By Ryan Blenkiron
Dear 35 (or would you like to go by Mid-Thirty?),
I write this to you because we are finally meeting. Your path and mine join today and we walk together towards 36. We both knew our union was coming. Truthfully, as I hit the peaks of my more adult path, I could see ahead to you. I saw you waving in a sort of desperation and excitement, waiting patiently for me to arrive so we can continue together. When I saw you waving, it made everything inside of me cringe. You were embarrassing, uncool, old, and ultimately — a reminder of damning inevitability. I ignored you and never waved back, peak after peak.
I’m so sorry; I was wrong to think this way about you.
I know this now because I met 33 on my path with the same begrudging thoughts. I’d like to tell you that story.
At the time, I carried a heavy bag, packed to the brim with family, marriage, work, hopes, and apparent successes — checked boxes on life’s typical, daunting to-do list. At times it held things of wonder, and I could reach in and pull out anything I wanted or anything the people around me needed. When 33 said, “Hello, I’m so glad you’re here,” I clutched the straps so tightly my knuckles were white.
You see, an anxiety around losing my pack of checked boxes had developed just before I met 30, and I thought each new 30-something I met was going to take it away as they were already taking my youth. The weight of my bag was stretching the fabric and all I wanted was to keep it together. I’d add patchwork to help keep the seams from splitting — a little money here, a lot of sugar there, mindless sessions in front of a screen.
For about two months after 33 and I met, we continued as I knew how, all the while awkwardly small-talking along the path. I was merely acknowledging her presence, she was doing her duty to coax more out of me.
Newfound worries were making my pack increasingly hard to carry as 33 and I descended into a particularly shadowed dell. I carried on. One day, we came up to a large leaden cube on the path with a crisp white envelope addressed to me lying on the top. Inside, a simply scrawled note said, “Carry me, too. Sincerely, Cancer.” 33 seemed awe-struck as she pulled a path guide book from her back pocket, frantically searched for a leaden cube path protocol, then hit the back cover without finding it.
I got to work because there was no other option. The cube was up to my shins and barely possible to get off the ground. Slumping my already-heavy pack down, I stretched the zippered top open as wide as possible and grunted the cube inside. Its geometry pushed against the inside of the zipped opening, and as I swung it onto my back, the zipper teeth gave way, splitting. 33 shrugged at me, there were no extra zippers, and she offered to follow me and carry anything that fell out. In agreement, we continued on the path that was lowering into a chilly valley.
The path became rocky and footsteps that were once so sure required extra time for calculation and strategy. Lurches and trips caused checked boxes of all sorts to tumble out of my pack. I glanced back at 33, who had full arms, and I was startled to see 32 with us now, lending a hand. Over their shoulders I saw 31, on her way to also help carry my fallen boxes. While the journey was slow, I was progressively inspired.
The valley turned to incline just as 30 joined us too. My pack at this point had very little left in it besides Cancer. I was becoming grateful for my 30s as they helped me balance rough patches and burdens. We met 34 for the first time and she had with her a cart and a new pack. My back felt broken, my will was nearly gone and my pack was tattered beyond repair.
My 30s helped me put Cancer on the cart, and I set about repacking my checked boxes into the new pack. Try as I may, they wouldn’t all fit in. The new pack was so much smaller. I held frustration in my chest. As she surveyed inventory, 34 said to me softly, “Hey, you’ve been carrying a heavy pack for a while now, how about you keep it light for a bit?” Don’t get me wrong, I really didn’t like that, but I knew she was speaking my truth. I sorted out my checked cubes that no longer fit or were less important to me than others, and left these on the side of the path as I grabbed the cart’s handles and continued.
With a lighter pack, a couple wheels under Cancer, 34 beside me, and my other 30s behind me, I climbed towards the path’s next peak. We always travel together now, catching each other on slips and ankle-rolls.
We arrived to you today, 35, and I’m genuinely happy to see you. If I’m being real, I almost didn’t get here! It will be a joy to see every 30-something and all subsequent birthdays on this path. I don’t think of you all with distaste anymore. We have a journey to continue together and I’m excited to see how you will add to it.
Please accept my apologies for being so blind to your worth.