An ongoing series in which I ask people what their lives were like when they were about 28 years old.
Beth and I met 11 years ago as college freshmen, lived together for a couple of years, and have stayed in touch ever since. She has a lot of lovely qualities – she’s fun, silly, practical, and sharp. Sometimes I forget, though, that she’s such a good, clean writer. Here are her memories of age 28.
Julia: Does the term “Saturn returns” mean anything to you?
Beth: Not until I read it on your blog, but I like the idea of cycles. It’s also nice that 28 years is so close to the lunar cycle of 29 days, and also, well, to the monthly cycle for a woman’s body. So it would make sense that this 28/29 transition is seen as a time of transformation and marking a new stage of life.
J: Where were you when you turned 28?
B: I’m pretty sure at the exact hour I was having a drink with [my partner] Jean at The Passenger, a little mixology place around the corner from our apartment. They made me a special birthday cocktail and Jean wrote our names on the column in permanent marker. In the larger scheme of life, I was in my second year of grad school in DC, was still feeling inspired and kind of confused from my summer internship in Ecuador, and I was very close to deciding to undertake a major foot surgery that became a main part of my life for the next year.
J: What are one or two or several things you remember from the year or so surrounding that birthday?
B: Well, this one isn’t so distant from where I am now – on the verge of turning 30! But I remember feeling like I had just figured out what I really wanted to do with my life after my Ecuador experience – working in rural development or directly with smallholder farmers. At the same time, I didn’t know how to put it into motion or turn it into a career, and I felt myself being sucked right back into academia when I knew my focus should be finding a job.
For the first time in my life, I also was in a position of having to make a major decision to put my health first over any sort of career/personal ambitions. While I went through reconstructive foot surgery and recovery, it felt like I was putting so many other things on hold. People kept telling me it was good to do this while I was young, because I would heal faster and my body could handle it. This was true, as I took some pretty hard falls while on my crutches that could have broken a hip if I were in my 70s! But being the person whose body all of a sudden needed a major overhaul and attention didn’t make me feel young, it was just the opposite – I felt old and sort of damaged, but at a place in life where I was trying to start a new career and couldn’t take a lot of steps towards it as I focused on recovery.
However, when I look back at the full course of the year – it really was full of more events than just the surgery. I earned my Master’s degree that May, had my first short-term consulting job, experienced my first intensive job search in a field I had deliberately chosen, and tried to enjoy all the DC summer events as much as I possibly could with little income. Being unemployed also gave me a chance to focus more on spending time with Jean, who was patient with me throughout grad school and was my rock throughout the surgery. We took little day trips over the summer and spent a spectacular week in Montreal with his sister.
And, in the week that I turned 29, I received two job offers in international development (and was walking without a limp!). It didn’t feel like it at the time, but that year really led to a new beginning. And, not to jump on the metaphors and life cycles bandwagon too much – but I kind of did feel like I was in a cocoon that year of 28: hibernating in my basement apartment that winter while my foot was rebuilding itself or camping out in a library being mentally stretched as I finished my last year of grad school and wrote my thesis. I wasn’t exactly a flying, beautiful butterfly when 29 hit, but I was stable physically and economically for the first time in years.
J: What was happening in the world that year? Do you remember newsworthy events, books you read, movies or shows or art you experienced?
B: Hmmm, this question makes me feel like I really was self-absorbed that year of 28. I do remember that the tsunami hit Japan in the spring. Most of the books I read were directly related to grad school, but I had a lot of fun reading for pleasure again that summer. I believe I consumed Tina Fey’s book within a few days. I went to a lot of outdoor movies that summer, which included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Social Network. DC spoils me in terms of events, shows, and artwork. The great thing is I really got to experience all of that while job searching!
J: Do you feel close to those memories, or far from them?
B: Both. That time is not too far behind me, and part of my life is still very similar to the one I was creating towards the end of that year. However, while writing this, I realized that I neglected my relationship more than I realized during that time, and I am so happy that I made that a true priority during 29.
J: Do you have any advice for someone going through this (supposedly) astrologically tumultuous time?
B: I guess to really cherish it. I’ve spent so much of the last past few years feeling insecure about my age and where I thought I was or wasn’t in life. When I was growing up, 28 always seemed to be that year when I thought I’d be ready to have kids, which is insane! Instead, I felt younger than I did when I was 24 – I had fewer responsibilities and the ability to focus on the next steps of my life. So, even though at the time I was full of uncertainty and stress, that opportunity to focus on my personal (physical, mental, professional) growth was a true gift. I would say ride the waves of the metamorphosis.
Photos: Beth (at 28) and me; Beth and Jean soon after her surgery.
Previous posts in the series: Hannah, #1; Kara, #2; Saya, #3; Cathy (aka Mom), #4; Rachel, #5; Jen, #6; Cathy W., #7; Celeste, #8; Deanna, #9; Kyra, #10; Aditi, #11; Russ, #12; Amy, #13; Ellen, #14; Niec, #15; Anna H., #16.; Ami, #17.