It’s not a joke. It’s serious. I don’t understand how I’ve reached the potentially panic-inducing point of turning 29. There’s an obvious explanation that involves basic maths, a calendar and, if you really wanted to hammer the point home, a short lesson in astronomy. There’s also bound to be a few eye rolls in response to another millennial finding any excuse for an existential crisis.
But it’s not the number that follows 29 that scares me. Half the time I have to pause to remember how old I am, so my age is hardly occupying too many brain cells with worry. Instead, the thing that scares me is the speed life moves at (along with my failing memory). Weeks disappear and months fly by; it’s not the number but how quickly the number changes.
I don’t feel ready for the age I’m about to turn or ready to leave my twenties behind, but I’m old enough to realise that no one feels ready to be the age or stage they are at. The increasingly prevalent example in my life are new parents. They always say they weren’t ready and follow up with, ‘they grow up fast don’t they!’
It feels like someone has forgotten to take their foot off the accelerator pedal. There are some benefits: as a child I remember when an hour and a half car journey was torture. Now it’s not long enough to watch that documentary on Netflix. But the acceleration also means there are too many good friends I only manage to catch up with every six months, in a good year. It’s simply ridiculous.
A weird time-warp effect seems to accompany this acceleration. When you look back and reflect, an incredible amount happens in each decade. Being 19 feels like a lifetime, not a decade ago. It only took a few weeks out of my old job for its imperative demands to feel completely distant. The speed at which normal things change and we experience time baffles me.
Pausing and reflecting is a rare feature in modern life. The best we get is Facebook reminding us of an unattractive photo with a dodgy haircut from 6 years ago (thanks Mark). The opportunity to reflect happened recently for two of my friends from uni who got engaged. Naturally, every conversation is filled with joyful, often prosecco-fuelled, congratulations. But they were most effervescent about the conversation they had about their engagement with the vicar, despite not being of a religious persuasion. The chance to pause and reflect on their love for each other, discuss the significance of the decision and share their hopes for marriage is not a conversation that naturally comes when corks are flying.
Without taking opportunities to pause and reflect, life can just pass you by. As I move into my thirties, I can only imagine that time is going to carry on accelerating (and my memory is going to keep on waning). I think it brings the danger of being alive without ever living. As the saying goes, time waits for no one.
What can we do? I think you could follow my friends’ example and set time aside to ask deep soul-searching, life-changing questions people face when they enter a church. I find it too easy to be swept away by whatever is happening right now, yet I’ve done things as radical as becoming a part-time monk in order to have time to consider the bigger picture.
I’d imagine most people can’t even give a coherent answer to simple but fundamental questions such as: why are we here? What are you living for? They’re questions that are often left to be answered in at an unspecified time in a never-reached future. The unfortunate reality is that life doesn’t go on forever and nothing can make time go any slower. My 30s are still under 365 days away – I can’t change that. But I can change the amount I’ve explored the meaning and purpose of life. As my friends found, giving time to ask the big questions can be an enriching and purpose-giving experience.