I’m going to be honest, this birthday is one that I wasn’t all that excited for. For one, I’ve really enjoyed being 23, and I think I’ve made a lot of wonderful memories in the last year. For another, it’s a strange time to be celebrating a birthday at the moment, not that I’ve ever minded a low-key day…let me pick the treat and the movie and I’m set. And for a third reason, 24 is the first age that makes me feel unironically a bit old…like, I’m supposed to be a real adult now, and I still feel more half-kid, half-adult. I guess I’m just easing into my quarter-life crisis. 🙂
Also, this birthday is a bit of a strange milestone for me. When my cousin passed away from cancer at age 24 on April 19th, 2017, I had a bit of a personal awakening, as you do when someone close to you passes earlier than expected. Not that anyone is ever ready to die at a young age, but I looked to him, a person I had always seen as a role model throughout my life, and to me he seemed spiritually in the right place. I had just turned 21, and I thought to myself, could I face death at 24? And honestly, I felt very far from being able to be at peace with death. I realized that I wasn’t living my life with my heart in the right place, that I had a bunch of small hangups and fears and insecurities and bad habits that had gradually developed over my teen years and kept me from maintaining the right priorities. I had been doing a lot of surface-level personal work over recent years, but I hadn’t been addressing anything too deeply. So I resolved to work harder at not letting myself get in my own way so much.
In some ways I feel like I haven’t changed much at all over my lifetime. In others, I feel like I’ve completely transformed over the years, especially the last three. I don’t know which is closer to the truth, but I’ll accept the middle ground, that I’ve been growing and learning the best I can. And to be honest, I feel more spiritually at peace than I ever have before. So, in a way, I can now answer that I could more readily face death at 24. Do I want to? Absolutely not, there are so many, many things I still want to do in life. My heart aches for the life that young souls gone too soon could have lived, the people they could have impacted. But often, young loss has a massive impact of its own, and for the gift of true spiritual introspection, I am grateful. I wouldn’t be who I am today at 24 without my cousin’s life (the same could be said for many other loved ones), but also without his loss.
I was watching part of LOTR: Return of the King as it was airing on tv the other day. There was a scene that stuck out, that I hadn’t really noticed before, Gandalf and Pippin talking before the assault on Minis Tirith. Upon a little digging, I discovered that the dialogue was unique to the film but based on pieces from the book. At any rate, it resonated with me:
Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf? See what?
Gandalf: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: No. No, it isn’t.
I didn’t really expect to spend my 24th birthday blog post talking about death, but honestly it’s just what’s been on my mind the past few months, even before all this stuff we have going on in the world at the moment. It’s just a more somber sort of birthday all around. And it’s of my opinion that we all should attempt to make peace with death the best we can, because it’s a path we all must take at some point. I forget where I heard this recently, but someone pointed out that when He was faced with His crucifixion, Jesus feared death, but He was not terrified of it, and I think that’s an important distinction. Jesus showed His humanity in that moment, because as a human, it is perfectly natural to fear death. However, because Jesus died for us, we do not need to live in terror of it, because it is not the end. We can make peace with our physical mortality, if only we endeavor to keep our spirits healthy.
So, I went into today with the lowest of expectations. I would do some schoolwork, take ballet class via livestream, watch a movie to end the evening. I would turn 24. Well, today ended up surprising me in the best of ways. I’m lucky that I have plenty of family and friends that take the time to text, call, or send a card, so I always feel loved on my birthday. But this might strangely be my favorite birthday in recent memory because of how low my expectations were. I received some really sweet messages, even from a few people I haven’t talked to recently. My Godmother called and we talked on the phone for 45 minutes, my other Godmother/aunt dropped by to leave me a little gift and chat from a distance on the porch, my best friend dropped off a super sweet surprise gift just after, I got some very thoughtful cards in the mail. Altogether, I feel so loved I could burst.
My soul needed this, truly. I was filled up by my loved ones today even from a distance, and now I feel so much more prepared to celebrate the Resurrection this Sunday, on the 3rd anniversary of my cousin’s loss no less, despite the sadness of not being able to gather with my family and my church family. My sense of hope in these times is being repeatedly tested and renewed in more ways than I can express. Who knew a “quarantine birthday” would be one for the memories, for all the loveliest reasons and not negative ones?