The 21st year in the life of the average American is a significant one. Having celebrated that much-anticipated birthday just a few weeks ago, I am realizing this more and more every day.
But it’s not only buying that first bottle of cheap wine at a cramped liquor store in Chinatown or confidently handing over my ID to a skeptical doorman who looks at it twice anyway that makes it significant. Of course, those experiences are hallmarks of my youth that I will love to remember someday, but the memory of events themselves is what really makes them so significant.
Earlier this week I read a telling story in The New York Times about the benefits of nostalgia. As I read it, I felt very content and peaceful, and just a little sad. In short, I felt nostalgic. For what? Just about anything, from rides to elementary school with my dad as a kid to the nighttime stroll through the Washington D.C. monuments with a best friend just last week.
At 21 years old, I feel I actually have a past I can speak. Yet at the same time, there is so much ahead. At 21, am I standing on the precipice of adulthood? I am now legally an adult in almost every way, so I guess the precipice really is the ground beneath my feet. And what a great place to be.
With just the right ratio of wisdom and stupidity in me, 21 is the perfect age to make those new memories that I’ll wax nostalgic about in the future. Who knows if I’ll ever be back in D.C. again for an extended period of time, or if I’ll ever work at 600 Maryland Avenue, where I have access to the breezy rooftop deck with a stunning view of the Capitol? I don’t know that answer, so I’ve decided I’m going to do all those wise and stupid things you do as a young adult.
Kayaking on the Potomac when it’s more than 90 degrees out, the humidity is off the charts when I don’t know even know how to kayak? Why not?
Walking to the Jefferson Memorial–arguably the most isolated of the centrally located monuments in D.C.–in the middle of the night with no discernible path and even less light? Sounds good to me.
Spending way too much money on calamari and molten chocolate cake at a cool, hip restaurant with a no-party-balloon ordinance (apparently it ruins the hip ambiance)? Just this once.
When I read that article I had my nostalgic moment, and it was inspiring. Now–at 21 years old–I’m deciding to choose my nostalgic memories of the future. I feel wise enough to realize that’s possible, yet stupid enough to make the good memories. And, hopefully, my future self will thank me for them.
|Kayaking in the Potomac. That's Watergate behind me!|
|Molten chocolate cake, none of which was wasted.|
|Jefferson Memorial, one of my favorites.|
Written by Colleen Connolly, DePaul University, Smithsonian
Edited by Jeff Nelson, Drake University, People