I turned twenty five in the middle seat of an airplane on the way from Denver to San Francisco, sandwiched between a sneezer and an elbow tyrant. We were on our third time zone shift since leaving Nashville earlier that evening, so we'd lost track of time and almost missed our connection, mimicking our best Home Alone airport sprint to the gate. Nonetheless, I was fairly sure it'd now turned midnight somewhere, and I had, without pause, officially bid farewell to my early twenties.
I spent most of the flight trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. Dear God, just a short nap—if I could just get 20 minutes right now this will be the best birthday ever. I tried putting my head back, extending my legs—a pathetic effort to get as horizontal as possible in my airplane seat. Not to mention, the elbow tyrant was making subtle movements across the arm rest every few seconds as if she'd been dared to continually jolt me out of my slumber throughout the flight. The sneezer on my right was now pitifully contaminating our stuffy cabin air every 30-45 seconds, almost rhythmically. I changed positions, this time burying my face in my scarf, bending my head to my knees in the posture most take to prevent fainting. I still wasn't comfortable, but I was now less vulnerable to breathing in the plague being liberated beside me.
I got off the plane quickly. A friend in San Francisco was waiting in arrivals, rallying to take me out for a birthday drink with some other friends to kick off the weekend. It was a nice gesture, but also a Thursday night, meaning most of our friends would be getting up early for work. The hesitance in me presented a harsh reality that college was just as far away as I'd feared it'd become. A drink at midnight on a weekday was now the quintessence of a mid-twenties YOLO.
I stopped at the airport bathroom on my way out of the airport. My restlessness from the flight was evident at first glimpse of myself in the mirror. Disheveled hair, smeared mascara, a loss of color in my cheeks, my newfound age apparent in the lines folding comfortably into crescents under my tired eyes. Sigh.
A stewardess entered a stall behind me, glanced back at me, shut her door and then quickly swung it back open.
"Are you Cadence?"
"Um. Yes. Hi, do I..."
She pulled my wallet from her purse and handed it to me with a look similar to the look my 4th grade teacher used to give me after calling me over to return a hat or a pair of gloves I'd carelessly shed and left behind at recess. It was the same "Aren't you a little too old for this?" look I’ve yet to escape with age.
I wondered if she noticed it was my birthday on my ID. I promise I'm not some irresponsible kid, I'm 25 today, did you see that? I'm a real adult now!
But alas, as glaring as my date of birth seemed was also the reality that I still haven't quite conquered this grown up gig.
I realized right then that no matter how much older I grow, I'll probably still make some childish mistakes, and childish decisions, some on purpose and some with regret. But my youth lives in me and comes with me and will likely be taking me back to places for the rest of my life—some proud, free and fun, like the tire swing in my grandparents backyard and others shameful and silly, like leaving my wallet on a plane.
We can't escape getting old, but what's often left unsaid is that we can't escape our youth, either. And if we try to, it's a shame because we've run from some part of our stories that makes us more capable, more wise, more understanding, and more free. Our youths are the years that built us, even if some of them felt more like our crumbling. Youth is where we collect our wealth of hindsight and foresight and the culmination of our present selves.
I'm starting to believe twenty five means I'm growing older but learning how to own my youth in some ways, too. I'll still make some mistakes, but hopefully less of the same ones. I'll still take wild risks, but not without regard to who they might affect. I'll still laugh uncontrollably and at times about nothing, but I'll also be better at listening, and at giving myself and others the appropriate time to mourn. I think that the stories we're living grow better with age when we worry less about growing and more about growing in experience and love.
After the stewardess rescued me from disaster, I went out with friends and had the midweek midnight drink. I stayed up too late and got up too early. In the morning, we devoured the city's best pastries before driving to Sonoma, where our first winery host poured us full glasses and served us fine cheeses at a picnic table on a hill. For a moment, it felt like we'd entered the set of a Jane Austen movie, only without English accents, up-dos and corsets. We sat and shared pieces of hard history and then made light of them with present laughter. We hopped around to different wineries in the valley, ending the afternoon with a champagne toast at some place too fancy for me on any other day of the year. Our waiter brought me out a special encore glass for my birthday, a french champagne translated as "The Dream"—a fitting title for the start of my 25th year.
We rode over the Golden Gate, back into town, and then headed to dinner. This day was full of slowing down with new and old friends around tables, which is likely what made it so rich. We tasted and shared and then scooted to a dance party a few blocks away. The night ended with a motorcycle ride through the city to its highest viewpoint, where you could take in all 7-square-miles of a lit up San Francisco in one blink.
The next few days of our trip lived up to the first, and I wish I could chronicle every moment here without sacrificing your attention span. Here's what I will say: as you make plans for your next birthday, or if you happen to find yourself feeling anxious about getting older, go on an adventure somewhere new. It will teach you about the necessity and joy in saying "yes" to life as you grow older, not out of the fear of aging, but for the reminder that you are forever young in some intrinsic way.
It is reviving to be taken out of your to-do lists and rested into someone else's home in another city. Pay attention to how people spend their time there, what they're most proud of, what their shops sell and what their trees look like—there is some Divine truth waiting to be realized in each of these new discoveries.
What I learned in San Francisco and am taking with me on the other half of my journey to 50 is to grow old in wisdom and stay young in approach. Nothing will be perfect, I may leave my wallet somewhere dumb or be left behind by someone I care about. But I promise to be resilient, choosing love and experience over shame and pride. And almost certainly, each year will continue to come out a little bit better than the last.
P.S. Thanks to San Francisco for its undeniable warmth; it is the truest quality of your weather, your people and your welcome. You truly gave me my best birthday yet.