Beauty / Health

Join the club: what makes 27 an age of reckoning?

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, 1993, PHOTOGRAPHY Stephen Sweet, rex features.

What is it about one’s 20s that makes every year feel like a milestone? None so much as 27, the birthday I most recently celebrated. While it might sound sinister, 27 was the year I started thinking about death. Or perhaps, rather, the end of immortality.

When I was younger, my parents would often refer to “the immortality of youth”, a phrase that made me scoff and cringe a little (the kind of thing parents say that makes you feel they may as well be a hundred years old). I never felt immortal; if anything, I was rather fearful and neurotic. Life felt so big, like everything rushing at me at once. A roller-coaster of emotions that clattered noisily through my first flush of adulthood.

At 27, I finally began to understand what they had meant. Before now, I was flying blind, diving headfirst into firsts: first love, first loss, first job, first failure, all the while haphazardly beginning to water the sapling of my own intuition, my guide for later years. I moved around the world, tried on multiple careers, fell in love and in lust, sometimes confusing the two.

Reflecting from my current vantage point, I feel the growing weight of the knowledge I have accrued, a kind of anchor beneath that breathless, excitable fluster of my early 20s. Patterns have emerged in the sands of time; I am consequently less easily shaken when life throws yet another curve ball for me to catch. I see now that those years were like research. Evidence collection. A rehearsal for a show that is only now making its debut.

Nevertheless, 27 also brings with it a sense of urgency, a feeling that there is no longer time to waste.

The ominous 30 appears on the horizon, casting a long shadow in the afternoon of my youth. Will it even arrive? There lies another of 27’s questions, a nod to the infamous club. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Jean-Michel Basquiat; the ones that burned too brightly, only to have their light extinguished too soon. Beware creative brilliance, 27 seems to warn.

Certainly there is a twisted romance inherent in the idea of joining such an exclusive club. On my birthday I had the dark thought that if I were to die this year, perhaps I’d join the ranks of those great names (in some comparatively small and anonymous way). Taken less literally, 27 can also be seen as a spiritual death, heralded by the arrival of one’s Saturn Return. A period of cosmic destruction and rebuilding that arrives around this age, designed to test us and bring us closer to our individual truth.

Although technically my Return is just beginning, I can already feel the rumble of its oncoming tempest, one designed to stir up any silenced intuition, misplaced goals and false ideas of self. For me, 27 feels like balancing on the precipice of this renaissance, caught between the angsty frivolity of my twenties and the concrete adulthood of my thirties. Half of me looking back in quiet reflection, the other half staring ahead with determination, grounded by a sense of self-assurance I didn’t know before. Perhaps this is the feeling of the calm before Saturn’s storm.

While the mythology of the 27 club might call to mind the expression: ‘live fast, die young’, to cross the threshold of this age unscathed is to welcome the notion of living well, and living long.

It was Jim Morrison who said: “the most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are.” This year, it feels like that freedom is finally coming to fruition.