21 and Invincible

Posted: February 27, 2015 in Age, Life
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Age 21: 21 and invincible

When I turned 21, I was coming to the end of a two-year church mission in the Philippines. I had survived learning a new language, taking cold showers, and fighting off vengeful cockroaches for the better part of two years.

While many people ring in their 21st birthday by taking their first (legal) drink of alcohol, I rang in my birthday hoping that a giant rat wouldn’t run across my face. I listened as I heard the unmistakable squeaking and rustling of a rat so vicious that it was tearing chunks out of my bedroom wall. I just knew that the rat was the size of a mini-horse and that it wouldn’t rest until it had eaten my entire family.

Even today, I sometimes wonder how I survived my mission. I was completely out of my element the entire two years. And I’m not just talking about living in a third-world country with gigantic soul-sucking rats. Going on a mission for me was probably similar to what it would have been like if Kristen Stewart had tried out for the cheerleading team–awkward, painful to watch, and with lots of falling.

My introverted personality did not always mesh well with the rigorous social demands of missionary life. I was constantly expected to interact with other people, which was annoying because I generally think people are the worst. They’re smelly, mean, and they always get in your way. Luckily, Filpinos were pretty cool for the most part. The only problem was that I was often the only white person in sight, so while I am pretty talented at flying under the radar in America, such was most definitely not the case in the Philippines. I was basically a celebrity there, only without the leaked nude photos and ridiculous amounts of cash. On more than one occasion, I was chased down by a group of teenagers who wanted a picture with me. Everywhere I went, people yelled at me, everything ranging from “F*** you, man!” to “Hey–I’m single!” One man even came up to me and told me he loved me. Another man hugged me and gave me a very awkward, wet kiss on the cheek. He died a few weeks later… I think he might have been deathly allergic to my face. So I was popular and deadly, as a true celebrity should be. The attention was amusing at times, but more often than not, it left me feeling overwhelmed.

I wish I could say my borderline-celebrity status was the hardest part of my mission, but that would be a lie akin to “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” My mission pushed me to my mental, physical, and emotional limits, As much as I loved my time in the Philippines, I was constantly tired, anxious, and hungry. And I’m pretty sure I got a parasite at one point, because I had wasted away to nothing more than skin and bone. My thin frame combined with my large nose gave me the shriveled appearance of an emaciated seahorse–all I was missing was a tail and the ability to get pregnant.

Me at age 21--this is a video my family took of me right after I got off the plane coming back from the Philippines.

Me at age 21–this is a video my family took of me right after I got off the plane coming back from the Philippines.

When it was time for me to go home, I was so exhausted that I just fell into a deep sleep, a la Sleeping Beauty (minus the beauty and post-traumatic fear of sewing needles). They had to ship me back to America in a crate full of demonic Furbies (one of which had a VERY unhealthy crush on me), but at least I was still alive. I had survived my mission, the hardest thing I had ever done in my life by far. Indeed, I felt 21 and invincible. I felt like anything lying ahead would be easy compared to what I had left behind. I was dead wrong, but it was a good feeling to have for a while.

Though I can’t exactly say my experiences at age 21 were “typical,” I think it is pretty typical to reach 21 and feel like you can conquer anything… only to have that notion demolished as you reach ages 22 and 23.

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