Yesterday, I went home for the day and had my hair done by the woman who has been doing my hair since I was a pretty young kid. She has been cutting and coloring my hair since I was 14 if not younger, and as she was doing my hair, we just sat and chatted, and since we had not seen each other for at least four years (she keeps a crinkled 4×6 index card as a record of all my haircuts and colors, which by her record said that I hadn’t seen her since 2010, but I thought it had been much longer than that), we had a great deal to catch up on. We talked illness (mine and hers), divorce, kids (not mine, obviously), breakups (hers and mine), graduations, surgeries (five), the thinning of my hair, weight loss (mine), weight gain (hers), and practically every subject in between. She has known me since I was a little girl, since this is also where my mom also gets her hair cut, and so she has watched me grow up, go off to college, and now, graduate from grad school and go off to lead my own adult life.
But as I was sitting in the chair getting my hair done, I realized that there are a few things that have definitely changed since I lived at home, and a few things that are drastically different. Growing up and moving away, growing into adulthood means a shift in perspective, a course correction of sorts – to borrow a phrase from one of my dearest mentors in ministry. The way reality is painted for you as a child is certainly NOT the way it is in adulthood, and while that doesn’t mean that the world is a dark, scary and big bad place, it does mean that there are certain expectations to have, and a realistic perspective of what is out there. I’m a New Yorker by birth, and therefore, being jaded is in my blood. But having faith and giving my decisions up to God is even more a part of my life now that I’ve lived in the seminary and church world for a while. No longer is my vantage point one of “I’m going to do X now and do Y later,” but more one of, “I wonder how God is going to work in me and the world now?”
So I decided to make a list of 5 (or so) things to remember at 25, and beyond. Things that have changed in adulthood from before, or things that need illuminating.
- Life is not a fairytale, but it sure is amazing in its own way. Taylor Swift sang a stupid song “If Today was a fairytale,” and while I love TayTay Swift, I wanted to kick my iPhone down the dumb Jersey Turnpike (that’s another story for a totally different day), because it paints an unrealistic picture of what life is really like. Life is not the fairytales of children’s storybooks. Girls don’t meet their knights in shining armor, and frequently, first relationships end poorly. Life isn’t perfect, and frequently is flawed. Take mine for example – a lot of really unexpected stuff happened and derailed my so-called “perfect, fairytale” life. Now I get solicitations from the AARP and sit in the Pacemaker clinic with people old enough to be my grandparents. #sonotcool #Imnoteighty #notgoingtofindmyhusbandhere But in the same way, life is still amazing, even though it isn’t all bright and shiny, with perfectly organized plans that are wrapped nice and neatly in a box with a bow. Even though my life will always include surgeries, stitches and hospitalizations, I have met some of the most incredible people in the process, and have had the ability to tell my story (and learn how best to do it). My story is not life-changing by any means, but my life has been changed by the people in it. My stuff is not cool – it is broken, painful, and at times, it makes me cry. But it also makes me laugh, and hard enough that my stomach hurts, and tears fall from my brown-lined and mascara-lashed eyes. My fairytale included a battery and leads, a man named Dr. Vivek Reddy and an army of nurses and EP fellows, and in and of itself, is both a nightmare and a dream.
- Have Faith, and learn to jump. This one might need an explanation, most likely the last part. I was raised in a faithful household, and went to church a lot growing up, so the “having faith” part is not strange for me, but in my adulthood, my faith has become an even more essential part of my existence. In the bad times, God was my confidant, my companion, my soft shoulder to cry on. At times, it felt like the only one who could understand my plight, and cared to hear what was truly going on, not just the censored version of my bullshit pollyanna message to the world. God listened, never judged, and then, when I had cried all the tears in my eyes, guided me in the right direction, gave me the “what’s next,” and was with me. In the good times, my faith was everything. It gave me purpose, direction for my life, and a companion. You see, faith works like that – it isn’t just for the “oh crap, my life is going into the tubes,” moments. It is also for the, “My life is amazing! Wanna hear about how awesome it is?!” moments as well, and everything in between. The learning to jump moments, however, are the really difficult parts; God likes the trust, the ability to listen, to pray, all that laud and honor, the singing, the kneeling, yaddah yaddah yaddah. Its great, really, it is. But if there isn’t anything beyond that, well, is it really faith? Then its just praise. Its the jump into the freefall, and trusting that God will be there to catch me, regardless of the outcome – THAT’S FAITH people! God’s there, regardless of the good and the bad, the in-between and the icky, not so pretty, but somewhat lovely smelling days. God’s in them all, and wants us to know about it, if we are willing to jump.
