The music was taking me back to another time, as music tends to do. Lyrics that hold so much hope, so much truth. Lyrics that shaped my middle school angst, my high school worries. Lyrics that hold more memories than I know what to do with. They were all coming flooding back as Relient K and Switchfoot switched from new stuff to old stuff to really old stuff to the somewhat new stuff. It took me on the sweetest trip down memory lane, but it also reminded me how much words matter. How much artists putting words to feelings matter. How much these specific words have mattered to me, in different seasons of life.
It was four days before my 25th birthday – the tickets a birthday present from my brother. 25 is a strange year, as you’re a legitimate adult now and should probably know and do lots of adult-y things… and yet you’re kinda just making it up as you go (I hear most of adulthood is like this, I’ll keep you posted). You feel a little on the young side still – you aren’t 30, after all. But you feel a little on the old side – it only takes 20 minutes with 20 years olds to make me crave an 8:00pm bed time.
I haven’t been dreading turning 25 at all – I think life is a gift and another year older is never something to complain about. But I have been feeling this upcoming birthday. 25. Quarter of a century. Halfway to 50. It’s been drawing near and I can’t help but start asking questions. Is this it? Am I doing it right? Should I change anything?
In the midst of these questions, seven days before my birthday the unthinkable happened. The week leading up to my birthday was a strange twilight zone: a time warp of memories of my youth and proof that I’ve aged, dreaming big dreams and settling for lower standards, so much celebrating and so much mourning.
It was Tuesday night. I was driving north, first to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and then to continue on up to LA for Thanksgiving with my family. I got a text that I thought I misread, which led to a phone call I thought was a joke, which led to the actual news: a high school friend had passed away.
Luckily I was on my way to my very best of friends, who let me unload all my new information on them, step outside to make phone calls from time to time, and distracted me when I no longer wanted to talk about it. I drove to LA in complete silence that night – something I’ve never done in the past 6 years. I tore my fingernail down to a bloody stub in nervous shock – half not feeling it, half needing to feel something. The pain was almost refreshing, because inside all I was feeling was numb. Kyle was gone. Kyle was gone. Kyle couldn’t be gone.
It was Friday morning, and I was in my pajamas, wrapped in a blanket, watching Gilmore Girls. Something I’ve done so many times over the years – but this was new Gilmore Girls. I watched as it felt like people from my past were reentering my life, old rhythms were being reinstated, and a little part of my soul was being refreshed. Never doubt the power of a cup of coffee combined with Lorelai Gilmore.
And yet there was a strange aftertaste to these moments, a little twinge of real life and unhappiness and disappointing reality. It was somewhat comforting to watch Rory struggle, because it meant maybe we aren’t doing so bad after all. And yet a little terrifying – if Rory Gilmore can’t figure it out, is there hope for anyone?! Lorelei was the same old, perfect Lorelai… and yet, not. Do people ever truly change? Or are we truly boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into our past? Emily was in mourning. I was in mourning. She was grieving a husband of 50 years – how was I supposed to grieve a friend I haven’t seen in a year or two?
It was Friday night, and we were at the concert. Lyrics were filling my ears, memories were filling my mind. I had forgotten just how much of an impact these words had had on me. How much they shaped me.
As the night went on, out of the corner of my eye I kept seeing three guys rocking out in the upper balcony. They were clearly big fans, but also big goofs – constantly bumping into each other and laughing and getting overly excited and laughing at each other some more. From where I was standing, I was struck by how much one looked like Kyle – the way he stood, his mannerisms, even the shirt he was wearing. It was sobering, imagining if Kyle had been able to be there, had been able to simply be with two friends at a concert. Knowing he never will be. But it was also healing, remembering him in all his goofy glory. I could hear the noises he would be making, his laugh, his jokes.
Switchfoot went on to sing a song I didn’t know. A prayer, as Jon Foreman explained before he started:
Life is short; I wanna live it well One life, one story to tell
Every breath you take is a miracle
Life is short; I wanna live it well
How fitting, I thought. Tears filled my eyes, as I took it all in. There I was, halfway between finding out about the death of a friend and my birthday, reminded of how short life is. The lyrics sunk in, and I looked up to my pseudo Kyle, to see how he was reacting to this moment. But he was gone.
I don’t mean to try and make this sound more dramatic than it needs to be – I’m sure this random guy went to the bathroom or met up with some other friends or maybe had to leave early for some reason. But I didn’t see him for the rest of the show. I half wondered if I made him up, as I stared at the other two guys, repeatedly looking to see if Pseudo Kyle came back. It was a moment I’m still unpacking, a significance I’m still sifting through. As I looked up to find this stranger missing, Kyle’s passing felt real in a new and sudden way. My heart caught in my chest, but I stood in the middle of that concert and felt what can only be described as peace – a peace that surpasses all understanding.
I wish I could tell you all about my 24th year or life (New job! New car! New everything?!) or all about my hopes for my 25th (TBD…). That’s not what this turned into. But maybe that’s what I want this next year to be – space for things to turn out as they need to be, not forced outputs of what I think needs to happen.
I want honesty and openness, truth and grace. I want freedom to mourn and grieve things in the past, and also courage and bravery to grieve things in the right now – when it feels scary and uncertain. I want big dreams and low expectations, high standards yet small requirements for joy. I never want happiness to have a price tag, pay level, relationships status or book deal attached. I want it to come from within, and to overflow into everything else I do.
I want to keep learning. Things written in books and magazines and articles, but also learning about myself and about this life. I want to keep changing. Being one thing today, but maybe being something else tomorrow. Allowing myself the grace and freedom to be wrong about things, to be human. I want to keep living. Because some don’t get the gift of tomorrow.
I’m learning you don’t get to forget your past. You don’t run from it, you can’t hide from it – you grow from it. But you always carry it with you. Not necessarily baggage, but certain shades of paint that will forever color some parts of you. Lyrics you thought you forget years ago fall from your lips. The feeling of safeness some people bring is forever stapled in your skin. A friend’s laugh you’ll never hear again becomes the sweetest memory.
Some birthdays are all about celebrating the year ahead; some birthdays are all about celebrating the year prior. This birthday is about cherishing so much of the past and yet also cherishing what the future holds. I used to spend too much time dwelling in either / or. Now I’d like to focus on the right now.
Life is short. I want to live it well.