Reflecting on the last year, and in preparation for 2017, I’ve noticed the development of a strange phenomenon that has taken hold in my life: adulting.
Adulting: a lovely millennial-driven term that alludes to the process of transformation from the formative years of youth to being somehow “grown.”
Just a year ago, while visiting a museum in Montgomery, Alabama in early January, a curious, spirited, middle-aged woman pulled me aside gently to ask about my age.
“I don’t mean to be nosy, but my dear, are you grown?”
I hesitated for a moment. Grown? What the heck was she talking about?
“Ma’am, I just turned 27…”
“No! Oh my. I thought you weren’t anywhere over the age of 20! It’s those clothes, your spirit, you seem young!”
I’m sure this can (and should) be taken as a compliment. But, coming from a refined Southern woman, I’m not so sure that it was. Alas, this was a year ago, and because 2016 was you know, 2016, I grew up a lot. I came into my own and so yeah, if I saw that woman again I would proclaim boldly and without reservation: I am grown, honey!
To be sure, I’ve engaged in adult-like tendencies for a few years now: I pay my bills on time, I plan and cook meals, I know the ins-and-outs of my health insurance policy, I budget when possible, and I understand weird concepts like 401k, HOA, quarterly taxes, and swaddling.
Yet, the actual experience of maturity and “growing up” are felt more starkly in paradigm shifts and “long-view” perspectives than it does through the day-t0-day responsibilities of being a grown woman. This growing sense of becoming an adult is less about the things I do and more attune to the ideas, knowledge, and experience I gain.
We commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this week and so I set aside 20 minutes at the start of my morning to reflect on one of my favorite quotes from the famed Civil Rights Leader:
For years, I have read quotations like these and appreciated the timeless sentiment they hold for each generation. After all, I’ve owned Martin Luther King Jr. books on his best speeches, messages of reconciliation, and case for justice since I was a young teenager. These idioms and words of wisdom have shaped the woman I am – the woman I want to be – and so it’s not as if the power of them has left me untainted.
Yet, I don’t think until recently that I could tangibly understand them.
The arc of history meant little to me back when I was a 21-year old. I was too young to notice patterns, to observe implications, or note the impact of things that were happening to me. Simply because of the lack of perspective, I couldn’t have known the influence my brother would have on my life, or the direction I would take because of a trip to the continent of Africa, or really, who I would become as I entered a journey of faith: full of bible studies, spiritual questions, small groups, church visits, and real-life, existential experiences.
In my early twenties, I couldn’t yet see the evolution of my past. I couldn’t appreciate the movement of time and what happens over the course of days, and months, and years. I didn’t yet know how we can and often change – sometimes, in unexpected ways.
Now, near the end of my twenties, it’s as though my past has come into a sharper view with stronger lenses; I see how my travels and relationships across the United States and the world affected my political, religious, and personal attitudes; I know how my educational background shifted my perception of others; and perhaps most importantly, I have experienced how commitment to justice, fairness, and love plants seeds of change with time.
The world does not become better overnight. But with the passing of days, people and circumstances do change.
Later this week, I saw another quote worthy of note, from Civil Rights Leader Angela Davis, that said,
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
I immediately loved the sentiment, namely because it began to capture the feelings and change that I have experienced within my adult life – a subtle shift from only observing, to believing, and eventually, doing.
It’s more than understanding inspiring quotes too – it’s also knowing how to comfort my friends in times of grief; it’s discerning the right moment to share truth; and it involves valuing yourself enough to take care of yourself as you would any other person.
Being an adult is hard work.
As an adult-in-progress, I hold both perspective and a future together.
There are days when I would rather play in the mountains, roller-blade around the park, and eat three (or four) scoops of ice cream. Sometimes, I do those things, and it’s awesome.
But on a lot of days, I recognize that I have a responsibility to both the life I have lived and the life I will continue to live. There is no such thing as a compartmentalized person, and so I know that I can be all parts of me fully, all at once. Knowing the kind of perspective that comes with age, I am anxious about the people, places, and circumstances of my life now and how it will affect my life in five, ten, or fifteen years.
So, when does this adult-sort-of-thing happen? 25? 27? 30? 35?
Perhaps, and what I tend to believe, is that you don’t wake up one morning and voila! You are an adult. Instead, it happens with time. With people. With life experience.
At some point, you begin to hold all your life together, in one basket, and appreciate it. Honor it. Protect it. I like this part of being an adult. I’m willing to take on that kind of maturity, because it means that I don’t have to isolate one part of me.
As an adult, I know who I am.
And, I can be her. I like her.