The seasons turn and I take stock.
22 means very little. In seven weeks I’ll be 23, and that won’t change anything. Age is just a number, but it’s equally true that age is anything but a number. What does 22 actually tell you about me?
My age is really more accurately described this way: I’m old enough to know how young I am. My maturity has grown enough to support an introspective vision of my immaturity. Before I was blinded by the bliss of youth, and someday I’ll be old enough to know I’m old enough.
My first year in college, when I thought I knew more than I know now, I read a little book about young love called Green Wheat, by Collette. Class discussion presented me with the idea that perhaps young people are actually tuned into the truth of some things, and that maybe maturity shrouds that understanding. I had believed that adults knew everything and that young people lacked the experience to have true understanding, but maybe it wasn’t always true that youth was wasted on the young.
As much as Green Wheat made me think, it didn’t eradicate my idea of adulthood being something I would gradually work towards and eventually arrive at when I reached a certain age. I had (and have) this image of what I’ll look like when I’m 28 or so, when I’m an adult and I know it. But once I asked my brother-in-law when it was that he realized that he was an adult and how I might know it, and he told me that, not only was he still becoming more adult all the time, but I was too. “You’re already an adult,” he said. He wasn’t just referring to my increasing responsibilities and privileges – he also meant that I was growing as a person into someone who could handle these responsibilities and privileges.
So on the one hand I am, most certainly, in possession of adult responsibilities and privileges, and, as I think my oeuvre indicates, adult thought-processes. I could convince you that I’m a grown man.
But, on the other hand, I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities and constantly call for help, I neglect or abuse my privileges, and I’m painfully aware of naivete in my thinking.
This all comes to a head now as I enter a new phase in life as a graduate student as well as a graduate instructor. I’ll be engaging with complex ideas and making complex arguments as well as taking responsibility for some of the education of undergraduates. These changes in education and employment come just after moving out on my own.
This is the peculiar burden for this time of life. It’s the great haunting thing which confronts and confounds me every day – this ambiguous adulthood. I don’t know how to measure it or control it, and certainly not how to conjure it. Sometimes I don’t even know where to find it. Appearing and disappearing, sometimes it emerges from within my spirit and other times it foists itself upon me.
I’m an adult, but it feels like I’m in single-A ball, not the Majors.
And this brings me back to this limbo, in which I know I’m not a child even as I don’t feel like an adult, and this struggle, this trapped feeling, presents me with a question, a question that would be tough for anyone, but especially for a writer.
Does what I say matter?
I have ideas on myriad different things. About 90% of my life involves observing things, thinking about them, and then, hopefully, sharing those thoughts. I’m being asked to do that for a job now, as well as a part of my studies. And, in my best moments, when I’m feeling the message of Green Wheat and I remember my brother-in-law’s words, I think that maybe what I say does matter, and matters quite a lot, because I’m pretty good at saying things. And I have a lot of people, some of them very close to me, that positively build me up in this regard.
But then that number floats past me. 22; or, everything I haven’t done. 22 means I’m too young to have seen so much from the past, and it means I’m too young to have experienced so much of the future. And I’m a young 22 – when it comes to worldly experience, trust me, my students will be more cosmopolitan than I am in a number of ways. They’re kids, but I’m just a kid with bills who can legally buy and smoke weed. What do I know?
When I get to thinking like this, I fall back into looking forward to the 28-year-old version of me. Then, and only then, will I really know what I’m talking about. Then my opinion will matter. Then I can change the world, at least in a few small ways. And there are plenty of older folks who would rather I wait until I’m older before I pretend to know something.
Maybe, then, I should just keep quiet.
Or maybe not? By now you see the quandary of my age.
My middle school English teacher had a quote on the wall of her classroom, something that her husband, my middle school social studies teacher, had said years before: “They say that we are young and the world has much to show us. We say that we are young and have much to show the world.”
That quote barely registered in my pubescent brain. It came from a world that was foreign to me. I was young, but the kind of young that lacks self-awareness. But I’m there now.
And maybe I have something to show the world.
Just because I vacillate between feeling like a hopelessly immature adult and a decidedly mature child doesn’t mean I have to revert to childish ways or work my way towards the adult arena in order to have a relevant voice. So I will speak in a way befitting a man of my station, and what I say will be a reflection of this season, for better or for worse.
As I go through the daily exercise of responsibility and discovery, millions of other twenty-somethings face the same gauntlet of aging expectations. Which is comforting. But also not – because the experience of people my age has been distilled to cranky hit-pieces on why millennials are the worst and recycled Buzzfeed lists about things we all have in common. So in the end I guess I’m just reminded that 75% of adulting involves not being an adult.
But this distracts, if not outright denies, young people from their proper place. A fear and uncertainty about this middle ground between adolescence and adulthood shrouds this age bracket from within and without. This time in life becomes caricatured by its awkwardness, its naivete, and its precarious position that resembles a lifter just strong enough to carry something just heavy enough to hurt someone. And so we are asked to put on this fear and doubt and do a delicate dance in a maturity masquerade.
Nonsense, I say. If we wait until then to be real people, we’ll be waiting all our lives. Yes – we are the future, but we exist now, and we have been given just enough powder to go boom. So make noise, whatever noise that is well and good for a young adult to make.
I imagine it sounds like whatever noise a platypus makes.
Forth now, and fear no darkness.
Soli Deo Gloria