I can feel its presence, just around the corner, always a few steps ahead of me but in the last few months, slowing down, letting me get closer, turning back every now and then to assure me that it’s there, and eventually, I’ll be right beside it.
I can see its shadow from where it stands today, just around the bend in the road. I can feel its eyes on me – the number 30, waiting patiently, knowingly.
Is it smirking? Will it greet me with a consolatory arm around the shoulder and a “it had to happen, mate” or is it going to utter a smug retort – “remember when you were 20 and in college, walking around campus like you owned it, like you owned the world, barely smothering your giggles at the older men and women who sat in close-knit circles on the grass, seemingly always singing With or Without You by U2, always playing an acoustic guitar? Remember how you thought they were just so lame?”
Yeah I remember, I’ll tell 30. I just didn’t realize then that those Masters’ students didn’t care what we thought. And that to them, we were kind of like annoying bees buzzing around their orange juice.
Because who am I kidding, I don’t need to turn 30 to admit that I find 21-year olds nostalgically amusing for ten minutes and then just a bit, say, what’s the word… loud, obnoxious, self-centered? Or if I can tap into the social worker in me, I’d say they’re just not really mentally compatible anymore…
Maybe 30 won’t say anything at all. Maybe it will just drop itself around my head and over my shoulders like a very comfortable sweatshirt. Or will it be like a new pair of shoes that stabs your big toe and scrapes skin off your ankle and you debate with yourself for two weeks whether you should return them, but then finally you break into the shoes and realize they fit just fine.
You know why turning 30 feels like such a big thing, don’t you?
Because of all the movies and TV shows (of course I remember that FRIENDS episode!) and Meg Cabot novels. The sleepy little girl inside me who absorbs all media like a yellow sponge and tells me to buy white sneakers even though I know they’ll get dirty really quickly, she’s had both palms on the buzzer in my brain for a few days now – 30! You’re turning 30! Big emotions and moans of how old you are and how little you’ve accomplished, bring it on, come on!
But honestly, other than a slight discomfort, it doesn’t feel like there are going to be fireworks, of excitement or doom.
I mean, if I think about it, in so many ways I’m still the same person I was 17 years ago – I still have unruly hair, I still love to read, I still dream of writing a novel, I’m still trying to learn how to run, I’ll still crawl out of bed at 5 am to watch lightning zigzag across the Karachi sky and drink in the smell of wet earth that permeates the world before a storm … I’m still really moody and I still sink down in funks like a hen over her eggs, and I still prefer babies to older people, and I would still rather not eat teenday.
In other ways, I guess I’ve changed.
I mean you’d really hope you’re not the exact person you were at age 13, right?
I hope I’m a more empathetic person than I was ten, five, three years ago, a person who judges less and tries to understand more, who tries to find a silver pen and draws on a lining to the darkest cloud.
The world is less black and white now, people aren’t perfect, and goodness isn’t dependent on whether you’re related to someone, or whether they follow the same religion as you or share your nationality or are lighter coloured as all the commercials would want you to believe.
Hardly anything is unquestionable: notions of good, evil, nationalism, pride, family, feminism, rights, social justice, health, marriage, babies, food … life is so much more fluid now than it used to be when I was a child. It is definitely not easy but I wouldn’t exchange this way of thinking and living for a comfortable existence, because really, the objective of life for me isn’t really comfort – I don’t even think its happiness (at least not happiness as we often think of it but more on that later), maybe not even peace… I guess the objective is to keep learning and experiencing and along the way, being kind to others.
I don’t think turning 30 is going to be earthshakingly tragic. I mean, honestly, I don’t foresee any changes that will come into effect midnight of September 7 -
Will I now finally embrace – or at least grudgingly accept – the epithet ‘auntie’, cheekily or more likely, innocently, tossed at me by 10 year boys and girls back home in Pakistan? Should I start buying anti-wrinkle cream? Should I stop wandering over to the girls’ section at H&M and should I finally start choosing somber black leather wallets over ones with tiny blue flowers on them? Is it perhaps time for me to buy an iron and stop carrying a purple backpack? Should I be spending more time in real wood furniture shops than in stationery stores?
I don’t really see why.
And that’s the best part about turning 30 in 2017. The freedom we have to be who we want or who we aspire to be.
Not many of us are able to buy a house and settle down in one place for the next 10 years, but then, not many of us want to.
Our parents’ generation was different – they were all striding down the same path of responsibility and dependability, with stable jobs, a child or two to keep things grounded and budgets set in stone. Everyone around them was on the same page, crowding the chapter, sharing the story, going through the same joys and pains as most of their siblings, cousins and friends.
These days, things are a bit different (much to our parents’ disappointment). Our friends and peers are all at different stages of their lives – from married to single to being in complicated relationships, with oneself or others, from having firmly decided against having children to having more than one, to having one next month to simply not having made up their minds yet, from being housewives and entrepreneurs to academics and bankers to managing families and jobs at the same time, to switching careers or taking a break from it all.
It’s exhilarating to be able to ignore the moulds set out by society, to simply skirt the edges of a life you’re supposed to lead according to customs and traditions, and lead the life that you want, complete with its bumps and potholes and scrapes and burns. It is a blessing that we often take for granted because we’re too distracted by Netflix and Instagram … but really, it is not a bad time to be 30.
(And I’m not just saying that to make myself feel better.)
So go ahead. Choose the stereotypes you want to live out (a staid 30 or one who looks good in overalls or one who will always prefer posters over framed art). Set your own boundaries but don’t be selfish and don’t be rigid. And most importantly, don’t forget to be kind.