Airplanes and Growing Pains: Choosing Love in Times of Change

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in gate C133 of the Newark Liberty International Airport after a deeply satisfying and nutritionally dense meal of Auntie Anne’s pretzel nuggets and a Jamba Juice smoothie (no, this post is not sponsored, and on the off chance my nutritionist is reading this, I’m sorry). I just spent five days visiting New York City for the first time ever, which was delightful and remarkable all on its own. But the additional bonus of this trip was the company I spent it in – a friend from the US who I met studying abroad two years ago in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Right before I left her apartment this morning (which I will miss, though I will not miss the fact that it’s a sixth-floor walk-up), something a little melancholy and bittersweet struck me. When is the next time we’ll get to see each other? When is the next time I’ll get to come to New York? What circumstances might compel either of us to return to Montevideo, a genial oddball of a city that shaped our lives so unexpectedly during college?

When I first started working at proF after I graduated, I was asked to write about the transition from college to “adulthood.” It never materialized, partly because I had no idea how to express the complicated (melancholy, bittersweet) tangle of emotions I was feeling at the time and am still figuring out how to grasp. For as excited as I was to graduate and embark on some sort of career that incorporated my passions (which, still looking), this part of my life has been marked by a pervasive sense of sadness. I am so sad that I’m not a student anymore. I’m sad that I don’t technically live with my parents. I’m sad that my life is bookended by 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., not “whenever the hell I want” to “whenever the hell I want.” And I’m sad that many of my friendships have fallen away, no longer bound by the axis of shared experience.

But in the middle of this sadness, new relationships and opportunities have popped up like little green shoots among the fallen leaves. And I guess that’s just how life works, isn’t it? Connections ebb and flow and fall away and change, but that doesn’t lessen the joy of connecting and reconnecting time after time. There’s this poem I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, written by Yehuda Halevi, a late 11th/early 12th-century Hebrew poet from Spain:

’Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch. A fearful thing to love, to hope, to dream, to be – to be, And oh, to lose. A thing for fools, this, And a holy thing, a holy thing to love. For your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me. To remember this brings painful joy.

’Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing, to love what death has touched.

I’m certainly not saying that my relatively cushy existential angst over finishing college and becoming a new version of myself is remotely what Yehuda Halevi had in mind when he wrote this. I’m just saying that today reminded me yet again what a daring and bold choice it is to continue to love one another and delight in those relationships, even in times of personal (not to mention social) instability. It is brave to say “goodbye.” It is brave to say, “I’ll see you again.” And I never want to lose that bravery. I never want to lose that joy. I never want to become too tired or too scared to take the kinds of chances that change my life, even in painful ways.

There’s a song I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, too: “Growing Pains” by Alessia Cara, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter who’s presumably going through similar transitions (at a slightly different scale, considering I’m not a breakout pop hit). Every time I listen to Cara sing “I’ve always been a go-getter/ There’s truth in every word I write/ But still the growing pains, growing pains/ They’re keeping me up at night/ And I can’t hide,” I feel it.

Maybe what I’m struggling with at this point in my life isn’t just change, but the lack of resolution. For so long, life was a series of benchmarks to be met, with – and this is the important part – the next benchmark clearly delineated. Somewhere in between writing papers and studying abroad and staying up way too late, I sort of missed the whole fact that there wasn’t a benchmark after “graduate from college,” and there aren’t really any definite future steps, either. Everything is forward motion, slowly radiating away from the center, further and further from the past and who I was in that time and place. As much as I might want to, I can’t go back in time, and even if I went back to college (and maybe I will, someday), I wouldn’t be the same bright-eyed 18-year-old.

I think reflecting on all of this has made me realize that I’ve spent too much time wondering what if – I’ve been trying too hard to recreate the memories, when I should be thinking back on them fondly and focusing on the new ones I can make in this season of my life. (Are y’all tired of hearing that yet – season of life? I thought I was too, but maybe I’m becoming sentimental in my old age.)

So yeah, Yehuda Halevi, I’d concur – ‘tis a fearful thing. ’Tis a fearful thing to grow up. ’Tis a fearful thing to watch the ones you love grow old, go away and come of age in a dangerous and unpredictable world. The great pain of knowing love is knowing loss. But everything else – every moment, every flight, every silly text message and Snapchat and hug and serendipitous reunion – that’s the joy, and to revel in it is divine.