My peers use their age as an excuse, “I’m only 26.” They convince themselves it’s the reason for their failure to know the things they should, to better themselves, to pursue the dreams they think are impossible. They sleep in peace, whispering, “I’m only 26.”
Others use that arbitrary number as validation for their success, “And I’m only 26.” They’ve worked hard for careers and families and respect. They want the world to know they’ve conquered the hardest challenges in life and are on the fast track to comfort. They fall asleep with smiles, whispering, “And I’m only 26.”
I look back and see 26 years I’ll never get back, for better or worse, with no guarantee I’ll reach 27. I see 26 missed opportunities, 26 lessons ignored, 26 friends I’ll never see again. I see all the times I listened and listened and listened when I should have spoken, all the times I should have walked away from the people who wronged me instead of letting the stress tear me apart.
I look back and I see the best years of my life behind me. I see nights filled with peaceful sleep, nights when my eyes only opened at sunrise. I see 26 years when I felt my strongest, fastest, and most agile before pain became a part of my daily routine. I see warm summer days when I swam in the ocean. I hear laughter and stories and birthday parties. I smell fresh baked pie in my grandma’s kitchen and know I’ll never taste that pie again because she’s too old to undertake the task.
I see 26 ambitions in my future. I see 26 kisses and hugs and I love yous I want to experience before I die. I see 26 breaths I want to consume at the highest mountain top, 26 years with my daughter, 26 years with my husband. I long for 26 places I’ve yet to see. I lie awake at night because I know the future is not enough.
I want to live every day to the fullest. I want to prove myself wrong. I want to be stronger and faster and more agile than every day before. I want to grow wise and recognize the skies are not my limit; I have no limits. I want my words to tell my story when I’m gone. I want to cry when I’m sad and not feel ashamed. I want to kiss when I’m in love and not feel embarrassed. I want to live forever in every moment past, present and future. I’m Stephanie Clare Vichinsky, and I’m 26.