Yesterday* marked my twentieth birthday – two decades of breathing, eating, writing bad poetry, drinking too much sweet tea, not reading enough books, and falling more deeply in love with this wide and wondrous universe. And while in every measurable sense yesterday was rather ordinary (no Grecian temples cropping up in the hallway on my way to breakfast or anything unusual of the like) turning twenty does, in a somewhat uncharacteristic way, feel like a new chapter.
Normally, i feel as though there is too much hype placed around birthdays as the annuals of change when the day itself is, ultimately, rather plain. I’m not trying to discount the miracle of human birth or, frankly, to dissuade anyone from the practice of present-giving. Rather, i just think aging is more gradual than a once-a-year phenomenon. We grow older by experiences, not by numbers.
But. Yesterday really felt like a shift. Perhaps it is because the timing of my birthday; the colossal amount of clothes and books and q-tips that remain not-yet-packed in a heap on my floor remind me of the impending end to summer. Friends in Carolina have already returned to school, and i embark in a week for the two-day journey back to my own beloved Mount Holyoke. The transition period of no job, not packed, not ready to leave is giving me a permanent psyche of an ellipses. Spaces between jolting, frozen-up moments of haltering static. I am here, i am nowhere, i am the pile of jeans and old socks, i am the books i never actually read this season of the sun.
Going back is going to be harder than it’s ever been. I love college, make no mistake. And i love Mount Holyoke. Especially in the fall, when the leaves paint the world in shades of rouge and crimson and sulphur and citrus. When the air is bitingly fresh and the sky unbound – before the deadness of winter encloses the sun. I love, most of all, the people who dwell under that sky and in the buildings of brick and memory between the red-painted trees. People whom i haven’t seen in four months, people whom i am ready to live in the day-to-day with once more.
But being home this summer, and making peace with my home in Carolina, means leaving a piece of what i used to bring to school with me behind. And that’s just – well, it’s just hard.
Last summer i was given a name: Nachap. Though i had aspired to be called something snappy and cool, i was given a name more apt for the season of my time in Uganda – and time in my life. Nachap means that i came in the season of weeding. As i wrote this time nearly a year ago today,
“Weeding, pruning, preparing and tending to the earth to make room for a healthy and uncumbered crop to grow.
This summer, this time spent in this beautiful and broken place, has been a time of pruning. A time of discerning in what soil to plant my crop, a time of pulling out by the roots what would choke the vine. A summer of being aware of the baobabs that might overcome my small planet in the universe, a time for allowing good seeds to take root. Waiting, throughout the weeding, for the plants to bear fruit.”
Last summer was hard. It was also worth every bit of the difficulty, and it was educational and incredible and suckish and awesome. Pruning to bear fruit means, to me, we make sacrifices in order for the real rewards to be reaped. We learn patience. We allow ourselves to grieve.
To my unyielding praise and relief, has been the season of fruit-bearing. And since i now live in New England, i can expertly assure you seasons are not mutually exclusive. My winter coat has been exercised long into April – both in practice and in metaphor. No world turns without hinges or hiccups. Perfection is a false notion of infallibility, i think. And maybe seasons are kind of a falsehood too – at least, metaphorical ones. Perhaps we live in a permanent ellipses, a life of constant motion perforated with events that turn the tide of direction.
And maybe sometimes the events aren’t so pronounced or known – maybe they are small, gradual. Decisions made every day change slowly with the entrance of new people. Such a tilt bears equal magnitude to the people who step forward into you plugging track of a life and, in their stepping forth, completely maul your track’s plans. Maybe both of these kinds of progressions are the best kind, the kinds that make you more critical and more appreciative, more open to change and more bound to your convictions.
In the same blog post where i first wrote about my name, i talked how i have had a history of name-changing, and of being different parts of my self in different contexts. In the subsequent year, i honed my understanding of the structures of language concurrent to my studies of the self and non-self. Now, when writing my name, it is lower-cased. Yet another change.
But the more profound change has come – a change, strangely, i sensed was growing. I wrote then that i thought there was a time coming when i would no longer introduce myself as lizzie, that a new name was to be sifted and selected for my adulthood. I think now that it is less about having a new name, and more about growing into the one i was born with: elizabeth.
In unexpected and serendipitous ways, i find myself growing up. Sure, i still am terrible at parking cars and call my mom when i am overwhelmed by the prospect of cooking for myself. I make no claim to being a mature sage of responsibility. But turning twenty at the tide of this season comes with the most serendipitously beautiful change of my life so far, and it is because of this change that i feel – more than ever – it is time for me to face the name i was given. I am learning, in the little moments (when the rice i fretted over doesn’t burn) and in the big moments (when i have faith, with re-found conviction, that the sacrifices we make will reap joy) to live into the fullness of my given name.
But really, twenty is another year. In its simplicity there is the enchanting allure of un-made decisions, living not-yet-realities of all that could be. It’s not going to be perfect. It won’t be a summerlong annual of fruit-bearing, and i pray it won’t be a winterlong tide of pruning. Mostly, though, i can only have faith that there is a season for all things, even if such seasons are not bound by conventional weather.
current jam: ‘twenty years’ the civil wars (the pun was too beautiful to resist!)
best thing: bouquets of sunflowers and acrylic paint.
*this post was originally drafted on august 23rd.