Growing Up and Growing Old

I’m sick of hearing the phrase, “I’ll never grow up!”

In so many children’s stories and movies, growing up is The Enemy. Growing up is the Bad Thing we never want to happen. Childhood and youth are idealized, because everyone knows that growing up sucks.

Well, guess what happens to mortal human children? They get old. Some grow old. Some grow up.

And there’s a difference.

I grew up when I was thirteen, I think. My sister was hospitalized and I made a care package for her. At that point we didn’t know what was going on. My little brother and I were home alone, bewildered by the dark turn of a relatively normal day. My dad came running in, grabbed an overnight bag, and turned to rush off to the hospital. I passed him that care package, full of books and CDs and things, and saw the panicked look in his eye and the tightness around his mouth. And I grew up.

Doesn’t mean that I stopped being a child. Doesn’t mean I didn’t have my angsty, stupid teenage years. But I was changed. Life wasn’t carefree anymore. This was the first real suffering that reached into my very soul, and I couldn’t stay the same.

My generation celebrates never growing up. If you do childish things when you’re in college, you post a Facebook status about it. If you act immature, it’s a laugh. People say, “Oh, let ’em be kids!” Because being a kid means acting irresponsibly.

I’m not saying it’s not good to goof off or play around. But I’m saying we’re often praised more for the childish things we do than for the things that help us, our families, or our communities.

It’s a joke to say you don’t really have a plan after college. It’s a joke to not budget, to forget to do your laundry, to have your mom take you grocery shopping.

You see, the idea of eternally being young equals not bearing responsibility or being realistic.

But for some of us, that’s just not an option.

My friend who works to pay through college cannot say to himself, “I will not buy this gas or these groceries, and I will not show up to work anymore, because I’d rather be spending and doing other things.” To do so would mean he could no longer go to school, or even live on his own.

No more can I say to myself, “I will not go to the doctors any more, or take Methotrexate, or give myself the HUMIRA shot, even though these things are unpleasant and sometimes unbearably painful.” To do so would lead to crippling consequences in my life and health.

I’ve had a life much easier than a lot of people. I have all my limbs. I have a mom and dad who love each other. I am at a great school, have great medical care at my finger tips, and have never heard a bomb go off in my neighborhood. I am rich in blessings.

But I am very much grown up.

That’s not the same as growing old, though.

To grow up, you do not have to lose your young heart. I can and do love magic and beauty. I love it more because I now know darkness. I know what it is to feel your soul breaking. And I know what it is to feel it mended again.

That’s growing up. And that’s beautiful.

To my generation, the idea of eternally being young equals not bearing responsibility or being realistic.

I think this a misinterpretation.

Being eternally young means keeping the wonder and joy of being a kid even when you’re under immense pressure and disillusionment.

One interpretation leads to acting like a baby forever.

The other leads to maturity, strength and creativity.

I know which I’d rather be.


2 thoughts on “Growing Up and Growing Old

  1. I really like this post. I wish more people understood the differentiation! I think it’s especially upsetting to those of us that are working through college to encounter the mentality that says adults don’t have to be responsible. You can be young *and* care about the things that matter: whether that means doing hard (but right) things, working, doing well in school, saying no when you want to say yes, or putting off good things until later. I get really tired of the whole “do what feels good right now” mindset.

  2. What an intelligent and wise young woman you are. I wish I knew why we value youth and devalue age. There is value in every stage of life and something new to learn from every day. We all need to spend time with each other. Young, old and in between. We all have value.
    I just turned 50 years old and I am loving it! I have stories to tell and so much to learn from your generation. The key (besides having an intimate relationship with my Creator) is to be childlike without being childish. I suspect you already have a balance worked out in that area.

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