Like most things, you hear it before you can even see it: the cars pulling out of your residential building parking lot before you draw the blinds open for the day. You are curled up, unwilling to face actually getting out of bed, reading Tanizaki who writes about life through responses to light. He writes that sometimes, we resign to our surroundings as inevitable. “If light is scarce, then light is scarce”. When we accept life as it is, we learn to love the particular beauty of darkness. But most times, our quest for a brighter light never ceases. We move from candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light.
You read this, watch the pink light escape at the edge of the curtain, and think, this is the human paradox: contentment vs exploration.
This is a return to your childhood town where you didn't expect to be again. It feels absurd to be back in such close proximity to everything you thought you grew away from. With nothing much to do but a lot to think about, you walk down the lanes and corridors of your old neighborhood where the vivid greenness doesn't leave the trees even in winter. It looks just like it always did. The pebbled road where kids squeal and bike down is dry, open, and winding. Childhood feels like a voice softening with distance. As if floating above and looking at it as a detached observer, you feel like this place doesn't belong to you anymore, it doesn't exist to be loved, it just exists to be.
A friend on facetime tells you that their time in college feels just like a memory after only two years out. You listen and feel a sharp gutting feeling because your time in college is also almost done. Maybe every stage feels like swimming in open water, paddling further and further away from shore until the land is a blur on the horizon. You are told that youth is the time to experiment and explore anything you want to – to feel smugly certain of your place in the world, to exploit this blind spot while it lasts. A time where it is acceptable to be evenly euphoric and bored. Where sensation is society's main currency: delirium, pleasure, relaxation, exhaustion. Then, in a moment of panic, you ask yourself: Am I being young in the ways I'm 'meant to be'? Am I living my life to the fullest? You lay on your back, concentrating on a singular shadow shifting slowly and evenly on the ceiling like a moving blemish, thinking about these questions. Maybe life is more like Rilke said: "I live my life in widening circles". You think of the conversations at 2 am with friends about the loss of worldly innocence and the belly-deep laughter coupled with embarrassment after you burn the chicken in the air fryer. There is at least one person who will not give up on you. It is not a lie to say that you are loved in full volume, and are working on giving that love back.
The conclusion is acceptance. Acceptance that no one can define the way you live other than you. A life where exploration is largely internal, rather than external. A line @ava wrote that has stuck with you always: specificity is gorgeous. Keep that in mind as you write – all the good things but also the bad ones. If nothing special at all, your life can be at least earnest. Document sadness to know that its intensity and shock can send you reeling like a hard punch right in the heart, but the bruises always fade with time. Document regret, a guilty, flushed, feeling, to know that you can do better, and try very hard to learn from it. Sit and write the truest sentences you can think of, even if they hurt (especially if they do).
After years of granular change, look back and see how much of growing up is realizing that vulnerability, usually misconstrued for weakness, is the strongest form of connectedness in this busy and lonely world. Stop caring about what your world is meant to look like, and start living in it for what it is.
Be unafraid, unashamed, to ask for what you want: youth in all its novelty and tenderness with none of its extremism. The morning hasn't left yet, where everything is still stirring and unfolding. Close the book, pull open the blinds, and let the light flood in.