Waking up with a hangover has got to be the most appropriate way to welcome the anniversary of ones birth. This past Wednesday morning was such a morning, as it took me a few minutes longer than it should have to remember that I was now 24. After showering and dressing in one of the free t-shirts given to us the previous night by our favorite Mexican restaurant while we consumed multiple Margaritas, I sat down to eat a healthy breakfast of birthday cookies and think about what 23 brought me.
I never used to worry about my age. It was all relative to me, seeing as how one day I’d hang out with kids three or four years older and the next I might stay inside all day long, playing with Legos and Micro Machines while watching cartoons. The thought of “getting old” wasn’t something that I feared nor anticipated – it was just something I accepted to expect, like the changing of the seasons or the Mariners sucking. People would always ask if I felt old on my birthday and I always thought it silly to answer yes, especially when the questioner was 40 years my senior. I was baffled as to how somebody could actually feel old when they were still in their teens or twenties.
And then my perception began to change for the worse. Somewhere along the way, I started caring about what others my age were doing and comparing myself to them. Well, not quite others my current age, but instead what those older than me had done when they were my age. It’s easy to look at somebody like Condi Rice, with her old-lady scowl that almost rivals Laura Bush for the “Scariest Face” award, and think of how you might like to be Secretary of State someday when you’re “older.” It’s easy to see that day far off in the distance, though, a brief sparkle on the horizon that you don’t give much thought too since it’s “so far away.” And then you read in TIME that she earned tenure at Stanford at age 26 and suddenly that sparkle turns into a mirage.
I remember the first time I read about Lincoln freeing the slaves. History is taught in such a black & white, cut & dry type way that most figures come off as not only perfect, but magical. As a child, your perception is simply that once there was slavery. Then Lincoln snapped his fingers and it was gone. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about his dream and then equal rights flowed forth. Washington woke up and was told he was our first President. Churchill said he’d never surrender and so Britain didn’t. We’re simply shown their end accomplishment and told how wonderful they are while rarely given a glimpse of the path they took to get there. We’re told that these are great men who did great things and that if we ever want to be mentioned in the same breath as them, then we too must do something great – eventually. For these accomplishments were done later in their lives, long after they had ceased to be little kids like you, so don’t worry. Now run along and enjoy recess.
Teachers leave out how at age 23, Lincoln was already serving in the Illinois Congress. Or that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was being led by a 26 year old Martin Luther King Jr. Or how the entire state and militia of Virginia was under the protection of a war hero named George Washington, at the ripe old age of 23.
I don’t know about you guys, but the biggest battle I’ve won to date has been getting Colton to put his socks in the dirty laundry every day. It was this realization that startled me into actually feeling old. How was I ever to accomplish anything as great as Lincoln or Dr. King later in life if I couldn’t even keep up with them in my early twenties?
I never expected anything in life to be handed to me for free. In fact, I hate handouts of any kind. I’ve always felt that if I can’t earn something, I don’t deserve it.
But I always expected to be given the opportunity for everything, which is an even worse illusion to have on life.
Nothing will be given to you for free, not even opportunities. I may never free an entire race from brutal oppression or boldly lead my nation through the jaws of defeat, but I certainly will never do those things if I just sit around and wait for the opportunity to come calling. As long as I never forgot that, never accepted what I had as being the best it could be, then I could keep myself from sliding into that group of people who seem to accept and embrace mediocrity. And it was with that epiphany that I finally started to feel young again.
I’m twenty fucking four years old. Do you not know how many opportunities lie before me, just waiting for me to seek them out and grasp onto for dear life? Lincoln had a law degree and a life expectancy of 35 years. I’ve got the Internet, modern medicine, and the ability to travel from New York to central Kazakhstan in 24 hours if I so please. The only thing we have in common is pure, blind luck.
So how could I possibly feel old?