I didn’t realize then what I realize now: this is the way it goes as one gets older. As a teenage girl who set her VCR to record “FRIENDS” religiously, every Thursday night, I never connected to its relevance. I connected to its humor. I wasn’t a twenty-something; I had never even heard the term at that point. I didn’t live in an apartment in NYC. And I didn’t realize then what it would really be like at that age. I didn’t realize I was actually IN that era of life until now, as I’m approaching twenty-four. What I didn’t realize then that I realize now is that this age, this era of life, is hard.
I suppose that could be said of any era of life. One could contend that, “Being a kid- that was the life!” Really? I guess so… but not always. How about that whole learning to walk thing? That was weird. And I mean, did you know any other kids when you were growing up? Some kids can be downright cruel. (Girls especially.) You probably still couldn’t pay me to walk into a middle school lunchroom.
You could say being a teenager wasn’t so bad. You don’t have any of the real responsibilities inherent in adult life. Sure there’s homework, peer-pressure, and- lest we forget- those first tasty sips of heartache and rejection, but you likely have a rough sketch of what your life will look like until school ends.
But then it comes.
If you’re fortunate enough to go all the way through to college- or perhaps you’ve (stalled) intentionally invested a few more years into tackling grad school- inevitably you’ll be left with that one relentless, menacingly honest question, “Now what?”
And, if you’ve relocated, you might be more increasingly disoriented, trying to navigate the myriad of formation questions that are inherent to your mid-twenties, asking not only “Now what?” but also, “Where did everyone go?” Where did the life I know go? And what’s important to me? What am I willing to sacrifice for? What do I want to do and what am I supposed to do with this life I’ve been given? And with whom do I want to share it?
I would be remiss not to mention that all of this, of course, is entirely relative to culture and country of origin. These questions, these questions that mold us, these are questions of a privileged kind. Anyone living in America right now is infinitely more privileged than half the free world. It doesn’t diminish the wrestling the questions induce, but it has to be said. In fact it might mean we actually have an even greater responsibility to answer these questions faithfully. I can’t speak for anyone but myself- but my needs are abundantly met. I have the freedom to speak, to petition, to pursue the knowledge of God.
To that end, I would be lost without God. Anyone hear me on that? And this is why He gives us friends. Because the phrase “No man is an island” is right. Just ask Thomas Merton! Maybe the phrase should be “No man should be an island” or “No man is designed to be an island”. We know this. Yet in this age, particularly if you’ve gone to school out of state, you can quite easily feel like an island. You can feel like an island when your fellow island-dwellers are scattered throughout this great country, with little bits of your heart in their pockets. That’s when the real confusion starts: when you’ve successfully completed the traditional model of “what to do for the first eighteen to twenty-three years of your life”, when you’ve just been spit out from this long-reaching educational system.
You kind of wonder what to do when you suddenly don’t know the plan. This is when you wish you had a friend named Magellan or Vespucci who could lend you a freakin’ map to orient you. Or maybe you’d settle for one of those mall maps with the dot that indicates, “You are here”. Trying to figure out how to assimilate yourself into a new reality, attempting to put a whole bunch of pieces together all at once, can be more than a little awkward and disorienting. (Not unlike trying to assemble furniture from IKEA. “What a fruug?”) But instead, because one of the unavoidable mysteries in this life is that the Lord teaches us to run the race by walking in small steps of faith, deciding not to illuminate the grand plan all at once, sometimes all you have is the assurance that other people next to you, perhaps across the hall from you -struggling actors, bright-eyed baristas, or perhaps even witty ‘transponsders’- know what you’re going through and yes, they’ll be there for you. Add as many claps as you want.
It’s not a grand revelation; it’s quite a simple one. Maybe at this stage in life, we need to hear more than once a week, “I’ll be there for you”. Maybe we need to get that assurance from God, every morning and every evening. And maybe a few extra times a day, in His grace, from our fellow sojourners. We’re all going somewhere, we’re all going to do something, but beyond that many of us don’t have a clue. So in the space devoid of conventional plans, in this “new chapter” as prosaic as it may sound, we can all help each other stay pointing in the right direction… reminding one another, perhaps convincing one another, that amidst life’s glories and life’s losses, there’s a good chance there’s much more value in the journey than in the destination. And perhaps, we should fight for community now, from every corner of our islands, rather than waiting for ideal circumstances. They say life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Well, then, I guess I’d really like to make other plans alongside you.