The first time I realized I was not quite prepared for new beginnings as an adult was when I noticed I was drooling on my lawyer’s polished oak conference table.
It was at the closing for the first home I’d ever bought, which was a new townhouse in Delaware. It wasn’t an expensive house as these things go, but when the real estate lawyer went over how much the mortgage was in total, with the interest and all the closing costs, this seemed to me to be an impossibly huge number — certainly the most money I’d ever committed to spend.
As he was talking, I hadn’t noticed that my jaw had gone slack. I’d forgotten to shut my mouth — I’d frozen with my pen halfway to my mouth to gnaw on it — and I drooled a tiny puddle on the table. I wiped it with the sleeve of the olive green silk cardigan I was wearing, scrunched the sleeve a little to cover the dark spot. I don’t think anyone noticed.
I was in my mid-twenties at that point, and oh my God, life had yet to kick me around as much as it was going to. But I remember that moment as the one where it started to dawn on me that freed of the constraints and comforts of an academic calendar, adult life creates its own rhythms and seasons.
You make a decision, or one is made for you, and suddenly you’re living in a new era. You start or end a significant relationship, you change jobs, you move house, and it’s hard to conceive of exactly how much your life will be shaped by these new intimate surroundings — even when the change is much desired and intentional. You want to live in a place with more light, in a better neighborhood, with less annoying neighbors — but that isn’t the only thing that changes, also the patterns of your life, of your sleep, of how you spend your money, what you’re interested in and what you’re not, and eventually who you are.
Change is relentless, even absent these big moves, even if you somehow lived in the same house, at the same job, with the same person, and in perfect health, for decades. There would be smaller moments and quieter, unnamed epochs. Heraclitus, who knew a thing or two said you cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing onto you. We have unquiet bones. But moments of transition definitively alter the course of that river, and it’s often easier to see the shape of that shift in retrospect.
These transitions are so well marked in our younger years — academically, religiously — with gatherings of friends and family and appetizers and people telling you what it was like for them, and some discussion of what the tests will be and how to prepare for them. Then we’re left to live the rest of our life being surprised that pretty much all the significant quizzes are pop, and there aren’t any more parties or speakers who tell us that commencement is both and end and a beginning. And this is exciting, but it’s also scary and worthy of recognition.