to be a minor. I know in many ways already, I’m not a minor in any sense of the word, but in just a very short matter of time I’ll at least be able to say, on paper, that I’m officially an adult because I’ll have reached that terribly delightful, hyped-up number: 21.
And surprisingly (or not), I’m not really feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement or anticipation — rather it’s just a creeping sensation of losing more time as well as an apprehension of what’s to come in the next year. Which I know is a terrible way to approach my birthday, but to be fair, I’ve never held a grandiose approach to celebrating my birthday anyway.
To the relief of my more practical and busy friends, I’m very happy to just have a simple dinner with my family and close friends to commemorate another year passing.
But at the same time, I do realize that 21 is the last really big commemorative birthday. After this, I think I’ll just be facing my mortality with all the more trepidation year after year—there’s not really great grandeur in turning 22 or 23 and so on…or maybe there is and I just don’t appreciate it. I know I’m foolish and I have my youth, but part of me still holds on to the notion that in X amount of years I’ll actually have things figured out.
I’ve always toyed with that daydream of future me. But I think a lot of us do that, in part to reassure ourselves that whatever trials we’re going through now, someday we’ll have everything figured out. When I was 12, I was convinced that 16-year-old me would be smart and bright and confident … and maybe not the kind of pretty to turn heads, but hopefully outgrown of my awkward stage enough so that I didn’t draw excess attention to myself because of it. Then come 16 … and, well, the new age threshold for all the former became 18 … and then 20 … and here I am today, sitting here and realizing that sadly my awkwardness is really quite boundless.
I’m sure that won’t stop 21-year-old me from speculating (read as: desperately hoping) at how I might actually get my act together by the time I hit 25 or 30. But at least I’m mature enough at this point to understand the magic moment of clarity and together-ness is a self-constructed myth I tell myself when I need to believe everything will end up how it should.
There’s just still so much for me to do and to see that’s outside of four walls, but I already feel like there’s not enough time to do it. All I hear people tell me is that life is ephemeral and that I could be anything I want to be and do anything I want to do, but how do I make that mean more than an empty statement?
If I could make this year about something, it would be somehow re-prioritizing my life into things that I want to do. But there’s a careful balance between things I don’t want to do and things that nobody wants to do but still have to be done because they’re stepping-stones into something greater … and I’m still learning how to tread that line with more self-awareness. In economical terms, I want to maximize what I can get out of what seems like the little time I have from day to day so that I can feel like I’m actually gaining something rather than always just crossing items off a list.
I’ll be honest — all I really want for my birthday is a long, uninterrupted nap and waking up without any strains or worries nagging at the back of my head. But that’s certainly not going to happen, because sadly I can’t just ignore the two quizzes and midterm I have this week and demand a reprieve from reality, no matter what age I’m turning. But I don’t want to complain. I can’t and I don’t deserve to, not when I am ever grateful for the wonderful friends and family I have and the love and safety they surround me with. I don’t know how I would live without them.
Lately I’ve been finding relationships (of all kinds) so interesting because they’re bred from such diverse ingredients like proximity, chemistry, altruism, self-interest, fear, guilt … even animosity. The small pool of people I consider close to my heart seems to have changed very little in quantity in the past couple of years, but the magnitude of the subtractions and additions of a few particular individuals have impacted me greatly.
It makes me wonder how familiar the faces I know now may be to me given another few years, or even a decade. But these have the potential to become somber thoughts … and right now I don’t want to make time for that.
And in the end in wonderland we both went mad ♪♫♪
(Wonderland – Taylor Swift)
Sarah Lee is a junior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of her life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.