They say that all it takes is one song to bring about a 1000 memories. I hope that what I’m about to write does the same.
Being 29 and on the cusp of turning 30 feels almost surreal to me. I never knew I’d be this age. I had never given it much thought before; I always felt that age was just a number. Two digits that I would never allow define me.
When I would speak with my friends about our 16th birthday, our 18th birthday and then the ever-glorious 21st birthday, I never stopped to think about how I really felt about those numbers. It seemed that “getting older” always happened to other people. That me and my friends were part of some secret society of untouched youth that would never age. The Lost Boys. We never saw the wedding invitations, the christening invitations or the 30th and even 40th birthday invitations that would come through the letterbox. We never saw the scenes of sitting in our best friends kitchen and seeing the sparkler on her finger or hearing that she was expecting her first baby – because we would never grow old.
Why does it seem so unfair to me that I am feeling this young, yet I find it hard to remember and relate to the innocent girl I was at the tender age of my teens? Is this how our parents feel when they try to remember back to specific times in their youth and find it hard to recall some details about themselves at that time? And why does that happen? Can you remember everything about yourself when you were a young, free and spirited teen? Are we all too busy just being young to remember to stop and just savour these moments? Robbie Williams said in his song that “Youth is wasted on the young, before you know its come and gone, too soon”. And he was right.
I think it is so important for us all to document our lives in some way. We all go through transitions and phases where different things are important to us. Our first major feat is to get through school exams and make it onto our chosen college course. We get our hearts broken. We lose friendships, while gaining new ones. We then enter the world of work and deadlines and stress. We make time for friends and family and some of us are lucky enough to meet our soul mates and get married and start a family. And then, unfortunately, there are some of us that aren’t lucky to make it this far.
But where do we start to remember?
When I was in my teens I didn’t want to take anybody’s advice. I was right and you were wrong, especially if you were my parents. I knew what was best for me, even though I hadn’t a clue exactly what it was I wanted or where I was going. I was a terrible distraction. And if you weren’t talking about what was on in the cinema, what brilliant book you were going to loan me or about the text you got last night from the number you didn’t know – you lost me. I had the attention span of a goldfish. I could talk and talk for hours, if you let me, about what was on my mind. But I had no patience for anything else. I’m actually still working on the patience bit.
But now that I have the age and maturity to look back on those years, I can just see that I was a teenager with raging hormones and rebellion in every square inch of my body. And because I’m in the habit of remembering things about myself and certain events that happen to me and those around me, I am able to disassemble myself here for everyone to read about. No shame in it.
I think I just meandered through my school years; I didn’t know who or what I wanted to be. I became caught up in trivial things that shouldn’t have mattered. But of course, what did I know and who would be serious about anything at that age? Without painting a very indecent portrait of myself here, I could very much relate to an all-female cast rendition of “Super Bad”.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad, there were the subjects that I adored like anything got to do with the Arts – another subliminal hint from life that I never picked up on. But then there were the subjects that I detested so much that they actually made my skin itch and I couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom.
I can honestly say it wasn’t until I turned 28 that I had an idea of where I wanted my life to go, and what I wanted to do for a living. I fought and struggled with myself for a long time with trying to get myself onto various different courses, constantly denying the voice in the back of my head to just sit down and write. It was obvious to me and my very close family that there was potential in me to be “a writer” when, by chance, my English teacher entered a poem I wrote in the Strokestown Poetry competition when I was very young – and I won it.
I found myself standing up in front of this huge room, in this grand estate, spouting off this very personal poem that I had no idea how I managed to write, and thinking to myself that I was way too young for this and couldn’t quite understand it. All these people wanted to speak to me afterwards, and I remember all I wanted to do was go home and play with my friends. Therefore, I never took it all in. Yet again, never picking up on the curveball life had bounced at me. That probably should have been the moment where I realised what it is I’m supposed to do with my time here, but for reasons I don’t know of yet, I didn’t. And for years later I continued on only writing bits and pieces here and there. Bursts of ideas that would get me nowhere. It sort of felt like waking up from a deep sleep. I would find myself eyeing short writing courses in the newspapers or seeing them on flyers and hearing that voice inside but not having the confidence or the understanding to do it. It will probably come to me in my 40’s why I passed up all those opportunities. Maybe it was the same for you?
I didn’t go to college, instead I joined the Army because I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to be “like everybody else” and I wanted to be free. And thats still very true to this day. Pretty ironic, given that the army is about uniformity and conformity. But I don’t regret one bit of it because it taught me so much about the things I ran away from. I got to travel to the most amazing places that were so remote and I got to meet the most amazing people, who aren’t just my colleagues, but who I’m lucky to say are my friends. I could tell you stories that you just wouldn’t believe. I’ve had my mind blown, ate a goat in a Chadian Governors house and had the most amazing adventure for the last 9 years without really knowing why I was experiencing all these things. I came home and I viewed everything differently; my country, my life, myself. My showers became shorter, because I saw first hand that for some people their day consisted of walking 14 miles carrying three buckets of water on their heads. I stopped listening to bad influences in my life because I knew no sense came from them or from some book I read in my sheltered part of the world. It came from the chances I took and realising that the lessons to learn are out there waiting for you. You just have to take them. And that is what I will remember.
Life to me, seems to come at you in phases. And even though we are all living in it, some of us don’t realise that. We think, especially when we are young, that we can spend this time. And then before we know it we look around and everything has changed. Was it only ever Steve Jobs that warned us that time is limited? To stop wasting our lives living someone else’s. To not be trapped by dogma, living by other peoples thinking, and to not let the noise of other peoples opinions drown out our own inner voice. To have the courage to follow our own hearts and our own intuition. Because it is now that will define who we will be 10 or 20 years from now.
For some people, it takes a looming 30th birthday milestone for the roses you stopped to smell to stick you with a reality thorn. Or maybe for others it’ll take changing their kids dirty nappy for it to really hit them. There is no doubt about it, that question is coming to us all – How did I get here? And it’s up to you which way to take it.
Will you look back at those years you’ve managed to just not take heed of with regret? Maybe you were lucky enough to never forget some things life threw at you or maybe you’re just waiting for the struggles to be over so you can sit back and remember and appreciate it all then. But do you think then it might be too late?
Maybe you’ll remember how attractive you were, how smooth your skin looked or how much hair you had. Maybe your memories will be for the scientific breakthrough you managed to discover, the book you wrote, the film you made, the job promotion you got or the election you won.
Or for some of us 20-something-year-olds, maybe it will be the more simpler things in life; like getting the keys to your first home, meeting the person of your dreams, seeing them walk towards you on your wedding day, hearing your babies heartbeat or that feeling of holding your first child for the very first moment.
Everything is a succession of what is coming next and we should pay attention to the little things that are going on around us everyday. The little seeds that are being planted in our heads, edging us on to take the next step and to not be afraid to live. My biggest lesson so far and what I’ve remembered about now, and being this age, is to listen to those thoughts and to follow them. To take every experience with you.
Life isn’t broken down into number brackets, neatly sequenced for you, where you do certain things at a certain time. All you have to do is live it, feel it and more importantly – remember it.