"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some Thoughts on Stepping into Twenty

My dear Reader, I am now twenty years of age.

If you are well acquainted with Anne Shirley- or are well acquainted with me and are tired of hearing me speak of her- then you know that age twenty is a significant landmark.

My eighteenth birthday, though a small and lovely affair, seemed rather silly in the way of adulthood. Eighteen year olds, in my path of life, are not to be seriously considered as adults. Yes, I suppose there are some nice legal doors which are unlocked. No need to turn to parents or guardians for signatures, and guys get to register for the draft. That's cool... Oh, and you can smoke and vote. But by and large, eighteen year olds are hardly treated with any sort of gravity or respect, and at eighteen I thought it a joke to consider myself an adult. (Then again, I suppose I still feel that way. I wonder if shall ever not feel that way...)
As for the twenty-first birthday- for one, it seems rather silly to remember that it is actually the drinking age, as most everyone violates that particular law, and second, I happen to be minimally concerned about alcohol, so I am not particularly worried about whether or not I am allowed to legally purchase and consume it. The point of the matter being, no, twenty-one isn't it for me either.

No, the big "coming-of-age" year for me is age twenty, courtesy of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. The twentieth birthday marks the end of the teens, and thus the end of one's "formative years." By age twenty, we select the path we choose to travel. I do not speak of a career path- though in Montgomery's days you should have had a pretty good idea of how you plan on making a living by this point- but, much more importantly, of a moral path, as Anne girlishly explains:
It's such a solemn thing to be almost fourteen, Marilla. Miss Stacy took all us girls who
are in our teens down to the brook last Wednesday, and talked to us about it. She said we couldn't be too careful what habits we formed and what ideals we acquired in our teens, because by the time we were twenty our characters would be developed and the foundation laid for our whole future life. And she said if the foundation was shaky we could never build anything really worth while on it. Diana and I talked the matter over coming home from school. We felt extremely solemn, Marilla. And we decided that we would try to be very careful indeed and form respectable habits and learn all we could and be as sensible as possible, so that by the time we were twenty our characters would be properly developed. It's perfectly appalling to think of being twenty, Marilla. It sounds so fearfully old and grown up. 
So, this is it for me. Twenty years of age, and my character has been fixed for good or for bad. Sort of.

At any rate, the realization that the fateful twentieth birthday was upon me was a daunting one. Is a daunting one. Once upon a time, twenty sounded like a ripe old age, and now it seems a very silly one... and yet not so silly. It is very strange. I feel much like Anne, who on her twentieth birthday cannot quite believe that is has come to be, who realizes that her character is still filled with cracks, and yet also realizes that there is some truth in her old schoolteacher's words.

I keep trying to make sense of what my twentieth birthday means to me. In my strange and sentimental way, it is a true coming of age for me. It stands as a bit of a warning sign-- real and scary decisions are in my near future. It also stands as a warm welcome, beckoning me to enter a new realm where I may uncover many surprises and great happiness. It is a pat on the back accompanied by an understanding smile and laughing eyes, saying, Yes, you have done some good things, but my dear girl, how much more there is to do!

I have learned remarkably little in my twenty years.
I have learned that, surprisingly, it's the small things that really matter to people. Yes, sometimes there's something tremendously large at stake, but often what matters is taking the time to talk to someone, or making the effort to move to where your friend is and sitting by them, or remembering to show support for a loved one. We love in small, ordinary ways, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful or important.

I think I have learned that many of the "big" things aren't really all that great, and that the small, silly things are usually the most wonderful. Prom? Yeah, dressing up was fun, but, honestly, it wasn't the fancy dinner and all the glamour that I enjoyed about that day. No, it was definitely the exhausted silliness of trying to recall (and terribly botching) the words to the national anthem (and the consequent laughter-induced aches) which I remember most clearly and most fondly. Actually, many of my fondest memories seem to share the properties of silliness and hilarity: laughing over terrible word plays (or a large number of terrible things) with мой друг, baking monster cakes/singing&dancing crazily/composing poetic masterpieces with my best friend, utterly destroying the brilliant lyrics of the latest boy band with my sister, totally failing to make balloon animals while almost managing to die of laughter in a crowded mall... Yes, the best moments seem to come unplanned, when I feel sufficiently comfortable to embrace a bit of playfulness.

I think I've also learned that goodbyes are never very convincing. It's hard to believe that the person who has become a happy part of your life won't be there the next day or the day after that or even a few days after that. I've also learned that with good friends, that's okay. A lot of days after that, they'll be part of your life again. And really, they were part of your life all along.

I have not learned how to say eternal farewells. (Do we ever learn that?)

I have learned that I am reserved, and hesitant, and scared.
I have learned that I am playful and eager to love.
I have learned that I would like to be confident and warm. And graceful. And interesting.

I have learned that there are many things that I wish to learn and think and feel and see and do.

On my twentieth birthday, I sat down and looked around and more or less settled on a certain winding path.
And now there's a whole lot of walking (and running and skipping and sitting and jogging and standing and sprinting and dancing and leaping) to be done.

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