Lately, I’ve had to add a step to my potty break routine at work. Whereas before it was simply flush, wash hands, dry hands, fix hair; I now have added check mirror and rip gray hairs from scalp. This addition really hasn't bothered me all that much. I have a very distinguished friend who was going gray while we were still in college. I always thought he looked dignified… especially when he was running around in a pink skirt on the frisbee field - yes, that's the word for it. Dignified. And maybe that's what I'll be, too. But today I found like 6 of them all at once - too many to handle. It was like coming across a family of mice sleeping in your dresser drawer in the heart of winter. Such circumstances for either scenario evoke a complicated smattering of feelings: a sense of violation of your most intimate space by unwanted invaders; the whisper of cosmic harmony in your ear telling you that maybe these little gray invaders have nowhere else to go and you must share your territory; appreciation for the present balance of nature that makes its own additions to your fibrous, warm fortress; disdain for that which doesn't automatically belong. Naturally, I plucked the little suckers out one by one.
As of Friday, I am 26 years old. When I told my friend that I now have to claim that I'm officially in my mid-20s, he looked me dead in the eye and said, "Face it, Rachel. You've crested."
What if I'm not ready to "crest"?! What does cresting look like? Well…I guess going gray, duh. The first crush of my whole life from 4th grade is married with a child. My dear friend from high school will be in academia probably forever, either in the student's seat among hundreds or behind the podium holding the power-laden pointer thingy. I have friends working in department stores, cooking meals on Bunsen burners in a village in Honduras, making their way across Mongolia in a lobster-mobile (true story), working for corporate America with a 401k larger than my annual salary, starting businesses, serving as presidents of organizations, finishing up grad school and searching for jobs, starting grad school and searching for inspiration, wandering in circles...
So again, I ask: What does it mean to be in your mid-20s? Is there a formula? This question reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend in Mexico whilst overwhelmed by the erratic lifestyle we’d chosen for ourselves. While many of our friends were entering the job market in some form, we were working 10am-4pm some days, 7am-10pm others and none at all on occasion. I was creating my own learnings and pick-axing away at my own path; but I was also concerned by the non-traditional nature of the trajectory I’d chosen. Instead of late nights at the office, I was sleeping over in the village for Catholic festivals, waking up early to help make tamales. I was learning about the patterns of immigration of every family in my neighborhood, and the Mexican government’s reactions to protests, but not about how to write a grant or do a mail merge; and certainly not building a nest egg for my retirement or even my return. Were we doing it right? Were we making the right decision to opt out of the system? I think we concluded “fuck the system and do what feels right!” or something to that effect. We were emboldened by our gumption to venture into our mid-20s with nothing but an idealist’s compass. As I stare at myself in the mirror, a graying 26-year old in a pencil skirt with heels clicking on the tile floor of our 16th floor bathroom, I remember that blazing passion that has illuminated the roads connecting the chapters of my life that eventually led me to this, um, bathroom...er,you know what I mean. No life decision I've made so far has been made out of fear. And I think that that's the only formula anyone needs.
As much as society around me (cough: Facebook) tells me what cresting looks like, I do think it’s different for every person. I’m not sure if it’s the adventures (or the process of finally learning a mail merge – that was a doozy), or the philosophizing about the adventures that’s giving me the gray hairs. But they seem to serve as reminders like wispy white flags of surrender to the present in honor of the past. Perhaps I’ll let the invaders stay for one more day.
…Mmm, at least the ones I can’t see.