I turned twenty-two on Sunday.
I know twenty-two isn’t a big year by most standards. Twenty-one is the real celebration until the quarter century rolls around. But I want to say a few things to commemorate this new year, for my own benefit, if nothing else.
I want twenty-two to be a year of change. But, not change coming over me like waves brushing over my toes as I sit comfortably on the beach. Not change like graduating from college and choosing to make no choice about the future.
No, this year I want to run out to meet the change. I don’t want my future to happen to me; I want to be active in its creation. Splashing out to where the tide pounds relentlessly into itself. And if it pulls me under, I may be surprised by its severity, but I will know that I was brave and foolish enough to run toward it.
Yes, both brave and foolish.
Brené Brown, in an On Being episode, said “Most of us are brave and afraid in the exact same moment all day long.”
How much comfort those words hold as I walk forward as this self that has lived for twenty-two brave and afraid years.
It is okay to fear and expect. Mourn and rejoice. Make wise and foolish choices. Want and not want.
I want to share fragments of two poems with you, because maybe they make sense with what I have written here already. Maybe not. They are both about hearts—the physical thing pumping blood through your body—and I love their language and thoughts.
This is the first Margaret Atwood poem I discovered, and I still love it. (It’s called “The Woman Who Could Not Live with Her Faulty Heart.”)
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.
But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitous,
though no twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,
Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.
I read this next poem, also by Margaret Atwood, for the first time just a few days ago. (This one’s called “Heart Test With an Echo Chamber.”)
A deep breath, they say.
The heart gasps and plods faster.
It enlarges, grows translucent,
a glowing stellar
cloud at the far end
of a starscope. A pear
made of smoke and about to rot.
For once the blood and muscle
heart and the heart of pure
light are beating in unison,
Dressing, I am diaphanous,
a mist wrapping a flare.
I carry my precarious
heart, radiant and already
fading, out with me
along the tiled corridors
into the rest of the world,
which thinks it is opaque and hard.
I am being very careful.
O heart, now that I know your nature,
who can I tell?
Here I am, becoming twenty-two.
With a faulty, brilliant heart. Brave and foolish all day long. And it’s okay.
But I will not stay on the beach, becoming deeper shades of comfortable.