The First 26.2

1 year ago

Some people like birthday cake and some people like birthday balloons. Most like both. I like neither. Birthday cake appeals to my mind, but the heavy cake and rich cream put my mouth on a treadmill that doesn't stop until the entire delicious slice is swallowed and sitting in my stomach. Inevitably, that slice gets lonely and wants a friend to visit. So naturally, I abide and allow another slice to slide down my throat for a party of two. And then… those guys get bored and want something more exciting like a corner piece to knock on the door of self-restraint, like a crumbly pile of bad intentions. And as for balloons? Ok, I lied. Birthday balloons are awesome. But more than balloons and much more than cake, I prefer birthday adventures.

When I turned eighteen, my friend and I camped in the forest and drove his 2002 RAV-4 100 miles per hour down a lonely desert road while listening to Adele with our shirts off. When I turned nineteen, I jumped out of a plane.

The thing about skydiving though, is you don't dive or fly. You fall. But I didn't know that when I pulled the hatch open and let my feet dangle over the green farms of Snohomish, Washington. I only knew I was thrilled. And then when I fell from the plane I was terrified. And then, as I soared past Mount Olympus and fell through the clouds, I was alive. My soul stirred and rattled against the cage of death, screaming:

“I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I went to wander and live, ponder big questions and struggle for answers. I want the best and I want the worst. I want all of my time. I want to live! I want to throw the conditions of humanity out and live free and on my own terms. I want to explore who I am and who I am becoming and I want balloons and candles all the way to the bitter end. And when I get there— when you think you have me wrapped up in your sweet swaddle of death— I want to keep going. I want to trace the edges of infinity with the grooves of my mind. I want to laugh, smile and cry as I journey through time. I don't want to merely exist and be extinguished like a flickering candle. I want to live like a great fire burning through eternity. My passion for life prevents me from being boxed in by our society of right angles. Somebody else can be boxed up and sent to live a life of spiritual death. Not me.”

In the 340ish days since my last birthday adventure, the light of my existence has been split into a spectrum of experience. I've been to many places and felt many feelings. I snorkeled above a school of fish in the Pacific and raced friends into the Atlantic. I moved across the country and wandered the halls of higher education. I've hiked through the Rockies and backpacked along the cliffs of Hawaii. I’ve hamocked in the forest and hammocked on the beach. I’ve swam in the ocean at sunset and I’ve swam on rooftops in the winter. I ran through Central park at 9 AM and biked through New Mexico at midnight. I’ve slept on cold Manhattan floors, and shivered in windy tents. I've run through snow covered forests and rejoiced with my loving family. I’ve lived the life of dreams: a charmed life, a fortunate life.

Amid the fortunes, there have been failures— I've failed tests, and botched speeches, missed many shots and made many mistakes— but the joy of life remains. I have the body of a teenager, the freedom of an adult, and the soul of a child.

But as I have traveled from here to there— twelve Flights, twelve states— there is still distance between who I am and who I am becoming. In a loud world filled with noise and expectations, I have struggled to hear myself: to hear my own heart beat though the body of time.

So For my 'turning twenty' birthday adventure, I am running a marathon to better understand who I am. The race begins in a few hours and wiggles across bridges and through the cobbled streets of Pittsburgh. I have two big finals the next day, but this is the test I truly care about. When exhaustion removes ego and pain requires honesty, who will I become? What will I hear as I listen to my soul?

Very excited,

Jett Hays (4-30-22)