It’s Tough Getting Older

You’re six years old and playing in the sandbox that lies at the edge of the property at your best friend’s house. Plastic buckets, shovels, sieves, and trucks litter the ground as the two of you work diligently at building the perfect castle, creating moats and roads — mapping out a life that isn’t yours, though you can imagine it so vividly, can see how the story is supposed to go.

You dip your hand into the sand, and when you lift it out, it trickles down your tiny tanned arm. You grin as you spread your fingers and watch the grains fall loose, never realizing in your youthful innocence how easily something can slip through your fingers.

* * * * *

You’re eleven years old and riding your bicycle back from a friend’s house, frantic to find your parents to ask an all-important question: your friends are all going to see a new movie that’s playing in the theater downtown and you want to go, too. Because what would that mean if you missed out? You’re a part of that group; after all, they’re your friends.

A phone call later and you’ve realized they’ve left without you. Forgotten. You hold back hot tears, remind yourself that you’re too old to cry, but a sob escapes you and you rush into your mom’s arms. The hurt feels so deep, but you can’t put into words what it means. You’re too young to know what loneliness feels like.

* * * * *

You’re seventeen years old and meeting with your guidance counselor. What are your interests, what’s your budget, how are your grades, what size classes do you prefer? How far do you want to be from home. She types in your answers, and as the program calculates your best-fit college choices, the only thought you have is of home and your family and your boyfriend and friends and how, in a year’s time, you’ll have to leave it all behind.

You walk away with the choices in your hand, a decision that you’re not ready to make, knowing your life is going to change, not certain that you’re ready for it. There’s safety in those halls and comfort in the classrooms and people that you’ve come to know so well. For the first time in your young adult life, you feel the weight of time clinging to you. It’s the first time — not the last — that you ever wished you could go back to something more simple, to freeze a moment, to have life remain just as it is.

* * * * *

You’re twenty-two years old and waiting your turn in line. A wink from one of your favorite professors, a nod of encouragement from another. Your name. A handshake. A diploma. As you see your dad snapping pictures and look to the stands to find your family, as you hug friends and pose for pictures, a feeling not-altogether new bubbles up inside of you and makes your eyes shine with emotion. Pride. Gratitude. Purpose. You know where you’re going and who you’re becoming. You’re an adult now — isn’t that what this means? You’re ready for it, you’ve prepared for it, you’re eager for an entire future that lies ahead, just waiting for you.

You never stop to think that life can turn out so differently than what you have planned.

* * * * *

You’re twenty-six and driving in your car on an open highway, the radio playing a melancholy tune. You look in the rearview mirror and see the place from which you’ve just come and up ahead you can see clearly where you want to go. You think back to all you’ve learned along this way, all you’ve experienced, all you’ve felt. You know what it’s like to let things slip through your fingers. You know what it feels like to be alone…And not alone. You understand indecision and uncertainty and pride and purpose, love and loyalty and friendship and family.

And as you continue driving, you realize what you see in the rearview mirror is getting further and further away, but you’re not getting any closer. No, you have so much farther to go yet…

So much still to learn.

* * * * *
Thirty-three years old now. Tired, weary, worn. You’re lounging in bed in the house you’ve made a home, dogs snoring comfortably beside you, medicine bottles and piles of books littering the nightstand. You didn’t think it would be like this…No, you didn’t think it would be like this — five years of fighting for your life and livelihood with a chronic illness that won’t let you go. You’re glad it won’t. You still have so much to do.

You think back to when you were younger and how different you thought it would be. There’s no bitterness there. That grief for what was is long gone. Now, you smile knowingly because you have something now that you didn’t have back then — back when there were so many dreams to look forward to and so many lessons to be learned: Strength. Resilience. Courage.

You know how life can change in an instant, turning your life upside down.

You know what it’s like to be so aware of time, wondering how much you have left.

You know what it means to find an outlet for your loneliness, to change your dreams to accommodate the new, to look forward to a different future than the one you’d had planned.

You know that everything you were has become a part of everything you are.