This is 33: The Landing on The Stairs

The consummate middle sibling, I have bobbed and weaved for my entire life along my older sister's path, trusting her twists and turns, straightening it where I could for our brother. Like those familial trails, Emily Mendell's "This is 45" and Lindsay Mead's "This is 38" are the kind I feel lucky to follow.

Thirty-three is the landing on the staircase. It is the place where you rest, panting, after the exhilarating climb through childhood and youth and extended adolescence and before the breathless steps into full adulthood and toward middle age, to the late years and the final passageway above. It is where you stop and plead fruitlessly: Must I move on at all?

It is where you luxuriate for a moment, looking down and back with a secret smile at the person who did what you can best in your twenties: Escape from those tangled queries of adulthood. In a glimmering city, in a first-rung job in an endless hierarchy, at bacchanal parties, in days and nights pulsing with unanswered possibility, as the sun rose over late night pizza, you did not often ask, Is this the wisest thing for tomorrow? Because even then, you knew: It is from this wild and imprudent place that I must climb.

It is where, in vulnerable moments, you regret who you failed to be -- the newly-minted graduate who realized that life does not wait for your ascension, that you must passionately search for what you are meant to do, that the earliest years are the easiest to give yourself entirely to that found mission. It is the age when you wished you had grasped much sooner the importance of wholeheartedly funding your 401k.

It is the age when you wonder: What did I accomplish during those halcyon years?

But it is the age when you accept that going through your 20s with too steely a resolve and determined a rise would have made you much less interesting than you are today. It is where, unconsidered change behind you, you can see more clearly the grander choices above. It is where you admit to yourself: I like this someone I am becoming. It is where you start to care much less if others agree.


From this vantage, at 33, you've seen enough to forge connections with strangers and new friends. But it is an age when, phone pressed to ear, spine against the stair, you value most those who remember you when you lay just the same, knees scraped, spine against the uneven grass. It is when you realize that failing to keep in better touch with your kindred spirits is merely and mostly the fault of the insouciant laws of physics, the measurable gaps between you and them.

It is an age when these friends and you are making the first and final steps to adulthood -- whether and whom to marry, when and whether to have children, whether to divorce or to switch careers, whether to start again before the choice seems too consequential. It is an age when Facebook streams with smiling choices you celebrate and question, when you are grateful for the friends who have ventured before you and wistful for the days when you inhabited the same place, when you must continually remind yourself that their trajectories are not your own. It is an age when your mother reminds you to be thankful that these endless changes you hear about are not fatal.

It is an age when, if you are lucky and if you chose it, love has settled upon you. It is when you look forward to a long and magnificent march upwards, when you believe, despite heavily broadcasted statistics, that not one of you will fall behind, thwarted by some gold-paved diversion to some siren in some illusory Emerald City. It is when you spend more wooly nights inside and comfortable, heads tipped back in unselfconscious laughter. But it is also when you take the chance when you can to leave that house to do something, to do anything, while you still have that unadulterated freedom.

And if you have not had children at 33, you question how that distant step is so suddenly before you. At 33, you understand medicine's pressures and its limitations. You imagine the prodigious joy of regifting all you've been given and all that you value, of creating newborn love. But you have just navigated youth's spiral clamber to arrive at this joyful and tranquil place. In your early thirties, you must revel here, at this resting place, if only for a thieved moment, before starting a newly-uncertain climb.

At 33, your knees do not creak when you step up, not in the way your friends talk about at 40, or even 35. The tendonitis, the sore neck, the aching feet -- they are not the signs of creeping middle age, you trust, but of youthful athleticism. But at 33, you cross your fingers when you approach a bar, exhale gratefully if you are asked to substantiate your age. You wonder if the request is out of some sympathetic acknowledgement that you are not quite ready to be more or less than some young thing. But at 33, you know that youth shines from your skin and from your twinkling eyes. You vow to preserve both.

Thirty-three is where you realize that those you have lost are really and fully gone, that they will never reappear to trek alongside you, not here. But it is where, if you're most privileged, those champions and guardians and guides higher up -- your parents, relatives, family friends -- are only at the cusp of an era you expect against science will hold little suffering. Even in the most fortunate of circumstances, time -- theirs and yours and yours together -- will too have its mysterious end, you are told. But in some childish optimism and maybe for the last moment you are able to pretend, you, at 33, hold your foot motionless above the next step, assert that it is possible to stay in this place forever.

And then you move. You must. You can't know to what you are climbing, or how steep will be the rise, but the truth is, at 33, and maybe at every blessed age, you still believe in this breathtaking ascent.

This is 33, for me. Take from it only what you trust.