When the world went into lockdown last March, I was eighteen years old. I was just about to graduate high school, my brother was about to graduate college in May, and my sister had just left two months earlier for a job in Hong Kong. I am turning twenty years old next week.
In many ways, I cannot believe that an entire year has already passed. The years tend to go by faster and faster, but this year in particular seemed to move with a certain kind of swiftness- one moment it was a soft summer day, and then autumn with the changing of leaves and the evening skies, and winter with its cold breath. Now, April. Flowers are blooming, the air is tinged with the sweetness of honeysuckle and spring, and I am turning twenty next week.
I feel like all the people on Earth can be separated into two categories: those who love birthdays and those who do not. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter category, but I absolutely admire those who welcome their birthdays each year with open arms and absolute acceptance. I think in a way it takes a certain kind of bravery and spirit to be able to view aging in such a manner- for that is what a birthday is, isn’t it? A lap around the sun? A year in time? One more wrinkle? One less spin on Earth? I admire the people who celebrate with confidence and joy and smiles, I really do. I hope that one day I will be able to do the same, to be able to breathe and dance because I’ve come so far and I’ve still got so far to go.
I do not mean to be dramatic (I am only turning twenty, aren’t I?) but I have never had a great relationship with birthdays. On one hand, I’m afraid of turning older and everything that comes with it. But I think even more so than the wrinkles and laugh lines I’m afraid of what I’ll lose, or what I’ve already lost. The hardest part about turning twenty is that I never even felt like I was truly a teenager. I feel grief for something I never even had. I feel like I’ve lost something that was never even mine.
I don’t even necessarily mean the classic teenage clichés (although I would have liked to have had some noteworthy experiences- stargazing with friends, driving with the windows down and radio blaring, prom night, recklessness and carelessness and feeling invincible).
I think the hardest thing for me is realizing that I can’t turn back the clock- I can’t flip a switch and start over. I have a lot of regret over how my teens ended- in part because I didn’t accomplish half of what I promised I would, I didn’t check every bullet on the list or fill out a scrapbook of memories, but even more so I feel such overwhelming regret because I let anxiety win.
For two years I lost myself in a wave of anxiety, and I couldn’t break through the surface no matter how hard I tried. I was trapped by an invisible weight and yet constantly floating, my feet never touching the ground. Each day moved so fast and I felt like I would just open my eyes and it would be dark, the sun setting, leaving the world cold.
Yet, I’ve come to realize that the beautiful thing about time is that it passes. For two years I felt like I was in a dream, like I was a bystander to my own life, watching days and months slip away. Two years is a long time, but two years went by fast and today I feel better. Not healed. Not perfect. I don’t know if I ever will be. But I’m doing better. It’s the little things that count the most.
So, I’m turning twenty next week. And I’m learning to accept it. Running against the movement of the Earth is exhausting and lonely and pointless. It turns so fast, and we can only run so slow. No, we must run with the current. With the sun and the stars and this great wave of life.
I’m turning twenty next week. And I’m preparing for the jokes from my friends and parents, the “You’re so old” and “You don’t look twenty” and all the other sayings that fuel my existential dread, but I also know that everything is going to be okay. It’s one day, it doesn’t change much. Time ticks on with its gentle beat. That’s the beauty then. It’s only life. It has always been.