If my 20s had been a musical score, they would have carried both beautiful harmonies and aching chords of dissonance. They would have filled blank sheet music with complicated rhythms and pretty trills and sweeping arpeggios.
Those years formed sweet melodies that I’m not ready to sentence to the powers of the damper pedal — letting the notes fade until they are gone.
But in one week, the song of my 20s will end. I’m turning 30. I know. It could be worse. But it is what it is.
It already feels like my 20s deserve a haunting, Phantom-esque tribute or a doleful dirge or I don’t know, maybe some full-out wailing. I love to cry things out. I feel so much better afterward. That may be the way to go.
For weeks, I’ve been mulling over my impending 30th year. On bad days, it approaches like a slow funeral parade out of Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” On good days, I convince myself I’m being melodramatic about one day in the span of potentially thousands God has left for me. It’s just a number, right?
Sigh. For a woman, saying goodbye to her 20s is a lot harder when she is unmarried and childless and living at home with her parents.
Ouch. That last little bit of fact really hurt, but it’s true. (In my defense, I did just return from spending a year in a war-torn country, and I am actively looking for a job.)
Saying goodbye to my 20s is difficult. It’s a lot like tossing away a warm, favorite sweater. I’m left a little cooler and suddenly faced with indecision: What should I wear next? It’s like the feeling I would imagine Linus would have had if Lucy had ever succeeded in getting him to give up his security blanket. Maybe a little self-doubting. Maybe a little alone.
Up until now, my 20s have been there for me. When I’ve gone through ups and downs in years past — especially relational ones — I’ve taken heart. At least I still was in my 20s. At least I wasn’t 30 yet. I still had time.
Now before I get angry emails from other single children of the ’70s and ’80s, I want to write that I know in reality, 30 will probably turn out OK. But I’m not happy about 30’s tromp into my personal space, and I probably won’t be happy about it on The Day…of Doom.
But I also decided that before my 30th year rings in like the New Year (and I have to make a resolution to start wearing wrinkle cream, according to some fashion mag I was reading while running on the treadmill yesterday), I have something I need to do.
Just a little singing, if you will. A requiem to my 20s.
I’ve decided that I want to mourn those years first — before I’m forced to let go of them by the tick-tocking of a clock.
A few nights ago, I tried to remember where all those years in my 20s went. The answer is many different places.
I spent three full years of my 20s in college — learning and staying up all night working on my college newspaper. I spent two incredible summers in Washington, D.C., participating in a journalism program. I worked as a youth counselor for four years.
I went on a surprise graduation trip with my family to London in honor of my English degree, where I was faint in that English-major-kind-of-way upon visiting dead British poets’ graves and walking through Dickens’ house and listening to Shakespeare at a Globe replica. I worked at a newspaper in Florida as a community reporter (my favorite of jobs past) and met a lifelong gal pal. I moved to D.C. and worked for a syndicated columnist and a prison ministry and finally as a copyeditor at USA TODAY. I worked on two books for two established writers.
I was maid of honor at my younger sister’s wedding. It was one of the biggest honors of my life and also one of my most glorious, “Take that!” moments. “Blood is thicker than water!” I barked (OK, I said it through my steely glare) at her Alpha-Dog bridesmaid, who clearly wanted to usurp me. I won that wedding fracas and stood as a graceful bridesmaid in at least five other friends’ weddings.
I wrecked a car — embarrassingly in the parking lot of my workplace. However, I managed to avert speeding tickets and cavities. I was there for my family through a crisis. I made it to every family Thanksgiving and Christmas except one. I watched my grandmother lose her memory.
I went on a missions trip to post-tsunami Thailand. I spent a year in war-torn Liberia, a trip that I consider the most worthwhile and exciting opportunity of my life thus far. I became a real writer. I felt the call to leave journalism and to go into ministry.
I guess I did a lot of stuff.
But as the scenes reeled through my mind like newsprint on one of those old microfilm machines at the public library, I also came up with some shocking data: I had spent eight years — nearly my entire 20s — working through two failed relationships and two big heartbreaks.
The reality of my 20s
Nathan was the first guy I ever seriously dated. After dating nearly two years, he cheated on me. Obviously, we broke up. I experienced real heartbreak for the first time. It took about two years to get over it. Then Matt came along. I really fell in love with him. Madly in love. We had a long-distance relationship but saw each other on weekends at least twice a month. We began talking about marriage (probably way too soon, but he brought it up first), and somewhere along the way — about two years along the way — he changed his mind. Then we broke up, too. That took another two years and felt like a mini-divorce, hence ushering in my first-ever visit to a counselor. Thankfully, I finally got over that breakup, too.
Letting go of my 20s meant that I had to confront some hard truths. I wouldn’t be getting married in my 20s. I wouldn’t start a family in my 20s. I didn’t even have a boyfriend, which clearly would have been a glimmer of hope. I mourned it all.
Thankfully, God began to give me some clarity on the past. To use an analogy, my 20s had been a façade of smooth skin and gray-free tresses. In reality, not everything was wrinkle-free or a natural color. I wanted to hold onto those years, but they had problems, too. My 20s were full of brokenness — about eight, weighty years of it.
As I wrote this column, I listened to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. It is perhaps the great composer’s most well-known and celebrated piece. A count commissioned the piece to eulogize his wife. The music has a haunting beauty. It is the story of life floating and crashing into crescendos of happiness and sorrow and heartbreak and triumph and breath and death. The true beauty of Mozart’s Requiem, however, is that it was left unfinished. Mozart died before he could complete the piece.
At some point in our lives, we all will have to let go of something we hold dearly. We will mourn our youth, our loved ones, our dreams. And then we will be asked to just let go.
I have to move on to the next season that God has called me into. I trust that He knows what He is doing. As a child of God, I really do believe in and find comfort in God’s Word, after all.
Jesus let go so gracefully. It’s a grace I long to exercise as my grasp loosens on my 20s. I think of His emotional plea to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking that “this cup” be taken from Him but accepting God’s will. I think of how He let go of his mother Mary, lovingly giving John to her as a new son. I think of Jesus’ dying on the cross, humbly surrendering Himself to go be with the Father.
A few months from now, I plan to sit in a stunning symphony hall in Washington, D.C., for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem in D. The concert is a belated birthday gift to myself. A reminder of God’s goodness through song. A requiem of years that are not lost — but that have only been let go.
While filled with brokenness and disappointment, I know my 20s also brimmed with beauty. They are years through which God refined me. Years He used to help me discover more of who He made me to be. Years that prepared me for the future work of bearing the burdens of His broken people.
As the familiar notes of sorrow and triumph unravel like satin ribbons on a gift and collapse on the floor like those discarded on Christmas Day, I know I will cry. Perhaps I will cry for the close of my 20s, but only just a little. I know that most of my tears will fall because the musical score God is composing for my life is filled with notes of faithfulness and creativity and kindness and unending love.
Best of all, like Mozart’s Requiem, the musical score of my life remains unfinished. I will hope for the sweet melodies of lasting love and marriage and family. I will pray they come more allegro than adiago into my 30s.
But I know that if they don’t, that somehow it will still be OK.
Because God is the Great Composer of my life, and He won’t stop composing until my musical masterpiece has His finishing touches.
Copyright 2009 Christina Holder. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.