I am not twenty-five. Nowhere near.
Try twice that.
Still, in a recent Zoom meeting, a woman I had just met laughed when I said I had completed an MFA program nearly twenty years ago. She said she thought I was twenty-five.
I wanted to feel flattered … although we all know the vagaries of Zoom video quality, right? But when I woke up the next morning, I felt off, as if my psyche had gotten stuck overnight and was wailing, “Don’t send me baaaack!”
When I was twenty-five, I was just emerging from my early-life crisis. My divorce had come through a few weeks before that birthday, right before I flew to Japan, where I spent two years teaching English, recovering from said crisis. (Post continues below … )
I’ll be reading from The Same Moon, my memoir that resulted from those two years in Japan, and taking questions next week with USJETAA — July 22, 2021. For more information and to register, please click here.
At that time, “twenty-five” was, inconveniently, still regarded in Japan as the age by which a woman should be married, lest she get stale … like Christmas cake, which no one wants to eat after the 25th of December. Back then, jokes my new colleagues and neighbors made about my age and stage cut me to the quick, and I fake-laughed along with them to cover up my grief and the secret that I was no kurisumasu ke-ki.
I spent that two-year recovery period falling in and not-quite-out-of love with a thoughtful salaryman, encouraging my female students never to settle for second best due to their gender, and learning to play and perform on the koto. Then I spent several years processing and writing about it all in my memoir, The Same Moon (Camphor Press, 2020).
Having worked through those memories in writing, workshopped them with multiple writing groups, pitched them to agents and publishers, presented on them at events and answered questions about them for book groups, I have to say age twenty-five still sits pretty close to the surface. I can go back there—to my thoughts and feelings, the tastes, smells, sights and sounds—pretty quickly.
What a blessing—and a curse!—to be, on paper and, in some ways, in my mind and heart, forever young.
But since leaving Japan and that life, I have lived many others, finishing graduate degrees, and working as a science writer, newspaper reporter, college English instructor, public relations professional, yoga instructor and writing consultant.
I have survived heartbreak over boyfriends and girlfriends and coworkers and faith communities and family and places and oh so many failures, surprises and expectations unmet.
But more than that, I have celebrated many happenings too, top of which being that I found the right man to marry and together we brought our son home from India. We moved west and farther west and now east, back to where I started. Together we’ve made a life.
At twenty-five, I never could have imagined all that living, or how everything that happened in my mid-twenties would become the foundation for my future. Thanks to that young woman, I learned to walk away from things that don’t work … to assert myself … to express feelings I used to think needed to be bottled up … to listen to my heart and, more importantly, for the still small voice of God.
I would never, ever go back to being twenty-five.
But I am forever indebted to the woman I was at that age, taking risks, making mistakes, recognizing opportunities and dangers, and learning lessons I’ve carried with me and built on ever since.
Now, a question for you: What age are you thankful for … both for its lessons and for its passing? I invite you to use this as a writing prompt … and/or feel free to share in a comment!
Join me for a reading and discussion of The Same Moon — including a chance to win a copy!
8 thoughts on “On (not) being 25”
So well-written and interesting, Sarah. “At twenty-five, I never could have imagined all that living.” TRUE words!! We get stuck where we are sometimes and it’s impossible to imagine a future. I am often 16 again. Riding my horse across the prairies. Unaware that I would leave ND and go on to live on many different continents and marry a man who spoke another language. Life is full. And fantastic. Thanks for this post.
Thank you, Jill! Looking back makes me both hopeful and apprehensive. The amount I didn’t know back then about what was to come foreshadows how much I don’t know now about what is to be. So cheers to the future … and to the past and, most of all, to the present. ❤
Your question makes me think of the year I was planning to go to Tanzania and teach in a children’s village. I didn’t go because of a health issue that I didn’t imagine would stop me in my tracks a few days before I was to leave. I have learned to manage the issue and have a treatment that works. I spent the year getting ready, planning lessons, checking weather and piling up clothes to take, talking to others who had been there and collecting all the stuff I would need to be there for a month.
I was, and still am, so disappointed. I want that year back! If I had it back, I would change my age and be younger and healthier.
I have been to Africa twice and was enthralled with Tanzania, so to be there giving back was an exciting idea for me. The “what would have been” still haunts me. Pictures of African children bring back memories of my visits and my huge plans.
It was not meant to be and I am sad about the loss of an experience that I knew would change me and hopefully help the children I met and worked with, perhaps for many more years. I want that year back but with a different outcome. Time travel, where are you?
Carolann, I can totally picture you in that village in Tanzania, and I’m sure the children would have fallen in love with you and your lessons. I like to think, though, that you also made a big difference to a lot of people by staying home … Let me know if you find that time travel button! Sending hugs …
This is very thought- and feeling-provoking, Sarah, thank you. I think what I like best about a lot of your writing is just the concept of thinking of oneself as a story. And an ever-evolving story. Whenever you share yours I am inspired and stimulated to grow in some way, whether it’s expanding a thought process or elasticizing my heart in some new direction, or both. I have not thought of my life as a story and I think I am going to try to imagine it that way. It could be an enriching road to discovery and, on a daily basis, a healthy form of self-care. Keep going please!
Thank you, Janet! I think you’re on to me … imagining life as a story is absolutely a form of self-care and sometimes therapy. I’m so glad these posts are speaking to you, my friend! ❤
Wow, what a thoughtful post, and your writing is amazing, Sarah. Lovely story too, and I do enjoy reading about your life in Japan. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thank you, Stuart — I really appreciate it!