“When do you become an adult?”, she asked me.
She’s eighteen years old and about to head to college. True, she’s more mature than most her age, has her head on straight. And yet, that anxious voice asks me, how will she know she’s crossed the threshold into adulthood.
Our world says eighteen is the magic number, when you blow out that many candles on your birthday cake, you magically gain access to the World of Grown Ups.
At eighteen, you can go off to war for your nation, you can vote for the governance of your choice, you are no longer “jail bait”, you can make your own decisions (except to drink alcohol).
But it’s not that simple; the cut between childhood and adult status is not a clean neat cut made by a sharp saber.
It’s more of a ragged laceration, the result of sawing back and forth with the serrated knife of indecision. It’s running three steps towards being your own independent soul, then taking one step back to grab your childhood teddy bear for comfort because the world can be scary.
So what is it? What is the marker that says, “You’ve arrived!”
It’s when you realize your power. Not the super hero Wonder Woman kind (sadly, because who couldn’t use a magic lasso and those bullet-proof cuffs every now and then). No, it’s a more subtle kind, one that takes greater discipline and courage to acknowledge and master.
It’s knowing you have capacity to hurt, to heal and to love. You can break a heart without knowing it. You can build a wall and not see it there. You can wound someone so deeply, it sends them into a tailspin that can alter the path of their life.
You have the faculty to take a sledgehammer to that wall, apply a salve to the deep cuts you left, hold someone steady so they can find their way again. You have that ability.
It’s realizing you are not as insignificant as you think, that your actions are like ripples in a pond, wide and far-reaching. The words you say, the things you do, or NOT, they count. You may never know the impact you have on someone else, but the little pebble you toss away may well be the keystone on which another person will build their house.
The flip side is the humbling epiphany that you are NOTHING. The world owes you nothing, you are a cog in the wheel of the writhing mass of humanity. There is always someone else who will be smarter, prettier, better than you. You cannot rely on your uniqueness, because in a world of billions, how can you be The Only One? You cannot rest on your laurels because the rest of the world is moving forward, leaving you behind.
It’s quite the conundrum, a see-saw of importance and insignificance. It’s so confusing and daunting. How do we not all end up curled up in the fetal position, rocking ourselves to sleep?
As you grow taller in emotional maturity, you are able to see a wider radius of the map of your life, watch the signs, and choose the direction in which you would like to go. Your life experiences provide the scaffolding to shore you up when you just can’t find your way. The scars on your heart serve as a compass to guide you to kinder roads. You will find your way.
It’s terrifying. It’s also exhilarating, intoxicating and miraculous. You can’t avoid this journey, so make it count., V. Make it amazing.