It never ceases to amuse or horrify me that 18 year-0lds are allowed to consider themselves adults. I challenge you to go to any high school across America, look at the graduating senior class, and say out loud with confidence, “These young men and women before me have reached adulthood. They are now mature enough to take care of themselves.” Unfortunately, with such a challenge, you would probably be hard-pressed to distinguish the 18 year-olds from the 16 year-olds, and as time distances you from them, they would all eventually look like a giant mass of teenage children anyway, and teenagers are just a couple years away from being newborn babies.
I remember when I turned 18 and they told me I was an adult. I almost believed them. I would soon learn, however, that it was one of the biggest lies I was ever told. I was no more an adult at 18 than I was when I was 10. And now, as a 24 year old, I’m pretty certain whatever adulthood I project is a mere facade. In fact, the older I get, the more I long for the fetal position. I suppose the difference between the ages is this: the older you get, the more space you’re allowed to curl up into that so beloved fetal position. As a baby, you get to curl up in a crib. As a teen, you get to curl up in the privacy of your own room. By your twenties, you get to curl up in the privacy of your own apartment. Numerical age doesn’t indicate maturity, it indicates the amount of space you’re allowed to use to suck your thumb.
I say this because a disturbing image entered my head just moments ago. I was thinking of my family: my parents, my siblings, my extended relatives. I know for a fact I’m the tallest one in my immediate family by a matter of several inches, and I’m taller than all of my aunts and uncles. And yet, when I think about them, I see them as giants towering over me, and suddenly there I am playing with my Legos in the living room of my childhood home. It seems as though my mind is stuck in a time when I actually cared about “must be this tall to ride” signs and felt dejected when my siblings were able to ride and I wasn’t. I can’t imagine anyone I’ve known since childhood as their actual relative height unless I’m standing right next to them, and because of that, whenever I think about them, I infantilize myself.
So I give you this odd litmus test of adulthood: think about adults you knew as a child. When you picture them in your mind, are they taller than you?
I read an excellent book recently called “Ferdydurke” by Witold Gombrowicz. It follows the story of a directionless 30 year old man who is visited by an old professor of his who decides he isn’t fit for adulthood and drags him back to high school. Through a series of belittling situations and being subjected to life as a teenager, he gradually loses grasp on his true age as he regresses backwards into childhood, showing that we as adults never really outgrow our immature selves in the first place.
But what does it mean to be an adult anyway? Being able to take care of ourselves? This might be a discussion for a whole different post, but I have long since believed that childhood is a realm of existence within a romanticized metaphysical world and adulthood is a realm of existence within a concrete physical world. A child can look at a cloud and say, “That cloud is a horse named Bill.” An adult can look at a cloud and say, “That cloud looks like rain. I better bring the laundry inside.”
I would like to be able to say I never want to grow out of seeing Bill gallop across the sky, but on the other hand, if we don’t bring the laundry inside, may God help us all.