I went to a high school volleyball game tonight. A young woman I know sat near me and was attending a game for the first time since graduating high school herself just a few years ago. She commented on how the knee pads had changed. The length of the socks was different. The girls had gotten new uniforms. I could tell this bothered her. She sort of pulled up her nose and said “I don’t like those knee pads. Why do they wear black ones now? And what’s up with those short socks? That looks weird.” We laughed and someone said “Hey, Kari, you’re just getting older like the rest of us.” She was not enjoying this new feeling and protested very loudly. “No….. I’m only 21. I’m not that old yet.” We laughed again. “But you’re not in high school anymore either.” The look in her eyes as these words sunk in showed me that she was in a sort of painful denial that the life she had to leave behind had gone on without her. No one in that school remembers her name. The uniforms have changed, the look of the students has changed and in her absence these changes taking place have left her feeling out of touch and unsure why.
My friend and I talked about that on the ride home from the game. We talked about how we so naturally flow through the stages of life. We both have teenagers now and have long since left the stay at home mom with toddlers stage of life. But it wasn’t that long ago that I cruised up to pick my daughter up from the swimming pool and saw the newest gang of young mom’s dangling their toes into the depths of the kiddie pool and felt a little pang for who I wasn’t anymore.
I’ve been doing some reflecting lately. A lot of sizing up the past and piecing it into the present. Watching Kari struggle tonight to let go completely of that teenage perception of herself made me suddenly so thankful for my 34 years. I smiled as I turned away from the conversation and looked out on the sea of generations that were cheering on their teams. I realized that I was very content to be 34 tonight. I’ve had to part with some pretty great era’s in my life already. But I’m so glad I wasn’t given the choice to remain. Those times have become memories, and rich ones at that.
I wish I’d been in a quiet place with Kari tonight, so that I could have encouraged her. I would have told her about how thankful I am to not be a teen or a twenty two year old anymore. I would have told her that even though my face is starting to show the signs of time and even though I’m at least two whole steps slower on the volleyball court than I once was, and even though I don’t look so hot in even my cutest jeans I wouldn’t trade a minute in. I have experienced life deeply and fully through all those stages so far and I don’t want to waste a minute of this moment being sorry that I’m here. I want to tell her that it’s okay to leave that stage behind. It isn’t waiting for you to come back.
As I look back on what has become my story, I realize the significance of my past and how those events have an effect on my life as I live it now. I look back with a sense of awe at how the story has unfolded, which causes me to look ahead with excitement toward what is yet to come. I’m thankful for the passage of time. Sure, like everyone, I wish it could go a little slower, but I’m so thankful it just keeps marching on. I love what I’ve learned so far.
I enjoyed being 16. And I was really in love with 25. But I’ve gained so much in the first 34 years I don’t want to stop now. Bring on the experiences and let me drink them in so deeply. Let me move through them with intentional passion and let them leave me with few regrets. I don't fear getting older.
Some people go through their lives trying to recapture their youth. As for me… make mine a memory. There’s so much new to experience today.