Raise your hand if you're where you thought you'd be.
Raise your hand if you've done things that have scared you, even if you did them accidentally.
Raise your hand if you've loved.
If you've lost.
If you've conquered.
If you've feared.
If you've seen at least one dream come true.
If you've chosen a fork in a road you thought would be straight.
Raise your hand if you've bought something on impulse. Ugly-laughed till your ribs seized in pain. Cried in public (you know you've cried in public).
And now that your hand is raised, look around at all the other hands raised, half shyly, half confidently. That shy confidence, that confident shyness are all marks of having lived a quarter century.
You tell me not to say that, that it makes you feel old.
Oh, twenty-five, I'm laughing. Don't feel your antiquity, feel the power of having grown. Your heart has pattered twenty five years, sometimes racing, sometimes lulling, sometimes the only indication that you're still here, still in reality. You've crunched through twenty-five leaf-filled autumns, twenty-five winters bright as new quarters, twenty-five shy-confident springs, melted through twenty-five summers. Five years ago you were holding your sudden adultness like a fishnet, caught in it. Ten years ago you sat in algebra class. Fifteen years ago you skinned your knee. Twenty years ago you ate someone else's graham cracker and got slapped. Twenty-five years ago you squalled at the bright lights of a new world. A world which you hadn't asked to enter and didn't know to love.
When you look at it like that, it all gets better.
But it hurts.
Yes, it hurts.
But it's beautiful.
Yes, it's beautiful.
Just think – where did you intend to be at twenty-five? Not here? Well, does that surprise you after all? Since when have you ended up anyplace you intended? Life isn't calculated to go according to our schemes, thank God.
Perhaps you haven't found your true love, but you have found love to be true.
Perhaps you haven't done all you meant to have done, but I can assure you that you've done other things you never meant to do, some of them turning points in those twenty-five years.
You've seen weird things, Twenty-Five. Things like stirrup pants and an unfortunate poncho craze, dial-up internet and FaceTime. You've seen violence and history destroyed and history made. You've seen so much in so short a time but weigh that against the age of this world and what have you seen?
Oh, you are not old.
You are not old like eternity. You are not old like the Joshua trees. You are not old like Jerusalem or the spires of Oxford. You are not even old like filling stations and big-band music and the wooden floors of the soda shop downtown.
Old? You are so young, Twenty-Five, that you have no concept of what Age is.
Age is opportunity.
Age is another year and another twelve months to do the improbable.
Age is entropy, but Age is not caring.
Age gathers the days to her chest and grins, having outwitted another year. She is far from old. She is young, and forever young. It is the young who do things, and the more days to your life, the more time to do.
How many years are yours?
I don't know.
You're not who or where or what you expected to be at a quarter century, are you?
You're much more. So much more. A ruffled, hopeful, madful mess.
So, Twenty-Five, put away your comparisons. If you are to be someone other than you are, you will be her. You're still living, aren't you? You're still growing and there are still autumns and winters and summers and springs and I think you'll understand.
Light twenty-five candles on your cake today and smile at the small forest fire it makes. And before you blow them out I want you to pause and I want you to look back and I want you to look forward. And most of all I want you to know that you, Twenty-Five, are meant to be.
I love you and I think you're fantastic. But guess what? If you live to be one hundred you are only a quarter as fantastic as you'll someday grow to be. Age? Embrace it like a hug from a long-lost friend. Bury your face in its shoulder and squeeze it hard and maybe even let it tip you off-balance with the force of its awesomeness. You're twenty-five and you're pretty damn fine.