Quick confession--for the first time ever, upon reflecting over my upcoming birthday, I had a bit of a freak out moment. I even teared up. Twenty-seven?! Say it isn't so! Just today, my Spanish teacher asked me my age, and I went back and forth between trying to remember if I was 24 or 25 before realizing that I'm turning 27 tomorrow.
You gotta understand, I'd dreamed of being a 23-26 year old since I was nine or ten years old. By then, I believed that 22 was too young (and indeed, I felt that way at 22) and 27 was way, way, waaaay too old.
Yet, here I am, on the eve of my 27th birthday, about to turn too old. And if we really want to get all technical with the matter, technically, 27 years ago at this moment, I was already born (thanks, International Dateline).
Nine-year-old me believed that 23-year-old me would be having grand adventures, young, free, unattached--smart enough, well-off enough, healthy enough, and just doing grown-up things. Old enough to drive, old enough book plane tickets, drink colorful alcoholic drinks, sleep whenever I want, wake up whenever I want, go to the mall by myself, and all that good stuff that every nine-year-old pines for. I watched a lot of The Wild Thornberrys and So Weird in that day, and even though the heroines of those shows were only teens or tweens, I imagined myself at 23 living a life on the road or in the jungle in a camper, attempting to see everything the world has to offer. Oh, and at the time, my dad was also berating me for spending too many hours (six-plus hours, actually) holed up in my room lost in book after book. So, I reasoned around the time that Harry Potter was entering his second year at Hogwarts, being 23 or 24 also would definitely entail many uninterrupted hours of reading at any hour of the day.
Well, pre-teen self, if you are indeed reading this, yes, 23-26 was all that you believed it would be.
In the past year, I said goodbye to the many close friends that I had made at my temporary home in Japan, I started, persisted, and did decently in the most difficult, most rewarding job I'd ever had, visited two new countries and six states, got engaged, and took up a new language. It was a big year.
In the past month, to the day, I travelled to Peru solo, got to know Lima before welcoming my sister and Brian, traveled to Cusco, hiked the Andes, saw Machu Picchu, trekked to Huaraz, saw much more of the Andes (even more impressive than Machu Picchu, to be honest), saw Brian off, traveled to Arequipa on my own, moved in with a host family, started Spanish school, and am now traveling the southern and eastern region of Peru on my own--well, with new friends, anyway. I ziplined across a beautiful and massive canyon, volunteered at a remote village to teach local kids in a one-room schoolhouse, and wandered a 200-year-old city-sized labyrinth, formerly monastery, made of white volcanic rock.
Today, I woke up, called Brian to say hello, walked through the brilliantly sunny neighborhoods of Arequipa from my host family's house to my Spanish school, had my 3-hour lesson, chatted with students from around the world, and enjoyed delicious coffee with a couple of new friends, over which we discussed our plans for our trek this weekend--all of this by noon.
And after noon, I had a marvelous day locked up in my bedroom, watching episode after episode of my latest guilty pleasure (yet another Sherlock Holmes-based TV show), binging on $6-worth of Arequipa's finest chocolate (which is a lot of chocolate, I might add), only to intercept the rounds of chocolate with the occasional handful of potato chips in order to reset the sweet-salt cycle, blogging, and uninterrupted reading.
Being 26 is... was... so freaking awesome.
Goodbye 26. As per tradition, I guess I should write one of these:
Lessons Learned in or sometime before My 27th Year of Life
1. If you think you are sick, you are sick--don't feel bad about it, just rest and recover. I maxed out my days off this past year working. Each day I took off, I felt guilty. That guilt never ever served any purpose. Sick days are for you to take when you are sick, and no, you do not get to choose when you get sick. Getting sick happens to everyone, especially when you're tired, worn out, and stressed. I had the random randomest ailment befall me, including a cough that wouldn't end which--of course!--led to a fractured rib.
