A bump in the road – I would normally have tried to write an entry at the beginning of the week, but I wanted to hold off on my next entry until today. What’s so special about today? Well not much, other than the fact that today I turn 30—the “big three-oh,” as they say.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be having a crisis today—bemoaning the fact that my twenties and my youth are now gone forever and I am approaching that terrifying phase in life known as middle age. As disappointing as it may be, though, I am experiencing no such crisis. I’ve tried, really. I’ve sat myself down and tried to come to grips with the horror that awaited me on the 18th of April, but the best I could muster was a vague dissatisfaction at not experiencing much anxiety.
Part of the reason for this, of course, is that I left my twenties behind over a year ago. You see, in Korean age I have been 31 for several months now. It’s a bit confusing, but the easiest way to think of it is like this: in Korea, you are one year old when you are born, and you gain a year every New Year’s Day. I’m not sure why it is done this way—I have heard Korean Christians say that the year spent in the womb is considered your first “year,” but, while I think it’s a nice sentiment, it sounds very much like an explanation slapped on long after the fact.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that I turned 30 at the beginning of last year. Of course, in Western age (which Koreans do understand, and this is the age used for legal purposes, like determining when you’re allowed to drink and buy cigarettes) I was still only 28, so I didn’t really think much of it. As time went by, though, I became used to the idea of being in my thirties. Actually becoming thirty years old today feels like a rather anti-climactic afterthought. No sudden flash of revelation, no life flashing before my eyes. Having had over a year to get used to the idea, I find it doesn’t affect me in the least.
Even without that adjustment period, though, I’m not sure today would have had much of an effect on me anyway. I don’t feel any older than I did yesterday. And I know I’m still a bit young to be using the phrase “young at heart,” but I honestly feel like a kid inside an adult’s body sometimes. I still like to go outside and play (or at least I would if we had any grass to play on), I like to explore new places, and I have great dreams and plans for the future. And I still get nervous when giving a presentation in front of a group of people, I still worry about being accepted (perhaps even more so in Korea, where being accepted by a group is vital to the individual), and I still get hurt when people call me names. I may have matured some, and I may know better how to handle what life throws at me, but I’m still a wide-eyed child standing on the doorstep of a world of wonder.
I guess I’m still at the stage where everything is an opportunity, an unexplored pathway to the future. Right now I feel like I am standing on a hill, with the road stretching out behind me and winding on before me. My first decade is obscured by the mists of memory, and I can only catch glimpses of it through the fog. A girl named Rosemarie who always who always wanted to do this funny thing called “kissing” when all I wanted to do was watch TV; flashes of a trip across the States with my parents: cowering from the edge of the Grand Canyon because I was afraid I would inexplicably hurl myself into the abyss below if I got too close, dropping my ice cream in Las Vegas and crying under the millions of flashing lights, seeing Disney Land in all its wonder and glory; leaving my best friend Peter behind on moving day; peering out of a large box at our new house into the face of a new friend; and then the memories start to become more clear, yet at the same time more indistinct because there are so many of them.
My second decade was probably the hardest, as it is for most people. I remember my mother once telling me that she would never be a teenager again for all the money in the world, and I wondered why. Looking back now, I can see why, and I heartily agree. I have good memories of that decade, of course, but also memories of pain and fear: falling in love with a girl who barely knew I existed, suffering the humiliation of being one of the unpopular kids at school, lying in bed at night and wondering if I could really make it in life, or would life prove too much for me. Like most sons, I struggled against my father’s tyranny (at least that’s the way I saw it at the time), and took on the burden of defending my younger brothers as well. Then there was the rebellion, and the growing rift between myself and my parents, and off I went to university. And there again I would lie in my bed at night and continue to wonder if I could really handle life.
And then in this past decade, wounds were healed, rifts were closed, and I gained a new understanding of and respect for my parents. I realized the monumental task with which they were faced, and that they gave it everything they had. I often wonder if I could even do as half as well as they did.
My third decade was probably also the biggest turning point in my life, when I decided to leave the land of my birth and head off to shores unknown (most of this is related in my background story). Everything was new again—I had to learn a new language and a new culture, and face challenges I had never faced before. I got married, and suddenly there were two sailors on this lonely ship in the sea, not always sure where we were going, but sure that we were going there together.
Now I am entering into my fourth decade, and I wonder what life has in store for me. Will the crew of this tiny ship gain new members? Will we stay the course, or will the winds of life send us a different way? What trials and triumphs await me? It is a bit scary, I must admit, but it is exciting to know that the future lies before me.
I’m glad I made the trip up this little hill in my life, to rise above the mist and take a look around. Yet it’s no more than a little swell in the land, and tomorrow I will wake up as if nothing had happened and continue on my journey—but perhaps with renewed hope and anticipation for the road ahead.