This past week, I celebrated my birthday. I turned 27 this year, though my cake had one candle ("I don't want to set the smoke alarms off," my mom said).
Twenty-seven is a strange middle ground. It's the last age for several musicians who died, a weird-enough coincidence that the "27 Club" moniker was coined. The club includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.
But in the grand scheme of ages, 27 is pretty young. I get that. But for me, this year is a strange place in life. It's not quite 30, but not 21 anymore, either, an age where I have matured from my teen self, but I am still growing into my adult self. Like breaking in new shoes... and getting a few blisters along the way.
I'm young in some circles and old in others. I have one foot in the younger world -- I can still clearly remember the dances and crushes and college dorms-- and one foot in the world of 9-to-5 workdays and early bedtimes and weddings and kids. And with that older world comes the slight nudge of societal expectations or silent rules I have never felt before.
For instance, as I walked out of work on Friday, I bought coffee from our in-house coffee shop. The barista, a guy in his early 20s, asked me what I was doing that weekend. "I'm excited," I replied. "It's my birthday."
"Awesome," he said. "How old are you going to be? Wait..." He stuttered, unsure. "Should I not have asked that?"
"No, it's fine," I said. "I'll be 27."
"Oh, OK," he said, sighing in relief. "I never know when that happens, like, the age when I shouldn't ask women how old they are. Maybe 30?" he suggested. I shrugged, grabbed my coffee and went on my way.
But the question has been on my mind ever since that coffee house interaction: When is the age where we start to keep quiet about how old we are? And why does it have to happen in the first place?
I'm not immune to it nowadays -- the slight "age shame" upon entering the Land of Upper 20s, that elephant-in-the-room feeling of society pushing me to start to conceal my age. I sense the slight twinge of panic in my gut, the "I'm almost 30-oh-my-gosh" mantra buzzing in the back of my head. I feel the pressure to prepare as the clock ticks, like I need to freeze my eggs and stock up on wrinkle cream because "I'm not getting any younger."
But then I stop and think: No, I'm not getting any younger. But why is it that so bad?
I don't want to cause sighs of frustration, the "You'll understand later when your face sags and your boobs drop and your knees ache" comments. I understand that age does cause certain limitations, often when it comes to health. And I do understand that I don't quite understand.
But what I really don't understand is why we have to put a negative spin on something that is inevitable? Why does it feel as if there's this silent embarrassment, especially amongst women, about age -- as if the higher our years, the lower our quality as a person? Getting old is something we all do. And as the "27 Club" indicates, some get to live a life much longer than others.
I know with age comes back aches and ailments, frustrations and stresses. And sure, teenagers may be younger, but that doesn't mean they aren't wise. It goes both ways. But despite the wrinkles (or lack of), it is up to us whether our years are full or empty -- no matter the amount of trips around the sun we have taken.
One day, I asked my mom, "What's it like to get older?" We were standing in front of the bathroom mirror. She sighed wearily and grabbed at her face, pulling back near her hairline so her skin stretched smooth.
"It's like all of a sudden, you look in the mirror and you're this old woman," she explained. "I still feel young, but how I look doesn't reflect it." She sighed. "It just happens."
I nodded and examined my own reflection, then my mother's image in the mirror. But I don't see the wrinkles or crow's feet or sun spots that she complains about. I see my mother -- my beautiful, wise, smart mother.
Yes, our skin wrinkles. And I'm not saying wrinkles are all good -- we should wear sunscreen and hats and be smart about the sun. But despite the sun, our skin can wrinkle due to laughing and crying and squinting and smiling. Our skin wrinkles because of life. Because we are feeling. Because we are living. Wrinkles may be defined lines, but they do not define our lives.
One day when I'm older than 27, maybe I'll read this and think, "She didn't know what the heck she was talking about." And maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. But that's another side effect of age--we learn. We grow. We wrinkle. And all of it is a part of life. Age is just a number, until we make it more than that.
So let's live. Let's not feel pressured "to act our age" or embarrassed if we act older than the age we are. Let's not be ashamed of it or hide from it or mutter the number quietly. Let's be proud of our age, no matter how young or old. Right now. Today. This year. And every year we get. Because we don't know what age will be our last.