- I am not invincible, and therefore, my actions have consequences. What I used to do as a kid without much fear of consequences is not the same now. I learned this most readily over the last year, with each ablation and surgery; every single surgery was not performed without fear and understanding that there was indeed no going back. Every ablation resulted in scar tissue being formed in my heart, and once it had been formed, it could not be removed. It could migrate elsewhere in my body, but the healing damage to my heart could not be undone. Illness teaches that invincibility as superheroes possess does not exist, and as humans, we cannot live forever, nor can we do anything we desire and not reap the consequences as a result. Therefore, we must live somewhere between fearlessly and cautiously – a symbiotic existence to some extent but a critical one as well – and enjoy every experience, every breath and love every minute. We can do a great deal, and yet we cannot do everything. We must listen to our bodies, we must respect our physical and emotional limits, and recognize that sometimes, there are boundaries to be drawn, despite how emotionally charged this may be. Boundaries are not closed doors, they’re just leaving room for opened windows elsewhere, maybe now, or later in the future.
- My opinions are mine, but not the only ones out there. This last week (only a week prior to her speaking commitment), Smith College faced a horrible tragedy when its commencement speaker, Madame Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) withdrew following protests against her and the fund. Earlier this Spring, Smith students started an online petition to prevent her from speaking at the 2014 commencement, citing that both Lagarde and IMF were leading to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide. However, what these entitled women failed to realize was that in the recent years (since the 2008 economic crash), IMF has been the source of great economic advice, warning against the dangers of “lowflation,” which can push economies into long slumps, by making it harder for wages to adjust and debtors to deleverage. Yes, IMF has been the source of great economic hardship for some (but bear in mind, these countries were already in great depressions to begin with, IMF was NOT the source of the depressions in the first place…), but also has been pro-redistribution, pro-inflation, and anti-austerity. Its story was one that Smith College needed to hear, but was unwilling to listen to. What I take away from this, as a Smith College graduate, and a Smithie who is rather frustrated with the attitude of many of my fellow graduates at times, is that different opinions are ok, even if they challenge my norm, because my norm is BY NO MEANS THE NORM. There has been the overwhelming fear rumbling around in Western Massachusetts that individual norms are therefore the only norm, and that big business is dangerous. But what is so wrong with hearing an opinion that might challenge and expand my world view? God forbid if my opinion is changed, expanded and made broader as a result of someone else. I may not agree, and I may be opposed – morally, ethically, politically, religiously, or otherwise – to the position being presented, but out of respect to the other person speaking, I should sit down, shut up, and listen to their position for a moment, because I may very well learn something, and be changed in the process. And from that, I may very well change others as a result. Change breeds change…but only if change is permitted.
- Freeloading is unacceptable. Asking for others to pay for something that I can and should be paying for myself is not a sign of adulthood. If I can’t afford it, I should have it – plain and simple. Taking trips, buying new cars, all those things are nice, but if they don’t fall in my budget, they don’t happen. Living within a budget is hard, and sometimes, life’s hardest lesson to learn. Working more than one job is an even harder lesson, and learning to say no to social temptations can be a great letdown, but it opens the door to no debt, future potential, and the opportunity to have “nice things” when they’re needed, and even sometimes, when they’re wanted. To know the difference between want and need is a lesson worth learning early, because once its learned, it won’t be lost, and is more valuable than gold.
- One more…learn to ask for help. I was never particularly good at asking for help growing up, and this often got me into a great deal of trouble – trouble that I would then have to get myself out of afterward. Asking for help as an adult means a lot of different things, and can be really difficult. It can also mean putting egos aside, being humble, and having to step aside for a while for the sake of the other, but in the end, it can mean strengthening a relationship, becoming a stronger and more capable adult, and more reliant (in a good way, not a weird, clingy, icky, strange way) upon healthy relationships with others. Help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of great strength and self-awareness. It is a sign of courage, and in the end, will allow you to help others in return.
Adulthood is not the thing of fairytales, and is often a lot harder than people say it is going to be. Sometimes it is filled with wounds, scars, and plenty of disappointment. But it is also filled with lots of adventure, surprise, and a great deal of faith. Faith that things will happen, that things are meant to be, and that everything will be ok when things simply aren’t. And so far, everything has been, even when things aren’t.
Returning home yesterday reminded me of two things: I have grown a great deal in the last few years, both as a result of the personal journey I’ve been on in seminary, and that I’ve really grown apart from the place I call home. This isn’t a bad thing, it just is a natural progression of growth – growing up often means growing away and out of the very place you call home. It means becoming a new and very different person, and therefore, having to reshape and differentiate oneself from that very place by default. Growth is a natural part of life, and either one goes with it, or goes against it.
Change is upon me again, and soon, I’ll be leaving the very place I’ve called home for the last three years. I am both very excited and fearful of what the future holds, and yet, with the above list, I know that I can do and withstand all the challenges that come across my path, as I have faith in the God who has brought me thus far, and who will continue to guide my path.