Last night, I had a dream about admitting a romantic interest to one of my oldest friends who I liked for some years back in the day. In the dream, it was acknowledged with the effortless casuality of ancient history and ancient knowledge, the artful and slightly playful dismissiveness that only comes from people with supreme confidence in themselves and their every decision. Such an attitude doesn’t quite comport with the real-life version of this person, and yet speaks volumes to my perception of relative confidence and attitudinal approach as I face the hills and waves of future forays. Increasingly, my major concerns are that everyone else likes themselves better than I do (empirically untrue, of course, because everyone feels this way) and that no one else feels living is truly serious business. This last, unfortunately, may empirically be true.
On the other hand, I often feel I’ve gotten younger with every passing year. As a child who grew up nine-going-on-forty, the approaching march to 40 feels like emotional regression. I think a fitting model of adulthood would be about figuring out what one has to take seriously and what one can take risks with. I think that a huge part of my rapport with my debate team, for example, comes from the fact that I can stay loose and jokey with them, that our practices, downtime at tournaments, and day-to-day interactions are far from all-business. My critique of most adults is that they cast aside their imagination and creativity in the belief that conforming to societally desired expectations will somehow improve their standing or others’ perception of them. Empirically, again, little could be further from the truth. No one likes a conformist. No one is impressed by how well someone falls in line, etches themselves into a cog, or fails to make waves. And yet aging implies a pressure to sit down, shut up, and start plodding along an inevitable treadmill toward a dubious retired future.
My own future is starting to take shape, at least in the narrow scope of the next year or so, and possibly longer. I have accepted an offer to join the staff of Rutgers University on a full-time basis, serving in an expanded version of my volunteer role that I’ve undertaken for the past year and a half. The school’s administration’s embracing of the debate team in the last few weeks has been overwhelmingly impressive and expansive and I am incredibly grateful to them and the institution writ large for the emerging depth of opportunity they are making available to me, but especially to the students of Rutgers. I think another facet of adjusting to adulthood is increasing acclimation to the idea that one will be under-acknowledged for one’s work and efforts – I am keenly aware of how distant my life suddenly is from such acclimation and what a call to action that contrast can be.
I spent the weekend on the Princeton campus, an emotional gauntlet of tremendous proportion. The recentering of the tournament in the traditional McCosh 50 heightened memories of all stripes, dating back to the spring of 1999, to say nothing of Edwards Hall and the various portents of the best year of my life. There were countless pockets of the campus I found myself in or near or passing by, having to shake my head in wonder at the circular cyclical nature of existence and what sort of bold metaphor one’s life tends to be. Of course, having the company of a team and a new generation to coach and assist both distracted from and periodically enhanced the nature of the trial. Suffice it to say it was emotional.
While the varsity squad struggled a bit again, the novices had yet another breakout performance, including a novice semis break for a team in their first and second APDA tournaments, respectively. Were I not sticking around, this would be about the time I would be desperately reconsidering that decision in the face of how much upside there is in the youth of the team, of wondering where we could be in a year or two. Which is of course nice instant confirmation of my decision to return, to see where we can get, to take pleasure in the incremental improvements as part of a long continuum I can now afford to see out instead of wistfully remember with wonder a couple years hence.
Today itself will be quiet, I’d imagine. A couple folks are coming up from Philly to help me invest in my decision to reside here for the foreseeable future – my apartment remains relatively sparse and unadorned, many artifacts still boxed or stowed, the whole place underlit and overly whitewalled. Hopefully by day’s end, the place will be less refugee camp and more safe haven, a place I have chosen instead of one I’ve fallen into, a reflection of a life I’m leading instead of following. It’s not the most celebratory of usages of time, but it’s befitting of my current status and location. Last year was celebratory and surprising and joyous. This year will be reflective but ultimately rejuvenating.
And, to top it off, my favorite of birthday perks, it’s supposed to snow tonight. While we got a whiff of spring a couple days back, yesterday about-faced into bitter windblown cold and this evening’s forecast calls for flaky precipitation, growing heavy right around the time of my actual birth anniversary (2:56 AM Eastern, four minutes till midnight Pacific). Not sure I’ll be up that late, given my new need to report to work on a schedule, but maybe I’ll set a brief alarm to blearily examine the echoes of 1992 as they fall and scatter on a place I’m starting to call home.
Apparently, two years ago, someone decided to make this the World Day of Social Justice. Hard to imagine a more desirable designation, especially since World Peace Day was already taken. We’re not there yet, folks, and the struggle is long, laborious, and continuous. But with any luck, there are still contributions to be made, reasons to persist in the effort. I remain alive and so long as I do, it will be as an idealist, perhaps even increasingly starry-eyed as the years cascade and I insist on remaining imaginative. There are doubtlessly worse ways to grow old than in the company of heated debate, the camaraderie of youthful enthusiasts, the glint of limitless potential, the shade of support and acknowledgment. It is a blessing to spend any day appreciative, maybe even on the cusp of something like hope.