Twenty Three

Somewhat against my better judgment, I turned twenty-three yesterday.

Anyone who reads this regularly knows that I’ve been going through a bit of existential angst about where my life is heading lately.  Yesterday was a nice switch, a chance to take a step back and think about where, in the last year, I’ve been.  As full of challenges and frustrations as twenty-two was, it was, on reflection, pretty amazing.

In the last year, I drove across the U.S. in a car deemed “not safe for any distance” by a mechanic, had maggots surgically removed from my rear-end in a one-room clinic in Uganda, and got in a fight with a neo-Nazi in London.  In January I boated through mangrove swamps in Thailand; three months later, I was wandering the streets of Barcelona at two a.m.  I took up a new sport, rediscovered my inner jock, and fulfilled a long-deferred dream of competing in a collegiate cross-country race.  There were periods when I grew up fast—I submitted my first journal article for peer review—but also—at least for a few summer nights in Flagstaff and Saturday nights in Oxford—times when I didn’t grow up at all.

When I was little, my parents always used to leave a present and a balloon by my bedside on my birthday morning.  Right when I wake up, I can typically barely remember my name, much less what day it is, so this tradition was always nice because it made me feel special from the first moment of the day.  I haven’t woken up to a present in a long time, though, because I haven’t been home for a birthday since I turned sixteen (and that day I failed my driver’s test, so it was a bit of a bust).  It’s always been something—exams, travel, reunions—but it seems like my birthday has passed with a “pfft” for a while.

It was a good omen, then, when I woke up to a set of balloons and a beautiful watercolor of Oxford painted by my housemate, Nicola.

Strong contention for best birthday gift... ever.

The rest of the day went by uneventfully, but pleasantly: I had lunch with a friend from my program, went for a long run along the Thames, and spent the evening dreaming up band names with a fellow punk-wannabe from in my college.  Since no day could be perfect without some radical politics, in the evening I went to an event on the economic crisis put on by the Oxford Socialists.  I walked out feeling intellectually and, in my own way, spiritually stimulated.  It was 9:00 p.m., and the summer sun had just set below Oxford’s spires, an indescribably beautiful image that was, I think, especially fantastic to anyone still recovering from the English winter.  I could hear a string quartet playing inside New College, on the other side of the 800-year-old city walls.  Before I went to bed, I managed a bit more celebrating with a Swiss linguist, a German investment banker, and a Romanian police officer.

Against Me! captured it best: “If you had told me about all this when I was fifteen, I never would have believed it.”

– – – – –

Jukebox: NOFX – New Happy Birthday Song

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