If you read a lot, you’re probably familiar with the genre category known as “coming of age” books. The characters in the story are usually young, for example, Francie in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith or a little more off-beat, Holden Caulfield, hero of “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. As I continue to think about writing, I have been reflecting about what “coming of age” actually means. I think it means maturation, whatever that is; you know, teen-age struggles with identity, misadventures and finally coming to some place of realization the characters didn’t have before. Oh, really?
If my experiences count to me for anything, it’s the lesson learned that the journey never ends, and that in fact, it’s only the journey that matters, because there is no end. That’s a New Age message that spoke to some of us, a cultural voice a couple of decades old. Has it really been that long? In any case, we often hear that the present is all that matters and that the past and the future are a waste of time to spend thinking about. It makes life more do-able, at least for me, to listen and pay attention to what’s around me one day at a time.
So where am I going with this? I believe that we come of age as an ongoing process while we live, as a matter of fact, and that the concept is much deeper and broader than a briefly focused time during our adolescence or early adulthood or even adulthood–see what I mean? Just think about who we were ten years ago. If you’re anything like me and write journal entries, coming upon those scribbles years later, I often think, “OMG, who was that person?” And “Why did all those people/things matter that much at the time?”
In some ways, it’s heartening to read these scattered notes and realize how far life has come for me. Yeah, baby! I’m not as frustrated at some people anymore–either they have disappeared, things have resolved themselves or I’ve taught myself how to avoid conflict. Many of the things I wished for and sought after have either appeared in my life or have been forgotten altogether. Isn’t it great that “life is long”?
So, back to the concept, coming of age while we live, I know that I inhabit my world a lot differently than I did when the kids were growing up; when I was travelling and working 60-hour weeks in the biotech industry; or even now during the last couple of years when I’m able to explore and develop what I’m curious about. Coming of age to me is when you truly know yourself and like (most of) what you see (the inward compact with one’s spirit) and can enjoy each day as it opens and closes. Sometimes, I think that freedom from being tortured by “shoulds” and “should have beens” arrives by the time you turn fifty! Sad, but true. And great for all of us who make it to fifty and can just be ourselves, for better or for worse, . . . finally.
Things are still not under our control as much as we might like it to be. The world outside appears to be accelerating with weather extremes, political angst and fearful events. But if we feel at home within ourselves, knowing that we can make our place the way we want it to be, (even if it’s messy and the cupboards are bare) we’ve come of age.
What do you think?