I can’t deny it any longer. The calendar has turned, as it always does, with its cold, calculated predictability. I have reached a new milestone in my life: earlier this month, I turned 30. For years, I have been vocally denying the unavoidable truth that this moment was coming. I refused to consider myself in my “late 20’s” until I hit 29 last summer (everything else qualified as “mid-20’s” since, you know, it was in the middle). I even spent the last year answering questions about my age with the response, “I’m in my 20’s.”
Despite my outspoken resistance, the truth is that this birthday has not been a devastating one to reach. I have not lurched into an quarter-life crisis. I have not gotten a tattoo or gone on a drinking binge or grown my beard out (disclaimer: I already had a beard). I have enough older friends to know that there is life, and life abundantly, beyond your 20’s. And, among Jesuits, where our average age is well over 60, 30 is an enviable age of youth and energy.
Still, turning 30 has been significant enough to cause me to give pause, to reflect on life and the moments that mark it, and to take stock of where I am and where I have come from. As it turns out, the view isn’t so bad.
* * *
As I look back on my 20’s, from the other side at 30, I see that it was a decade of growth filled with life experiences that I never would have dreamt about as I posed for pictures at my college graduation.
The decade was packed with so much life in it, that it’s hard to believe it all fit. Surprisingly, all of these experiences don’t just blend into a blur. Instead, I can mark the pivotal moments that I lived and shared through the many phone conversations I had. Phone conversations: this alone probably dates me, but these are moments and events worth so much more than a text or tweet or Facebook status.
What follows is a list of eight phone calls that marked those pivotal moments of my 20’s, in no particular order.If you have another memorable phone call you’d like to add, let us know in the comments section.
Phone call #1: “Hope to see you soon!”
College graduation is a major milestone of our early 20’s. After years and years of education, we reach a jumping-off point. Whether you get a job, start grad school or otherwise, you kiss the college undergraduate world goodbye. I moved out of my apartment after graduation, and was excited for the summer and an upcoming year of volunteering in the Bronx.
But I also said so many goodbyes that summer. With college friends, it was always a given that we would see each other again, and that it would be soon. Suddenly, we were heading a wide variety of directions, with no guarantee when we would meet up next. That summer was the first time I spoke with friends on the phone and ended the call, “Hope to see you soon!” with no assurance how soon it would be.
Eight years out of college, I am still in touch with many friends from those years. The fearful uncertainty of not seeing each other for a couple years at a time – so daunting then – has become commonplace. Frequent communication is easy enough with phones and email. And the separation helps me savor the times I do get to spend with good friends. That was an attitude that took time to develop, maybe even a whole decade.
Phone call #2: “Let’s go to Europe!”
In my 20’s, I first began to venture abroad. It started during college with a phone call from my best friend. Neither of us had studied abroad, but we were itching to visit Europe. Wary of those who make bold claims but don’t back it up, we booked a roundtrip ticket to London nine months in advance. With the ticket booked, there was no room to flake out. We later filled out a month’s worth of time with an eight-city, five-country adventure complete with Renaissance art museums, nighttime walks through Old Town Prague, German beer gardens, and dramatic attempts to catch flights (all successful!).
Shortly after college, I had my first experience living outside the US, spending a year volunteering in South Africa. No longer living out of a suitcase brought my cultural immersion beyond that of a typical tourist. In an underdeveloped country rife with AIDS, I was pushed far outside my comfort zone.
Both travel and volunteering opened up my horizons to see the world and new cultures for the first time. More importantly, these experiences caused me to reflect back on my own world and culture in a new light. As Nelson Mandela puts it, “There’s nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to realize the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
Phone call #3: “We got engaged!!!”
Relationships dramatically change and redefine lifestyles in the 20’s. I was on a golf course when I learned about the first engagement among my friends. That was where he told me he had decided to propose to his girlfriend. I was excited, but also floored! Are we really growing up already?? The first few weddings forced self-realization upon me. Yes, we are growing up.
While it took a while for the trend to catch on, once the weddings started coming for friends, they seemed to multiply. Since my mid-20’s, weddings have become routine, although they haven’t lost their luster (maybe I’m a romantic at heart?). But they certainly do start to pile up. “How many weddings do you have coming up this year? Did you say eight?? How is that even possible??”
Phone call #4: “It’s over.”
