Next month, I will turn 25. A quarter of a century has passed since I made my grand entrance into this broken, beautiful world and I’ve learned a lot. Granted, not as much as my mother or her mother have learned in their time here…but still, a lot. My brother turned 18 and graduated this year and watching him grow up has caused me to reflect on my own life. The decisions I made, the heartbreaks, the good times, the lessons I’ve learned since I was his age. I’m older and wiser now, but not so old that I can’t vividly remember the emotions and sensations of being 18. Do you ever get that old, after all?
There’s a rush of freedom when you turn 18, but the shadow of the future looms over you, getting closer and closer and heavier and heavier until you can no longer ignore it. You’re still rife with teen angst, wanting to rebel and not quite sure where you fit in. But the pressure of the real world, that mystery realm your parents have always warned about, is always there in the back of your mind.
What is it like out there? Is it bright and filled to the brim with opportunities? Is it dark and overwhelming, something to be feared? You don’t linger on those thoughts too long, because you have things to do and people to see. You have money to earn and money to spend, lectures to sit in on and papers to write. You have parties to go to and what are you going to wear? Nothing too revealing…but, why not? You’ll wear what you want because authority means very little to you. You’re an adult now, you don’t need anyone telling you what you can and can’t wear, where you can and can’t go and who to see or not to see.
I still have these feelings and thoughts even now. I’m a mother now, a wife and an employee. I have responsibilities to my job, to my family, to myself even and yet there are moments when I feel that deep spark start to well up inside me, although those moments are fleeting. There is one thing I’ve truly lost sight of since that golden age of 18, though. There is a responsibility to our faith and to our core beliefs that we hold onto so strongly when we’re younger. It’s easier at that age, we haven’t been tainted by the poisons of the real world, not really. Only enough to piss us off but not enough to budge our stubborn opinions.
The truth is, by the time I was mature enough to have experienced the real world, been subjected to its poison and grown wiser because of it, I started to lose sight of my faith and my core beliefs. I became afraid to stand up for the things I once would have fought to the death for because I had things to protect now, precious things that needed a roof over their heads and food in their tummies and that crippled me with fear. Precious things that didn’t need an anarchist, but that needed a stable provider. We don’t cause ripples now and we don’t cause a ruckus. We go to work; we do what we’re told. Because that is safe. We have so much to lose, we’ve worked so hard for the things that we have now.
The truth is, if I could write a letter to myself seven years ago, I wouldn’t send a list of mistakes not to make. No, I would ask for a letter back, something to remind me of what the fire felt like all those years ago. Was it really as big and burning hot as I remember? Remind me of who I was before the fear set in, the fear of making waves that would be met with repercussions from the powers that be or from the judgement of family and friends, things that could break the fragile bubble of protection I’ve built around my life and all of my precious things.
You see, one thing I have now that I didn’t before is the ability to think for others outside of myself, to delve myself into the problems that other people face and that I do not, but things that cause a butterfly effect to everything around them. I’ve tasted the poison now; I’ve been burned by it and sickened by it and that’s put out my fire. I often wonder how impactful I could be, we all could be, if we had that teen angst again knowing what we know now. I’ve been easily swayed by the suffocating fear that the poison leaves behind. They say that life is what you make it, and that is true. But that doesn’t mean making it is easy. Sometimes it’s tough and absolutely terrifying. I’ve always been notorious for seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, but that’s something, I’ve realized, that I’ve used as a way of coping with the poison and I think this is something we’ve all done as we’ve gotten older and started families and legacies of our own.
We’ve gotten comfortable in the world that our ancestors, our grandparents, and our parents have created for us. We know it needs radical change but the familiarity of the broken system cradles us. And we’re left, once again, wondering…what is it like out there? Is there another mystery realm past the “real world” that has been left to us? Is it possible that there could be a world out there where peace endures? Where children can play in the streets without fear of being abducted and sold on the black market? Where men and women can go to a party without fear of being roofied and raped and a black man can go for a jog without fear of being gunned down by white men?
We’re 18 again, scared of the world in front of us that we haven’t yet experienced. It’s shrouded in darkness, but I believe that there is light to be found on the other side. There is a light that we bring with us from this side of history. We know better than our parents and our parents’ parents and their parents before them and one day our children will know better than us. But none of this is true if we don’t find our fire again and use it to fearlessly charge into the unknown that is the future. We can’t afford to remain complacent in the humble beginnings of our delicate legacies. We’re still so young and there is so much work to be done. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I no longer choose to live in fear of anyone or anything. Because I believe that the most important legacy I can leave behind for my children is a better world that’s risen from the ashes of the one that we refused to bow down to.