Here is a story. A few months back, a few weeks before my 25th birthday, I went to go see the Arcade Fire at Starlight Theater.
The opening band went on at 7:30. We got their late. I had to finish up an assignment for work before I could finally be free. And after running around for almost two hours, making phone calls, finishing up interviews, running through a story outline in my head, I was finally ready.
Ready to start.
We got to the concert at about 8:15. Maybe earlier. The National, a beautiful rock band that makes you think of New York nightclubs and smoke and nights you can’t remember, was already on stage.
We went to the concession stand to get a beer.
And here’s the thing: For the first time in my life, I sat outside at a concert … and I didn’t feel young. I didn’t feel old, of course. This was a crowd of 20-somethings, and college hipsters, and 33-year-olds with flannel shirts and brown, thick-rimmed glasses.
I fit in fine enough.
But I looked around. And I sipped on my beer. And I listened to Win Butler sing songs that I had listened to when I was a freshman in college, when I was living alone in an apartment in Lawrence, my older brother and roommate ditching me to go travel Europe… and, well, I remember being 19-years-old and having no real idea where I was going, or what I was doing, or who I was doing it with.
And so, as I stood on that April night, my arms folded tight, a week of work hung over my head.
And then I heard the first few notes of Neighborhood Pt. 1. And here was the feeling once again. I’m not sure what it was. But I looked around at the crowd. And back at the stage. And I didn’t feel young.
Here is a story. A few months back, I started playing in a pickup basketball group on Friday mornings.
I’m the youngest player in the group. We play at a local community center at 10 a.m. on a weekday. So you can imagine what this collection of people may look like. There are a few young reporters, newspaper people. There are a few 30-somethings, and to be honest, I have no idea what they do for a living. Something, apparently, where they can play basketball while Price is Right is on.
And then there are some retired people, 60-somethings with creaky knees and mechanical set shots and sharp elbows.
And this is my group, for better or for worse. The level of ball is pretty mediocre, and I think we know this.
I’m generally one of the fastest players on the court. And if I wanted to, I could leak out for a quick outlet pass and transition layup nearly every possession.
But I usually don’t. I guess it’s this feeling. I look at the grey-haired man with the bad back guarding me. And I look back at the distance to the other goal. And I don’t feel old.
Here is a story. A few days back, I sat at a bar in the River Market and tried to explain the feeling.
I actually feel quite older than 25 sometimes. Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest and I’m used to blending in with my siblings; I’m used to knowing all about pop-culture from the early 90s, when I was hardly 6 or 7 years old. I’m used to hanging out with friends four or five or six years older than me. I’m used to it.
But then there are times when I still feel 21; still feel like a kid at the grown-ups table at Thanksgiving.
I know the statistics. According to a New York Times story from earlier this year, one-third of people in their 20s move at least once every year. Forty percent move back in with their parents at least once. And the average 20-something will go through close to seven jobs during that traumatic decade.
They call it pre-adulthood, a time to experiment and learn and grow.
But 25 is still a strange age. You are closer to 30 than you are 20. But you’re still closer to college than you are… well, 30.
And maybe that’s it.
Yesterday I was graduating high school. Then I was riding in a car, driving with my dad to enroll in college. Then I was staying out late, spending nights on porches, the mix of pizza grease and whiskey flowing through my veins. And then it was over. All the tests and classes and sunny days in downtown Lawrence. All the assignments at the student newspaper. All the hour-long drives to Kansas City to intern at the hometown newspaper.
And now I’m 25, somehow doing what I’ve wanted to be doing for the last decade.
And a few days ago, I thought back to the Arcade Fire concert and the final song of the night.
They played “Wake Up,” that soaring epic about kids and childhood; that beautiful song that was co-opted by the movie “Where the Wild Things Are” and lost a little bit of it’s power and charm.
On that night, it didn’t matter. On that night, as guitar and strings and drums and tamborines started to explode in unison, and as the kids in the crowd started screaming out the now famous singalong: “Ohhh-ohh-ohhh-woah-ohh-ohhh-Ohh-oh…. Ohhh-ohh-ohhh-woah-ohh-ohhh-Ohh-oh … Oh-woah-ohh-oh-oh!”
I looked at the sky, and listened.
“If the children… don’t grow up, our bodies get bigger…but our hearts get torn up.
We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms turnin’ every good thing to rust.”
As the song was about to end, the moment hit me… if only for a second.
You know what: Being 25 is way better than being 24.
“…With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’… I can see where I am… goin’
With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’…
I can see where I am, go-go, where I am…
You’d better look out below!”