There seems to be a misconception amongst most 20-something year olds I know in regards to what ‘the hardest part’ of being in your 20s actually is.
Contrary to popular belief, the hardest part about being in your 20s has nothing to do with finding yourself or having a job you absolutely despise. It is not about being lost somewhere in the middle of child and adulthood, nor is it about finding someone you wouldn’t mind sharing a bathroom with for the rest of your life.
Don’t get me wrong; all of that shit sucks too. That shit is real, agonizing, discouraging and hard to deal with. I won’t deny that. All I’m saying is that it’s not the hardest thing.
I too, spent the first (almost) half of my 20s misinformed. I am overworked and underpaid. I can’t seem to find a single straight male in NYC to share my bed let alone the rest of my life with, and I have spent hours (days, months) making pro/con lists in an attempt to ‘figure my shit out’. I was certain that this constant feeling of unease about my place in the world was the single most difficult thing I had to deal with as a 24 year-old adult.
A couple of days ago, however, that all changed.
I was sitting at a beautifully set table, eating a wonderful, home-cooked meal with a close friend and her family. We were celebrating her birthday, drinking wine, exchanging stories, laughing until tears pooled up in the corners of our eyes, and truly enjoying each other’s company.
The real star of the show, of course, was my friend’s grandfather, whose stories seem to always verge on the side of fantasy and is always reliable for a good hearty laugh, whether he means to be or not. He was in excellent spirits that night, explaining to us ‘what it really means to exist’ and bestowing on us the kind of advice only our grandparent’s can give.
Somewhere toward the end of the meal, after dessert was served but not quite eaten, the energy shifted. My friend’s grandfather fell quiet, slowly sipping his coffee and gazing straight ahead, past the rest of the people at the table. I assumed he was deep in thought, crafting up a new story to share with the crowd.
In a matter of seconds, thought, it became clear that was not the case. His intense, knowing eyes glazed over and his skin turned a pale, ghostly, white. He began sweating profusely and was unresponsive to questions. His eyes rolled up and then focused again, up and then focused.
The paramedics arrived in minutes to take him to the hospital, and by the time they pulled him out on the stretcher he was already able to nod his head in response again. A tiny sense of relief blanketed the room as the family grabbed their belongings to follow him to the hospital, but those first few minutes stuck to my ribs like hot, terrible glue.
I was horrified, regardless of the fact that I have seen my own fair share of trauma. I mean, as a 12-year-old child I found my father dead in our living room. I have lost more relatives than I can count on one hand. But in that moment, in those first few seconds of what we later learned was a minor stroke, I felt exactly what the real hardest thing about being in your 20s is.
It is not until your 20s that you fully understand how mortal we all are. How short life is and how quickly we can lose someone. In those first few minutes, no one had any idea what was happening to him, but we sure as hell all had death in mind.
My thoughts ran immediately toward my own grandmother. I felt like a greedy, selfish, 20-something-year-old person for feeling this non-existent grief when something real was happening to my friend, but I couldn’t stop. I pictured MY family sitting at the table. MY grandmother becoming unresponsive. I didn’t stop crying for three hours.
Losing someone is fucking difficult. Realizing that you are going to lose everyone is like a recurring nightmare. The hardest part about being in your 20s is waking up from the nightmare and taking every opportunity of every single day to remind the people you love how much you love them, to stop being scared to live a full life and to appreciate the life you have been given, regardless of the mess it can be.