long after the thrill of living is gone

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Hold on to sixteen as long as you can.

Changes come around real soon, make us women and men.

I always shake my head when “Jack and Diane” rolls on the radio. Because the memory that comes back strongest of all the times I’ve heard the song, shouted it out with high school friends, yelled it across college bars, danced to it at weddings, listened while driving windows down, is my memory of speeding to school when I had just turned seventeen, glancing down at the car radio in astonishment.

I’m not sixteen anymore, I realized with surprise at a stoplight. Is it all downhill from here?

I think I laughed at the idea, even as a teenager. Of course seventeen wasn’t the quick slip slide into adulthood, not yet. I think I secretly knew I was still a child in so many ways.

But that moment was an awakening. A realization of a culture that prized youth and lamented age, that praised freedom and begrudged responsibility. That saw changes that “come around real soon, make us women and men” as killjoys. Getting married. Having kids. Getting a job. Growing up.

No thrill in that, Mellencamp assured.

I heard the song this morning driving home from preschool drop-off, the familiar guitar beat strumming as wipers sluiced drops off the window. The baby was babbling in the back, hungry for breakfast. The dog whined from the floorboard, oblivious to the treat of getting to ride along instead of cowering outside in the pouring rain. Plans for the morning stretched out as boring and grey as the sky overhead: laundry, dishes, email, errands. Blah.

Long after the thrill of living is gone.

I flipped on our favorite music for breakfast and after I bustled around to get cereal, fruit, milk, tea, bib, spoon, baby all ready, I finally sat down as another familiar song started.

A song I first heard when my second was three days old. A song I snatched up and sang to him as I jostled his newborn cries. A song about how quickly time passes, but how stubbornly good the present moment stays, good all on its own.

One day I’ll be a year, then I’ll be two, then three, then four.

But as for now, I’m five days old. Five days old and no days more.

Are there thrills in my days? Does it matter?

How often do I soak up the goodness of this present age? The miracle of getting so many good years on this spinning globe, the hope that many more are still to come. I’m always pulling towards the next thing, the next stage, the next idea, the next want. The next thrill just out of reach.

But here I am today, fifteen years older than John Cougar claims life slides to boring. And I find myself blessed in ordinary-ness of a life full to bursting.

One day I’ll be forty, then I’ll be sixty, eighty, more? But as for now, I’m thirty-one and no years more.

Right where and when I need to be. Even on grey rainy days more full of living than the thrill.

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