During this trip to Peru, after a 3-day trek camping and hiking inhumane altitudes, my body started to break down on me. I felt bad about retreating to the bedroom because it was my sister's last day in a Peru and I wanted it to be a good one for her. I wondered if I was being a weakling, wussily (is that a word?) choosing not to walk any longer and instead choosing to call it quits and return to our warm, comfy guesthouse bed after brunch at 11 a.m. I didn't get out of bed until approximately the same time the next day.
And afterwards? I was spry as a happy alpaca! I was sick, I was tired, I rested, I got better. Lesson learned: you don't get to choose when you get sick; get over it, don't overthink it, and take a damn nap.
2. I, or someone I love, could very well die today, or maybe tomorrow. If I die sooner than I expect, then many of the dreams and plans I had for myself won't be realized. If I lose someone that I love... Then I just don't know what I'd do.
I can't say that there's a whole lot of profoundness and meaning that I discovered when my naïveté was yanked away and I was forced to learn that cold lesson of life. MA's death was, however, a reminder to take in what's good now. Dream for the sake of the joy of dreaming--along with the purpose of being the architect of your future. Rest days, bad teaching days, routine and mundane working days are not throwaway days. Life isn't a series of obstacles, a game to be won. Life is now. The future is unwritten; it doesn't exist. The past is for fond memories and maybe to make you a bit wiser for the present. This is all there is, though. If you think you're behind in life, you're not. You're not supposed to 'be' anywhere at a certain time in your life. Just find peace with who you are and what you do in this moment; if you can't find peace, do something about it until you do.
3. Make a routine of eating healthy. For our household, that means making a healthy menu for the week on Saturdays, grocery shopping for fresh meat and produce on Sundays, and not eating out until at least Friday. Eat fresh, not processed. Don't be tempted by the cheapness of junk food; your health is not worth sacrificing. Don't fry when you can bake. Substitute veggies and whole grains for bread, rice, and pasta. Forgo sweetened drinks. Eat lots of yummy fruit.
4. When freaking out: be present in the present; practice mindfulness. If you ever get lost in runaway thoughts--your reasoning becomes clouded with crisscrossing doubts until even your breath has escaped your control--try practicing mindfulness. I'd never been good at meditation, but my coworker taught me about this process called 'mindfulness': don't fight your thoughts; become hyper aware of your physical surroundings and physical being. Notice what you feel--your shoes around your feet, your feet on the ground, you back to the chair--what you hear, and what you see. Allow your intrusive thoughts to come and pass without spending an extra second on any one of them.
And so on and so on, until your thoughts have escaped or slowed to a more manageable pace. Your problems won't be solved, but you'll ideally reach a place of clarity in which you're able to keep your problems in perspective. Everything will be OK. This process has helped me in my many, many all-to-predictable panic moments as a first-year teacher.
5. Write. Or paint, or draw, or take pictures, or make music, or sculpt, or build furniture, or do whatever it is that you do that makes you you. It doesn't matter what you do; what matters is you get in touch with your creative side and produce. Don't worry about an audience. When you create, you nourish your soul.
6. Say 'yes' to new experiences and patiently bide your time through unexpectedly less-than-enjoyable new experiences. I wish I could say that every adventure is painted with rainbows and narwhals if only you'd say yes to every opportunity that comes a-knocking, but the truth is, I've had my fair share of 'what the hell did I get myself into?' misadventures. When you dive into that international group hangout with young'ns from your hostel, the personalities are a mixed bag--some with worldly views, others with out-of-this-world-ly views. Every strange experience, regardless of how fun or boring it turns out to be, makes for a great story later.
