The Point of Birthdays

The Point of Birthdays

I turned 24 on Tuesday.

My first instinct was to look at the people around me. The ones posting on social media.

They’d written books, were writing articles for magazines I still only dream will send me an acceptance letter one day. They’d started podcasts. Spent two years living in Asia. Found the loves of their lives. Wore diamond rings on the fourth finger of their left hands. Spoke at the United Nations. Worked in refugee camps around the world.

I looked at my life. I thought about the fact that I was turning 24.

My first instinct was to connect the pieces of my life and say, “What have you done? You’re turning 24, and what do you have to show for it?”

***

It was a cherry red 1959 corvette convertible.

“We need to take it out,” I told my friend when she pulled back the cover. All it was doing was sitting in the driveway—we had a free day, the sun was already burning away the marine layer.

We were in Santa Barbara for the week, doing nothing but laying on the beach with books and iced coffees in hand. But this was our last morning, and we wanted to explore somewhere new.

“I have the perfect idea,” my friend said, led me outside. She pulled back the car cover and we decided to hop in and see where we ended up.

“The thing about an old car like this,” she said when we tried the engine for the fourth time, “is that you have to go at its pace. We’ll either go or we won’t. We’ll either get stuck on the road or we won’t. You have to be up for the journey.”

I waited for her to laugh—she didn’t. She was waiting on me.

“I guess I’m up for it,” I said, ignoring the knot of nerves in my stomach. I lowered my sunglasses onto my face and watched my friend turn the key one more time.

It was the fifth try. The engine started.

***

I’d never ridden in a convertible before, but I’m certain now that there’s no other car worth driving when what you want is an experience.

We were 27 miles out from Ojai—just a winding mountain road and wildflowers blanketing the hillside in between us and a southern-style breakfast. My friend hit the gas, 58 miles per hour was the corvette’s limit. Just fast enough for the wind to tangle our hair, for the breeze to cool our skin so that we didn’t feel the warmth of our sunburns. Neither of us thought to tie our hair back, to coat our pale selves in sunscreen.

We didn’t remember to pull out our phones, to document that hour of our lives either. There was no way we could capture the feeling in 140 characters.

Cars drove by, passing us at 80 miles an hour, comfortable in their air conditioning, phones connected to the USB cables on the dash. My thighs were stuck to leather seats and I thought a bug might have flown into my eye, but I felt bad for the others. For the ones passing by.

There was so much happening, and they were missing it.

There is so much always happening, and we’re so often missing it.

I thought, I wish I could always live like I’m living right now. I wish I lived my life like I do in a 1959 convertible corvette.

***

At 24, there are a lot of people in the world who have done the things I dream about. Who have done things I never thought to even dream about.

But believing you have nothing to show for what you’ve done in your own life is missing so much. I could list the accomplishments, the peaks in my last 24 years. But that would be missing so much too.

You wake up. That’s another piece of your life. You keep going—that’s a really important piece. You add another birthday to the list. You add the highs; the graduations, the goals achieved, the friends gained. You add the lows; the deaths, the struggles, the lack. You add the pieces in between, the hours of your daily life. You add it all up, that is your offering to the world.

I’m here. I’m trying. Thank you for one more year.

That’s the point of birthdays. Not for you to look at all you haven’t done, to compare yourself to people you were never meant to use as yardsticks.

It’s to remember that there’s always so much happening. It’s to be given another year to take in as much of it as possible. It’s to get a little messy, to tangle your hair, to get a sunburn because you’re too caught up in the moment to care.

It’s to add those little moments together, look back on your own life, be able to say, I made it here.


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