In the bathroom, I’m executing a well-rehearsed routine. It involves brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting my contacts in, diligently applying my mascara—a force of habit despite the fact that it’s hardly noticeable to anyone but me. I turn to leave, but then a silvery something catches the light. Perplexed, I lean in, inches away from the discerning mirror in front of me. My fingers tenderly clutch what I now know is a coarse strand of gray hair. Another one?
The first strand I found years ago, when I was still a child. Then, my mom offered comforting words, reassuring me that a single strand of gray hair was nothing more than “a symbol of a mother’s love.” A confirmation of her undying affection, in exchange for the guarantee that someday, I’ll be hitting the bottles of hair dye. Great.
But this second strand came with no pithy explanation to alleviate my concern. And its unwelcome discovery coincided with this feeling I’ve been having. It is a visible manifestation of a sentiment that’s been festering in my gut: this sense that life is passing me by, that it’s up to me to do something about it, that when it comes to time, there is no rewind, no pause button, no time-out. “I’m getting older,” the strand reminds me, forebodingly.
Lately, I’ve imagined time as a whirlpool-like black hole, the minutes and hours and days and weeks and months disappearing forever, crushed at the singularity. I’m plagued by this restless feeling, a feeling I know I’m not the only twentysomething to feel.
And I’m consistently reminded of this person I met once upon a time. As I mentioned then, Nathan may not have known what the grander plan was, what his picture perfect storybook would look like, but he went for it. After saving up for months, he boarded a flight to Joburg. Beyond this, much remained unplanned. But he followed his instinct. When I met him, we were holed up at a hostel in Maputo. At that moment, he was clearly frustrated, on the phone with a bank that had frozen his account, leaving him nearly metical-less. But in conversations over the course of the next 24 hours, it became clear that he was having the time of his life.
I think about him every now and then, for he’s one of those people whose life yours intersects with for just a brief moment before you go your separate ways, ships that passed in the night. The harsh reality is that, despite this indelible mark that he—and others like him—have left on my life, in all likelihood I will never see him again. In a world abounding with interconnectivity, we aren’t even Facebook friends, and I can’t remember his last name. But I wonder how the remainder of his travels through southern Africa turned out, what he’s doing now, what he might say to encourage me to go for it. Graying hair, I guess, offers a convoluted form of encouragement. And I ache to take a similar risk.
Recently, I had a phone conversation with someone I’ve never met, living a million miles away. He said that we—my fellow recent grads and I—have been coddled, living a baby-proofed version of life, until now. His astute observation upset me then, but I’ve come to appreciate it since. There comes a time—after the all-nighters, the Mondays when your gravest internal strife revolves around whether or not you should go to the Keg—that we begin to face the real challenges that require real leaps of faith. Plural, because there won’t be just one, but many smaller leaps along the way. And there’s no guarantee that it will all work out in the end. But if you’ve tried and it doesn’t go according to plan, at least you’ll have one hell of a story to tell about how your ship went down and how you refused to desert the dream, for better or for worse.