So, this is my birthday this week.
I’ve always felt a giddiness about my birthday. Well past the point of proper adulthood nonchalance, it’s the one time I feel unabashed in the ritual of celebrating my existence.
On Wednesday, I’ll turn t w e n t y – n i n e.
I’ve officially arrived at the other end of my twenties. What a decade it’s been. The timeline of my story these past nine years has been beautiful and increasingly surprising. In mostly good ways.
I’m not saying I’m old… and I’m not having pre-mid-life crisis… But it struck me the other day, that this is the age that older women claim to be in movies when they no longer want to admit their age. I’ve arrived at what society has deemed as the outer boundary line for being considered a “young woman.”
Again—I’m not freaking out here. Promise. The awareness of my aging comes more as a curious observation as I squint at my reflection in the mirror, the closer examinations of the lines starting to form around the edges of my eyes. Just a passing realization that some of my earliest memories would have been when my mother was 29.
I’m finding myself tangled up in a couple different stories woven around me.
There’s the story that our culture tells about what it means to be a woman. That I’m in this narrow window of being in my “prime” and that window’s starting to close. The measures I need to start taking to maintain a certain level of appearance in order to “feel beautiful.”
There’s the story that I thought I would be living. The narrative that nine-years-ago me firmly believed in that looked a lot like the American Dream and a lot like the same story that just about everyone I knew had lived.
Then there’s the story of the “Worst Case Scenario” that sometimes plays on the outskirts of my mind. The horror story that involves me living to be an old maid with a lot of cats and an obsession with Lifetime movies.
Navigating through unmet expectations and reckoning with fear is part of being human. I get tripped up when I confuse those stories with reality. The narrative that’s actually unfolding.
Because the actual story is far more adventurous than what I was content to expect a few years ago. The fears that had paralyzed me have been exposed for what they are—mostly lies and unmerited insecurities. And aging body or not, I find myself much more comfortable in my twenty-nine-year-old skin than I was a few years ago.
I think one of the most freeing thoughts that I’m in the process of learning is the idea that I don’t have to wait for some idealized version of my story to come true. That life isn’t a well planned out plot that we meticulously play out. It’s a mosaic of moments, splendidly imperfect and gloriously messy. My story is part of an epic narrative that’s been unfolding since the beginning of time, and it’s in process for the first time right now.
I’ve been fascinated recently by how we interact with stories. The human love affair with story has been happening for all of time. Scientists have named it too—how the actual chemistry in our brains is affected by the stories we encounter. And how when stories remain unfinished, the frustrating ambiguity leads us to finish the pattern, make up the ending that fits with our experiences. I find it interesting that we love a good plot twist or suspense when in the tales we read or watch on the screen, but we’re blind to the necessity of those turbulent plot lines when it comes to our own stories.
It’s with equal parts excitement and trepidation that I turn the chapter in my own story this week. On my birthday, I’ll be getting back on a plane. I’ll once again leave the familiarity of the Midwest and head back to Seattle. I’ll drive up the pine-forested road up to Vancouver for another six-week house sit. And then… who knows? Certainly not me.
The movement from familiarity to the unknown is always a risk. The choice to relinquish our well-rehearsed stories, the myths we’ve come to accept about our lives leaves us feeling vulnerable. Our brains crave a finished story—we long to know how it’s all going to turn out. But that simply isn’t the case in this story I’m trailblazing. I’m finding that the ambiguity is worth it because the story I’m in the midst of is so much truer than any of the other stories I sometimes tell myself.