Weddings aren’t the only “relationship status” changes during your 20’s. They can also be marked by breakups more shocking than engagements. Plenty of happy, attractive, well-adjusted people don’t end up in a lifelong commitments they thought they would. Some of the couples you expect to work out, don’t. Beyond a typical breakup, it is also likely that you will have at least one friend go through the challenging process of divorce before the decade is through. Good luck finding a Hallmark card for that one.
Sometimes the news of a breakup comes through a Facebook update or an angry text with bad news. Other times it is a tearful phone conversation asking big questions. Breakups are not easy. Yet these challenges can be an opportunity for growth, and losing one relationship can teach you the importance of others.
Phone call #5: “I’m out.”
My 20’s have also marked a time when some friends have come to a better understanding of their own sexual identity, especially in a society that is increasingly tolerant of different sexual identities. Catching up with some of my buddies about recent girlfriends has shifted slightly: now we catch up about their recent boyfriends.
I have been humbled and honored to share in these conversations that are insightful and honest about something so deep and vulnerable as a person’s self-identity. There is so much we have to learn about ourselves and about each other. Even though we thought that we had ourselves all figured out by college graduation, it turns out that the learning doesn’t end after college.
Phone call #6: “We’re pregnant!” or “We’re (gulp)…pregnant…” or “No, we’re still not pregnant.”
“Be fruitful and multiply.” This command becomes a reality in the 20’s, as babies, expected and unexpected, start arriving. Friends’ pregnancies can come in all manners. An unexpected night can lead to a new baby. A married couple might get right to work.
I innocently logged into my email on a hot summer day last July to see a quick note from my brother: ” The test was…POSITIVE!!!” I was going to be an uncle! Tears. It was one of the most joyful moments of my life. My brother and sister-in-law welcomed their baby girl into the world in March. Her arrival has had a dramatic effect on the family: sleep schedules, retirement plans for my parents, and when and where we meet up. I arranged my summer plans to be in Denver so I could spend time with her.
There is also the reality of infertility and miscarriages, which are surprisingly common. With fertility issues, it is a challenging burden for a couple to bear the silent struggle of trying to get pregnant when peers are starting families and everyone is asking when you’re going to. Since becoming a Jesuit, I have had a few couples ask me for prayers as they face this struggle. This only compounds for couples who experience a miscarriage. The joy of new life turns to the devastating tragedy of loss.
Phone call #7: “…passed away.”
Speaking of loss, death is another part of the decade (most any decade really). My 20’s were marked by the deaths of my last living grandparents. While the funerals were solemn events, the rest of the time turned into family reunions. I saw relatives that I hadn’t seen in years, and we spent a lot more time crying from laughter than sorrow.
Just a year ago, my Uncle passed away from cancer. This was a tougher tragedy. You expect to lose your grandparents as they reach old age. But when you lose the first in the next generation, it forces you to confront mortality. It strikes closer to home. This doesn’t come so easily.
Phone call #8: “I’m gonna be a Jesuit!”
I admit it, this was a phone call I made, not one I received, but stay with me. My own journey through the 20’s were marked by a serious life decision of a different nature. In 2011, I entered the Jesuit novitiate. It was a lengthy and thorough application process, complete with multiple interviews, medical exams, and even a psychological test (to see if you’re crazy enough to do it??). All my application material was submitted as I took off for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I was able to place my future in God’s hands during a wonderful time of prayer and spiritual encounter. Shortly after my return, the vocation director called with news of my acceptance. As soon as I hung up with him, I started dialing away to share the exciting news!
After two years further discerning my vocation as a Jesuit novice, I professed my first vows last summer, just after my 29th birthday. Finding my vocation has been one of the important milestones of my last decade- one that challenges me daily and also brings me the greatest joy and fulfillment.
* * *
What do I have to be afraid of in my 30’s? What awaits me in life? Surely there are more adventures to come and new challenges await. But I am not the man I was at 20. I have passed by a series of milestones in my life and the lives of people close to me.
I graduated college, and I found how much more I can stand to learn. I said goodbyes to friends, but rarely for good. I traveled and saw other cultures to better see my own. Friends went through break-ups, engagements, weddings and divorces, and I have been there with them along the way. Phone calls announced pregnancies as well as miscarriages. Relatives aged, suffered through disease, and died. I found my vocation and made a lifelong commitment.
At 20, I could not have foreseen what life had in store. At 30 years old and so many phone calls later, I can’t believe how much it has included. By the time I am 40…well, I just hope we still have phones to make calls.