Stuck in the Middle
“Can I sit at the adults table?” I remember asking my mom growing up. I don’t remember a specific moment, because I probably asked it again and again and again at family functions starting when I turned 10. I’m the oldest in my extended family on both sides, not a single cousin within 4 years. My brother is almost 5 years younger than me, and we have always gotten along, but by the time he was into Beanie Babies and Pokémon I was, like, WAY over it, bruh. I always felt too old to hang out with my cousins and brother during extended family gatherings; when I made the switch to the adults table, I sat bored, half-listening to talk of jobs and the economy and politics and other things that I’m sure are important but flew way over my head.
Stuck in the middle, just like Malcolm.
Over July 4th this summer, we got to spend some time with extended family on my mom’s side in Cleveland. It was a weekend of eating ice cream and dance parties and jamming out to Kendrick Lamar in the car with my cousins. It was a weekend of playing badminton and slack lining and telling dumb jokes and drinking cocktails in the back yard. It was a weekend of swimming and tennis and waking up in the morning to sore muscles because of it. It was a weekend of running around barefoot and accumulating dirt beneath our toenails.
As Kendahl and I were driving across Ohio and Indiana back to St. Louis, it became clear to me in a new, important way: I’m still in the middle. I will always be in the middle. Until now, though, I had never realized how cool that is. I have adults around me, parents and uncles and aunts and grandparents who have travelled through seasons similar to the one I’m in, who understand and empathize with the craziness and uncertainty of emerging adulthood because they’ve been there. I look around at my brother and cousins who are getting ready for high school and college and marriage, who are are starting to date and break up and search for value and I’ve been there.
Those older than me are there to offer comfort and guidance, and I can, simultaneously, offer that same guidepost assurance to my younger brother and cousins. There I stand, right in the middle.
The middle space, that scary, awkward, middle position I always found so uncomfortable has now become a beautiful, purpose-filled season of life.
That gives me hope today, because when it comes to the rest of my life, I'm also in the middle: in the middle of school, in the middle of trying to figure out what we’re going to do with our lives, in the middle of yet another exhausting move and trying to figure out a new city, in the middle of so much uncertainty. When will we have kids? Will I receive a full-time offer? Should I take it? Where do we want to live? Is kale worth it? I feel like I’m at the adults table all over again, just trying to keep up.
The life messages of joy resulting from pain or suffering have been spoken many times and in lots of different ways, and it is popular to remain cynical of such adages. To be sure, in no way would I qualify my childhood dinner table encounters as “suffering.” But I’ve seen tough and awkward things become amazing and beautiful things too many times in my life not to grasp on to inspiration from it. In a small way, over July 4th, I once again saw joy and purpose emerge from something that had been awkward and uncomfortable. I take hope knowing that, in this season of middle, joy and hope are to come.