Too old to be a teenager. Too young to drink wine on my birthday.
The last four or five weeks have been a whirlwind of classes and 9-to-5. I shouted and danced to celebrate my freedom after last Monday. My classmates and I burst out into the sun after our final, almost weeping with joy at being able to work full time in peace. The ordeal was challenging and intense but made enjoyable by my witty peers and professor.
I spent my birthday quietly but sweetly. I was never one for huge parties and celebrations although I have learned to love people and their company. In the morning, my aunt made seaweed soup, a traditional Korean birthday breakfast. I spent the latter part of my morning cleaning my room (I forgot the meaning of laundry these past few weeks) and getting ready for church. My friends blessed me with cupcakes and prayers–their genuine care made me so happy deep inside. In the evening, after a brief torrential thunderstorm and power outage, my family bought me dinner at Mon Ami Gabi, a French Bistro with a gluten-free menu!
Today I thought about how much I’ve changed this past year, and the confusion I feel about those changes. What is “growing up”? I have become more comfortable with responsibility, more courageous with making decisions, but more calloused deeper in my heart. I could feel it creeping, slowly freezing, slowly choking–accompanied by the question “Is this the new me?” Is this serious, over-focused, unfeeling suit something I must put on as a rite of passage to adulthood?
But moments remind me that there is a child still alive. At times I am hit by love–love of my family, love of God–so thankful I have made it to 20 years old without taking myself out. For a moment the child rises to the surface of my joyful tears to gasp air. But the onslaught of responsibilities soon delegate the child to a place where she will not get in the way. At times I feel the need to do this, to be strong and survive to live another day.
But when the fight is over, I look at the child and ask, “Do I still need you?” Is it time for you and I to part ways? I am now 20. I look at adults who, probably feeling the necessity, have chosen to leave all childish ways behind. I look at adults, who, filled with fear or laziness, have never progressed past childhood. But I also see adults who have faced the storms of this world with grown-up courage while preciously maintaining a wicked childlikeness.
Today’s Word was from Revelations 2, Jesus’ message to the Church in Ephesus. His words were as a reminder to a married couple who have progressed from passion to neglect to boredom. Are you bored with me? He asks. “You have forsaken the love you had at first,” he reminds. In the first few verses he acknowledges that Ephesus’ strength in theological knowledge is very good and very important. But, he reminds, “remember your first love.”
I am growing up, yes. I am becoming an adult, yes. But I need not let my heart become callous to the confusions and the blessings of love. Whether the “soft” things of the world are epiphenomenal is my decision. I choose to remain childlike for the rest of my life–which does not mean I choose to be myopic. As Andy says in The Shawshank Redemption, you either “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.” At this stage in my life, at 20 years old, I choose to get busy livin’– living with increasing wisdom coupled with the first flush of childhood.
People may, annoyed, comment that I must abandon the romantic ideals of youth and “grow-up.” To that I would reply, I am growing up. My dreams and views and knowledge of the world will likely change. That is a part of growing up. I now have more realistic expectations of how much work it takes to achieve a dream, and perhaps more importantly, that our dreams may not encompass the full picture of happiness. Nevertheless, part of “growing up” is figuring out how to maintain our tenderness and empathy in the face of situations that challenge it. To neglect this mission is to “get busy dyin,” telling children that they are in the prime of their lives and getting older is just a downhill process that adults fearfully avoid with all manner of shiny and plasticky objects.
Becoming an adult can be just as sweet as the freedom of childhood as long as we are willing to navigate through it–maintaining childlikeness with one hand and responding to the challenge of increased responsibility with the other.