7. Allow conversations to ramble on hours longer than expected. Ok, maybe not hours, but still, give the talkers--the strangers-turned-friends--whom you meet time to share their story. I'll always remember the guy I sat next to on the plane to whom I randomly offered an orange. He thanked me profusely, admitting that he hadn't eaten in two days; he opened up to me about his past 48 hours of getting robbed, then beaten up by a homeless guy, then picked up by police, then finally granted access by the airlines to catch his flight despite his only form of identification on his person being his scuba diving license, to his story of his lucrative company and his turning to fancy, expensive drugs, and his divorce... all of this from an orange. It was a rather entertaining 1-hour flight.
My family and closest friends think of me as a talker, and I guess I am in a way, but when I'm out in the wild meeting new people, I think most others learn very little about me. The truth is, with a few starter questions and real, genuine interest in people's stories, you can get a lot of people to open up. I can't offer much compelling justification as to why it's good to listento others' stories. Suffice to say, listening to others stories gives me inspiration, moments of compassion, and if nothing else, a good laugh every now and then.
8. Don't let FOMO* run your life; relish the occasional Netflix binge. (*FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out). I don't know why younger-me could never not be productive, or be alone, or just do nothing for a day, but present me actually needs it every few weeks. After work, after back-to-back out-of-town weekends, after weaving through crowds in bustling cities navigating various language barriers, there's nothing like diving into the Internet and scrubbing your brain clean with media garbage. Don't feel bad about it. For now, adventure is not out there. For now, adventure is in reruns of FRIENDS and gifs of cats and dogs being friends.
9. Hiking is not as hard as it sounds. I don't know about you, but before I had ever set foot in my first pair of hiking boots, I thought hiking had something to do with carrying yards of rope, scaling granite cliffs, mastering a compass and the angles of your shadow, and deciphering moss on trees. Oh, and something about binoculars.
Then my mom moved to Hawaii and soon told me about her newfound hiking hobby. Mom? Binoculars? Something didn't make sense. When I visited her in Hawaii, she took me on one of these hikes. Oh! I discovered. Hiking is walking on not-sidewalk. Popular trails are clearly marked, sometimes have porta-potties along the way, can be as short as 30-minutes to complete, can be flat, wide, and surrounded by shade and/or breathtaking views. The more you hike, the more you learn about your own needs, like how much water to carry, what kind of shoes you like, a comfortable rhythm of walking, and how many miles you can walk at a time at what incline. Some cities/states/countries may be more rich in hiking trails than others, but if you don't hike already, give it a try. It's fun! It's healthy! It's not necessarily all that difficult! And most importantly--it's freeeeeeeeeeee.
10. Celebrate milestones. My youngest sister graduated from college this year. It was the eighth graduation I'd ever attended. It was the first graduation that ever made me feel that elated mixture of pride and joy and awe that I suppose graduations are supposed to make you feel. Her graduation made me step back and take stock of what my parents had accomplished--from both coming up from a life of hardship in the Philippines, to graduating as engineers, to moving to a foreign country, and another foreign country, and another foreign country... all to give their daughters a better life. All to see their daughters graduate college. And they did it! Mission complete. All that, plus the fact that my sisters are eye-wateringly successful for their age. Uh, yeah. Pretty awesome.
Until that day, graduations were nothing but an embellished photo op to me. Put on a gown you borrowed from your roommates, scratch your name on a 3x5 index card, take the stage, hand the notecard over to the old white dude with the shiny scarf and poofy velvet hat, hope your name isn't butchered too badly, shake hands, smile, step off the stage. Whoopdeedoo.
Now I realize that graduation isn't about the ceremony any more than a birthday is about the cake. It's about reflecting on all that it took to get you to that moment. It's about allowing yourself to feel proud of yourself for a quick second and about being grateful for the people who support you every day. Milestones and celebrations are reminders--a chance for you and your loved ones to pause, look at each other, look around, say "mmhmm. Not bad."
OK, I'm all out. Last year, I offered up 11 of my life lessons learned; this year, all I got is 10. The older I get, the more I realize how little I know.
Happy birthday, me! Here's to a new era of my life--my late twentieeahhhhggg I can't even say it. Ciao ciao.