Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.The Book of James, 4:14
My my, I’ve lived through two decades now.
I remember turning ten like it was yesterday. I spent the chilly February day in Denver with my family, eating sweets and frolicking through an American Girl Doll store. My Uncle Eric called me on the phone, congratulating me for “finally hitting those double digits, Em.” I was a big girl. I was so immensely proud of myself for having existed so long, and I was eagerly looking ahead towards the tender years of thirteen, sixteen, and eighteen. I was going to be a woman soon.
I was ten in the year 2012, and I remember holding a baby for the first time when my little brother John was born. I remember the summer of bug-catching and leaf-hunting and horse-jumping and open fields. I remember playing Johann Hermann Schein’s “Allemande” at a recital and not missing any notes and being desperately proud of that.
I was so young and so small at ten, and I possessed such an acute idea of the time I had. The age of twenty was an eternity away back then, and I wouldn’t be a woman for a long, long time. At ten years old, I relished the idea that the first decade of my life had ended and a second decade had begun. A new ten-year-chapter was ahead.
And what a chapter it has been.
In the first ten years of my life, I wanted to grow up, and in the second ten years, I think I have…a bit, at least. In my first decade, I learned I wanted to be a writer; in the second I wrote. In my first decade, I played compositions from Schein and Diabelli; in the next I learned to play the works of Chopin and (now) Liszt. My first decade saw me dream of traveling to and studying in Europe; in the next, I did. As a young child, I dreamed of being an academic, and in the second decade of my life, I became one (and still am becoming one).
I’ve thought so fondly over the last ten years; of the moments that have shaped the years between my ten and twenty.
Reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The birth of my brothers John and Joshua. Falling off horses over jumps. Learning my first Chopin Polonaise. Embracing my multi-racial heritage. Buying a car. Graduating high school. Starting university. Going to Oxford for the summer. Reading The Brothers Karamazov. Graduating undergrad and starting my MA. Pursuing theology and philosophy alongside my literary interests. Reading Nietzsche and Freud. And then, of course, turning twenty.
That was the last ten years.
And now I’ve entered a new decade. Now I’m twenty. This is the third epoch of my life, if we’re to separate my existence into years of ten. From now until thirty, this is decade three.
I spent the day skiing in the mountains yesterday, cherishing the feeling of alpine air in my lungs and the wind in my face. Some of the snow was melting at the sides of the ski paths, and I smiled to think about the promise of new life in spring. And then I was turning twenty at the same time, and I thought about this promise of life inside myself.
I’ll not bore you with anecdotes about responsibility or ambition or glory or any of that rot, because I love all you devoted readers too dearly for such shenanigans. Needless to say, turning twenty finds me overwhelmed. And as I look into the future, I have an acute sense of all that I want to do with the time that I have. I’m twenty—I’m not old—and yet I still feel more than ever the weighty brevity of this existence.
In the words of my favorite pianist Franz Liszt, “Mournful and yet grand is the destiny of the artist.” For it is grand, and there is still so much I have yet to do.
My mind returns to the scripture I opened with—James 4:14—and I ever dwell on the vapor-like reality of life.
It is short.
In my recent reading of Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, I understood this in a completely new light. I was compelled by Frankl’s account of his time as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps and his fervent desire to cling to meaning and purpose, in the face of bleak survival and primitivism. His adamant admonition to fight for meaning and responsibility in spite of everything was revolutionary for me.
Because this is life, and it demands meaning of us. We cannot exist without meaning.
So live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!Victor E. Frankl
I seize the meaning of my life and follow it steadfastly, incessantly praying for the strength to do it well. “I will seize Fate by the throat,” as Beethoven once said, “it shall certainly never wholly overcome me.” I reach out daily, God going with me as I capture purpose and go forward in strength.
As long as the vapor remains, and as long as I have breath, I must live. Intentionally, deliberately, and to (in the words of Thoreau) “suck out all the marrow of life.” To write, to play, to love, to grow. And as I turn twenty, I grow both strangely aware of the vapor’s fleeting nature and delighted at the tales it can still contain therein.
Just as I did at ten, I even now recognize the time that I have. My love of beauty will throw me into a crazed longing for the Divine, writing stories and playing music and researching literature and running after what God wants for me.
I’ll write the stories I always dreamed of. I’ll write the scholarly papers with excellence. I’ll play Liebestraum now with the same passion as I played that first Allemande ten years ago.
Beauty will save the world.Fyodor Dostoevsky
There’s nothing so much I love as creating things that will save the world. I’ve done it as well as I could for the last ten years, and I pray that I can do it for ten more.
Thank you all for your endless support. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!