In 1995 I was an environmental consultant working for an
amazing consulting firm based in Half Moon Bay, California. I had graduated
from the University of California at San Diego, in December 1992 (can't imagine
a much better place to go to college!) with a degree in biology: specifically
Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, and after several months waiting tables at
Chevy's in Newark, CA (while I lived at home in Fremont), looking for an
environmental consulting position, I was lucky enough to be hired by Essex
Environmental in Half Moon Bay.
Okay. This is all irrelevant, I guess, although I might
write more about my time at Essex at some point, since it has definitely
influenced my approach to my work now, even though my current work at first
glance has nothing to do with environmental consulting... But! The reason I
bring it up is that back in 1995 I was sent to Sacramento to do some
preconstruction mitigation for burrowing owls and fairly shrimp before a
utility line was put in along Florin Road.
Sacramento is far enough from Half Moon Bay that I stayed at
a motel. And one of those evenings away from home, I went to the movies and saw
I absolutely loved it.
As much as I hate to admit it, now that I'm a cynical woman
in her 40s, I'm a romantic. Romantic stories speak to me. I love the idea of
two people finding comfort and strength in each other. So back in 1995, I found
Before Sunrise especially appealing. I loved the dialogue. I loved the setting.
I loved the sort of tragic nature of the story. Celine and Jesse couldn't
expect to have a "happily ever after" kind of story. She lived in
Paris. He lived in the U.S. They didn't really know each other. So for them to
end up together at the end of the movie didn't make much sense to me when I
first saw it at age 24. I liked that it ended with them not being together.
That rang true for me, even as I cried while watching it.
Now I'm 44. And I have a lot of life experience to jade me.
I've been married for over 20 years. It doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility
that I might be a little annoyed at the insta-relationship Jesse and Celine
So I watched Before Sunrise again last night and you would
think that I might roll my eyes at it now and think, come on! You guys (Celine
and Jesse) are so naive and young and unaware of life and its realities.
But I didn't. I still loved it! The only different reaction
I had now, was my perspective on
what it's like to fall in love in your 20s versus having a life together
through your 40s.
Jesse and Celine leave each other at the end of the movie:
at that train. They've had an incredible night together and long for the
connection they have found to continue.
But it can't.
They both must move on.
Watching the movie as a jaded 44-year-old, what struck me is
that no matter what, that sweet, optimistic, innocent connection that they had
couldn't have continued. Even if they had been able to stay together somehow.
It couldn't have continued. Our sweet, optimistic selves in our early 20s can't
continue. We grow and change and are bombarded with responsibilities.
We evolve. I've evolved. When I watched Before Sunrise at
age 24, I was a newlywed. My husband, Scott, and I had met on an education
abroad program in Costa Rica not horribly dissimilar from Celine and Jesse's
meeting in the movie. Scott and I had talked and shared and excitedly gotten to
know each other just as they had.
But the difference is that we ended up together. 20+ years
later, we're still together.
But are we still optimistic and naive and hopeful? No. We
have two children. We've changed locations and jobs and focus. We've dealt with
family stresses and layoffs and a shifting in roles.
So what about Jesse and Celine. What struck me last night as
I watched the movie was that it was sad regardless. Even if they'd been able to
stay together, would their love have been able to remain so sweet and pure?
Almost certainly not.
I love the movie and still get swept away by the sweetness
and romance of it all. But now my tears at the end aren't only because they
can't be together due to circumstance. Their love can't stay that sweet and
pure because they are in their 20s and life doesn't keep you in your 20s.
You grow and change and life get's richer and you understand
more about what's really important.
You can't stay young and sweet and hopeful forever.
Duh, I know. But I find it relevant because I'd thought that
watching Before Sunrise at my cynical advanced age would make me reject its
fundamental truth. I'd worried that I wouldn't be able to appreciate it now since
I'm so far past the circumstances of the characters.
But then I watched it last night and that wasn't how I
reacted. I still loved it. Even though I now have a more grown up appreciation
I remember what it was like to be in one's early 20s and to
meet someone who you had a connection with, and to hope that you could stay
with that person and make a life with them. I remember. I've lived it.
And in your 20s while you feel like an adult and like
someone who knows what you want and who hopes that what you want will pan out
the way you want it, you don't really know. Life and responsibility are more
than what you can imagine back then.
But that doesn't diminish the truth of wanting and hoping
for it all back then.
I remember. It still feels true to me, albeit in a different
way now that I have lived more and know more.
And tonight I will watch Before Sunset, which (spoiler
alert) bothered me tremendously when I first saw it in my early 30s! Jesse and
Celine are in their early 30s in the movie and so was I when I first saw it. But I wanted them to
still be hopeful and optimistic 20-year-olds. And they weren't.
Of course they weren't. Life in your 30s is quite different than life in your early 20s.