Saturday, June 11, 2016

You Make Me Feel So Young

I don't feel like a grown up.

The move Liberal Arts has a great line where a retired college professor says "I feel like I'm 19.  That's the big secret: no one feels like an adult."

Though I cannot speak for everyone else, there is still so much of me that feels like a kid.  This isn't good or bad.  It just is.  Yesterday I was 17-years-old, graduating high school meeting my future wife and life was just beginning.  Now I'm 38 and I've had more than twice as much life as I did when I was 17, but it somehow feels like more and less at the same time.  The biggest part of the "less" is that time keeps speeding up.  When you are young, time drags and drags.  But now time is like an accelerating roller coaster, with no signs of slowing until the end.  And while I often feel "old," I don't feel "grown up."  

Partly, I don't know what feeling grown up means.  Someone who has never been in love has to rely on their imagination in order to conceive that feeling.  Similarly I need to rely on my own conception of what feeling grown up means, because I don't know how it actually feels.  I have the memory of my parents and my friends parents and they seemed so much more mature and grown up than the face that I see in the mirror.  Is that because, as Yoda said, they just looked so old to young eyes?  

That may be part of it.  But I have a few other ideas.  Some of these may be general ones to which you can relate.  Others are more personal to me.

1.  Children of the Baby Boomers
The Greatest Generation had their childhoods cut short by the Great Depression and then WWII.  Both of those events required everyone in our culture to grow up faster.  Economic survival required more and more adult responsibilities to be thrust on children.  And then the horrors of war shake away so much of our lives that we viewed as childish.  And while their children, the Baby Boomers, did not live through such times (though they dealt with other social and economic strife), the Greatest Generation imparted to them a strong image of what it meant to grow up: to put aside childish things. 

 Even when this model was rejected, it was still present and understood as something to rebel against.  But the generation after the Baby Boom did not have this model as strongly present to their experience.  Instead of seemingly unshakeable pillars of responsibility, we saw in the Baby Boomers fellow pilgrims lost in the cosmos.  Of course this is not true of all, but the severity that the Greatest Generation projected was not present in the Baby Boomers and thus the next generation did not form that hard and fast need to "grow up."

2.  Embrace of Nostalgia
Growing up seemed in part to put aside childish things.  There appeared to be this transition that we all felt, where we stopped getting toys at Christmastime and birthdays and instead got sweaters and gift certificates.  I cannot remember my parents playing toys or video games, reading comic books, or geeking out about pop culture, even among their friends.  They would talk about the news or politics or stuff I thought was boring.  

But something happened over the last few decades where the social presure to separate yourself from you childhood obsessions went away.  In fact, that impulse to re-live your childhood was something that people capitalized on.  Before if you wanted to find a pair of Howdy Doodie cowboy boots, you'd have to search high and low.  Now all you have to do is click over to ebay.  

And when our generation had the disposable income to spend on things we wanted, many of us kept embracing our childhood loves.  I see more adults at comic shops than kids.  Many action figures today are marketed towards grown up collectors.  Even look at traditional children's heroes like Batman and Superman and how the last movie was not aimed at young children but at the older ones who loved them as children.  

This carried over into an embrace of the popular culture as a whole.  Movies, TV, and games hold a place in our lives that I don't think they did for generations past.  

But this continuity with childhood can make a real or apparent arrested development.  If we still behave in some ways as children, is it any wonder we still don't feel totally grown up.

3.  Life Expectancy
One of the great things about modern technology is the increase of medical advances that help people live longer.  On my father's 53rd birthday he said he never thought he'd make it to 50, because that was the life expectancy in his country.  

My heart has broken for my friends who have lost their parents.  Right now I am blessed to have both of them with me and two of my grandparents.  Though I fail at it often, I try to show them how much I appreciate that they are in my life.  But I also think this contributes to why I don't feel as grown up as I do.  I pray that I am not being insensitive on this point.  But let me illustrate.

When I was a kid, about 7 or 8, I used to have massive panic attacks that I told no one about.  I didn't know what they were called at the time, I just used to be hit by an overwhelming sense of existential dread and terror.  But for some reason, the only thing that would calm me down was seeing my dad.  I'm not sure why, since we didn't have the closest relationship at the time.  Yet just seeing him made me feel like everything was going to be okay.

I have been lucky enough to know not only my grandparents but two of my great grandparents.  And all of these generation titans that have come before me seem so much more grown up than I will ever be and they are still present in my life.  That is how past generations makes me feel young.  Which brings me to the next generation.

4.  Absence of Children
As of now, my wife and I do not have kids.  We have prayed for them and we are in the adoption process.  But we are living a life that many of our friends and family are not.  And when I see the overwhelming responsibility of parenthood, the day-in and day-out routine upon more routine, the constant need to be the one responsible and in charge... I can see how I lack that mature force in my life.  I am still free to go out to the movies on a whim.  I don't have to keep to the same schedule every night if I don't want to.  I can leave the house without taking two hours to get the kids ready and make sure we have everything for every possible emergency and eventuality that will occur because kids constantly getting into trouble!  As much as I want to be a man for others, there is still much of my life that is still for myself.  When we have kids, I will have to put away my childish self-centeredness.

Now that is a negative reason for not feeling grown up.  But I think there is also a positive one:

5.  Wonder
One of the most potent impressions I have from my childhood was a deep and abiding sense of wonder.  The playground I went to as a child in Boston was the whole world where the Earth touched the sky.  The underneath of a toy rocking hours was the General Lee and I was one of the Dukes of Hazzard.  My stuffed animals were my friends, my sleeping bag was a rocket ship, and movies were big-screen magic.

In the life I have now, I am still filled with wonder.  I wake up amazed that God has given me another day.  I am so thankful to be walking around in a house of my own.  I get giddy when I see new set of DC Superheroes at Toys R Us.  Sometimes I find myself just staring at the stars, getting lost in awe.

And I find the same is true with my married life.  When I come home, my wife literally cheers when I walk through the door and I do the same.  I cannot believe that she stays with me and I am partly filled with shock when she comes home to me.  I am filled with wonder that the most wonderful woman in the world still wants to be with me.  Though my wife and I have no children, I look at these past 15 years as the world's longest honeymoon.  And though for most of us the honeymoon is the time where we begin life as man and wife, we behave more like children at play in the fields of the Lord.  And my wife and I are still "playing house" after all of these years.

I don't if I will ever feel grown up.  But I don't feel too badly about it.  

After all, a very wise Man once said, "“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."  Matthew 18:3

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