Twenty years ago, I was 24. I had finished my master’s degree and had been accepted into a doctoral program. As newlyweds, we were broke, and we spent the summer living in a relative’s basement. Even though continuing my education gave the appearance of knowing what the future held, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. But my head was full of notions about what I was supposed to be; all those grand ideas, hopes, and expectations stuffed into ourselves during that phase called, “growing up.” I suppose I felt some pressure to turn some of those concepts into reality (or perhaps the reality of wanting to buy a sandwich without compromising the rent overrode the wish to remain in the purely conceptual). Nonetheless, there was some need to show I knew a lot, even though I didn’t really know anything at all.
It is likely this is what one does in one’s Twenties. Some form of transitional pseudo-adulthood angst that rams its way into you, making you do ridiculous things while trumpeting with the confidence of a rutting ox. Self-assurance without substance as we cling to an aspiration of significance. But it is this occasionally self-defeating bravado that often propels us to try the unusual, unexpected, and downright foolish.
Except, I wasn’t being foolish. I was trying to be calm, collected, and self-assured. Spoiler alert: all that flopped. I’ve spent the last 20 years dismantling pretty much every certainty I thought I had, and it is in my present life where I leap, sometimes destructively, from many precipices simply because I already know what will happen if I just stand there.
What have I learned? That in the end, I still don’t know much. But there are a few basics that seem to come back to me:
- I like being small. Being a tiny speck in a massive universe is reassuring, not isolating.
- People suck. Because they’re people, and they frequently get things wrong.
- People can be amazing. Because they’re people, and when they stop trying to be something else, they create majestic things.
- I like being an introvert. Get over it.
- Most things should not be taken seriously because the few things that are very serious require tremendous attention and dedication to be handled effectively. Thus,
- Choose battles wisely and sparingly.
- I really don’t like fighting. Being a good diplomat doesn’t mean I run around looking for conflict.
- I like to be left alone.
- I like to be with people.
- Being observant means always seeing too much. Learning how to carry the responsibility of that is the real trick.
- Food is good.
- I don’t like bugs.
- I have no idea if there is a god, and I don’t think I can ever know. But I am also okay with that since I don’t think God needs me to validate their existence.
- They say sarcasm is a defense mechanism, in which case I am well defended.
At 44, I am about to move, start a new job (again), journey with my children through their new phases of pre-teen/teen life, and see what happens to marriage after 20 years. I will wait to see who I become in this next adventure. I have no idea where we’re going to live, so in the meantime, we’re spending the summer living in a relative’s basement.
I still don’t know anything, but I kind of like it that way.