A few years ago I caught the second half of a movie trailer in which Anne Hathaway is bemoaning her days spent working in a Mexican restaurant instead of pursuing her dreams. The story’s haphazard hero looks at her from behind a table and says, “Everyone’s lost at 25.”
I picked up the movie when it landed in Redbox if only for that one line, which proved to be much less important to the story than I’d hoped. Slightly bemused at 23, I wanted to know just how messed up I was supposed to be by the time I reached my quarter-century mark.
One of the peculiarities of marrying at 18 and cradling a newborn by the time one reaches 20 is that when a person decides it’s time to grow up, she has, in essence, already done so. Backwards. Wedding vows, babies, a bit of real life and then, oh, I suppose it’s time to grow up a bit, isn’t it?
When John and I were engaged and I was approaching both my high school graduation and my wedding day, people who asked about my post-graduation plans would furrow their brows and cluck their tongues, warning against getting married “before I knew who I was.” My eyes would roll into my skull while I sweetly recited a sentence or two about growing up together, being confident in my own being, not seeing the need to wait until I reached an arbitrary milestone and suddenly knew who I was before I married this guy.
Naivety is both endearing and infuriating.
At 17 and still even at 23, I believed I was above the process, I could avoid the messy years by simply not living them, jumping ahead, becoming the older version of myself sooner rather than later.
But 25 crept up on a muddy, bruised version of me. Hair flying, face streaked with tears and sweat, grieving the security I had taken for granted, I remembered the line from that Anne Hathaway movie.
Apparently everyone is a little bit lost at 25.
We’re messy creatures, we humans. The growth process doesn’t disappear if we ignore it and, apparently, it doesn’t respond to our rabid kicking and pushing. Seasons and eras refuse to be skipped, despite our desire to stand with our arms folded across our chests, nodding in the assurance that we have arrived.
We want the big picture, don’t we? The job security, the artsy apartment in New York, the mission in Africa, the two car seats strapped into a gold minivan, the adoption placement. We want the book deal, the notoriety, the music contract, the acceptance. The spiritual peace, the physical healing, the restored relationship, the end of grief.
We want it to fall into place, we want to see our shadowy visions realized, we want to know our actions today are at least making a difference.
So we tell ourselves we can grow up too quickly, we can skip ahead to the good part, we can move forward before our hearts are ready. We pound the bars of our cages, begging to be released and allowed to move already. We’re prepared for it, of course we are.
And we don’t even know we’ve disrespected the journey.
I didn’t know, at 17 and 23, the depth of love one person can have for another when both are spectacularly unlovable. I hadn’t felt the explosion of passion when fighting for the one thing you didn’t realize you believed in. I didn’t know how to tap into the strength one gathers in the quiet. I hadn’t discovered the rich, beautiful mind residing inside my own head, nor the deep reserves of emotion and character welled up inside my breast. I hadn’t come face to face with the enormity of my faults nor acknowledged the darkness raging in my belly.
If I had tried to gather my own tribe of journeymen, I wouldn’t have thought to choose these ones. Until it happened, I couldn’t possibly learn how to regain my balance after tripping over my own feet, nor how to breathe again after knocking the wind from my lungs. And I would never, ever have guessed that I’d come to treasure the tender spots left by each deep gash and purple bruise.
I’ve fought my way to here, to right now, to being 27, still so young and very alive. I’m sure I’ll clamor at the feet of 30 and 35 and 40 and 50, just the same, though perhaps with a little less naivety and entitlement and hopefully much less whining, because there’s enough of that going around without me adding to the chorus.
But I won’t presume to jump ahead before I’ve earned my place with battle scars and stretch marks, wild dancing and glorious laughter.
The world’s best wines and cheeses are the aged ones, of course, the ones that have rested, matured, “ripened.”
The trees that weather the elements for decades are the ones with the most shade, the strongest trunks and the deepest roots.
Honor the journey. Revere the process.
You don’t get to skip it.
We’ll all get there eventually.