Written on December 23, 2015
On Blossoming into a Beautiful Young Man
It’s pretty fitting that my birthday gift was The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, 250 pages that whisked me back to childhood evenings spent leaning over Calvin and his furry best friend at the dining room table, staining the pages with spaghetti sauce. I turned eighteen last Wednesday, making me realize just how long ago those days were. Because I’m a not a child anymore; I’m now legally an adult. An adult who stains the pages with maffet sauce.
For those of you who don’t have any experience being an adult, take it from me–it’s weird. I don’t feel like I’ve killed enough crocs to be an adult1 (see footnote below). Nevertheless, I could potentially buy a house now, get married, or–even better–be thrown in jail. The question is always asked: “So, do you feel any older?” And it’s always answered the same way: “No, not really.” And it’s true, I don’t feel any older. Still, I saw a picture of myself from last year at this time and was shocked by how much I’ve changed.
I’m a little taller now and have a few more whiskers on my cheeks (I counted six this morning). The change is astounding, really. Plus I’m way smarter because I read Walden. And way better of a person because I live in an African village2. I remember Christmas Eve, 2014: productively spent on the couch watching Netflix, trying not to think about the college applications that were due in a week (you know, the ones I hadn’t started). And here I am a year later. Tomorrow I’ll be spending Christmas Eve doing, well nothing Christmasy. I’ll probably wake up, go for a run, walk to the garden, work in the sun until it gets hot, retreat to my hut for awhile, sit under the mango tree, drink tea, and feel bad for the kid at home sweating over his Cornell application (keep it up, sport).
I didn’t feel any older on December 10th than I did the 9th, but all joking aside, I feel a lifetime ahead of 2014 Jackson. And I’m probably not going to feel any older in January than I do now, but I know that next December, I’ll have a completely different set of priorities than I do right now (and hopefully be able to grow facial hair).
But I’m not sure that I want to grow up. As Calvin so eloquently puts it, “Becoming an adult is probably the dumbest thing you could ever do.” Being an adult means becoming responsible and dealing with things that happen in a mature way. Not only responsibility for the things like packing your own lunchbox, but for things like being the one to comfort another in his or her pain. My mom called me last week to tell me that my grandma had passed away. I cried, but later that evening, I found that I was the one comforting my younger brother. He was gritting his teeth as my dad failed to pull a two-inch splinter from his arm. I wrapped my arm around him and cracked a stupid joke. And he smiled and forgot about his arm for a bit. Being an adult is tough because being an adult means that you’re no longer the most important person in the world.
It’s a depressing thought, but every birthday brings me closer to my end. It’s hard to think about, but there’s also a freedom in the knowledge that I’m going to die. Because it teaches that living in the future is impossible. I’m not dying right this instant and probably won’t for awhile (Si Allah Djebbi), so why dwell on it? This little bit of understanding extends to teach a lesson that has come to be the defining lesson of my time in Senegal thus far. To live life to the fullest, it’s so important to cherish the present moment. From the second you wake up to the moment you tuck in your mosquito net at night (not that there are mosquitoes in the dry season, of course, but to help keep out the tarantulas, earwigs, bats, scorpions, crippling self-doubt, mice), cherish every moment. It’s okay to think about the future but it’s not okay to live there.
This acknowledgement of death also serves as a reminder not to take things for granted. The people around me, my family at home, the food in the bowl in front of me. There’s so much to be grateful for at every moment–even when you’re squatting over a latrine for the third time since you tried to go to bed. Take a breath and be amazed at the fact that you are able to do so.
There’s a song that I’ve listened to here more than any other–it’s called “Rejoice,” by the band Andrew Jackson Jihad (I highly recommend that you open a new tab and listen to it right now; it’s way better than this blog). The vocalist sings, “Rejoice despite the fact that this world will hurt you. Rejoice despite the fact this world will kill you. Rejoice despite the fact this world will tear you to shreds. Rejoice because you’re trying your best.”
So that’s what I’m going to do for Christmas Eve. Rejoice. And I hope that you do too.
1 Not a metaphor– some of the young men in my village like going crocodile hunting (don’t worry about it, Global Citizen Year® Risk Management–it’s not like they’re riding motorcycles.).