Two dream recollections, then some thoughts. (Disclaimer: It's true, my dreams aren't as cool as Jenn's. I'm working on it, I guess.)
Dreamt it was the last week of my senior year at college. [In my dreams, there's an alternate version of the campus (one that's oddly consistent throughout each dream). One of the "new" buildings has the same lobby as the church where I used to go to middle school. Odd.] So I'm walking through this lobby, and I see my dean walking in the opposite direction, so that we pass each other--except my dean has been replaced by my current boss, who resembles her a bit, actually. I said, "Hey Dean, this year has gone by quickly, huh?" She smiled and nodded. "It seems like it's only been three weeks or so." Again, smile and nod. "Any chance we could stretch it out a little longer? I don't want to go home yet." She smiles and shakes her head, adding a little shrug and walks away. I walk on.
This one is in my old church, or rather, the old property of my current church. I'm walking through the hallways and feel the need to dart down one of the nursery classroom hallways (which involves crawling through a rounded doorway about 4 and a half feet tall). I pass rooms with workers and little kids, and then I see a restroom and realize that I need to relieve myself. (It's not going to get graphic, so no worries.) So I go in and take care of business, and as I'm washing my hands, a little boy walks up to the sink next to me and does the same, but keeps looking up at me (curiosity mixed with intimidation). I look down at the kid, who's staring up at me, and just say with a nod, "What's up." He doesn't bat an eye. Then I walk out. I make my way (instantly, like a scene change) to the parking lot of an IHOP, where I run into all my former high school classmates. Except that they're all "older"--like when sitcoms bury their young leads in make-up, and grey their hair, and add lines and wrinkles, to simulate them being "elderly"--and they're all looking at me. I still look like I do now, but they're all different. (These names will mean nothing to most of you, but humor me.) I noticed Nathan first in the center of the group, then behind him to each side I saw Sarah J., then Becky, then Phillip. I think maybe Becca L. also. Flying-V formation, I guess. [All people I've only seen once in the past five years, aside from Phillip, who joined the Air Force as a jet mechanic.] We all looked at each other silently, then I turned and walked away in a state of confusion.
[I'm no Joseph, and I ain't no Daniel, but I've got a good idea what these dreams are getting at.]
I've been thinking a lot about growing up lately. The notion of it, what it means. I mean, I'm 24. I'm technically an adult. But I don't feel like it. If anything, I still feel like I'm a college student. I'm not as "mature" as other people my age, I don't think; not to say I'm immature (rarely true, and I'll deny it if quoted), but I'm not as reserved in my behavior and expression. I don't behave very "grown-up", which is to say, closed up. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and fly my humours as my standard. I like cartoons. I blog compulsively. I play Playstation. I use words like groovy, wicked, righteous, right on, and rad, on a regular basis. I can put on the collar and tie and be professional when need be, but I hate it. I sometimes eat dessert first, green vegetables be damned. I'm not as serious as some, not as sensible as many.
I'm not saying these qualities are mutually exclusive from adulthood; but as I grew up, I always thought of adulthood as something serious and weighty, a responsibilty, a necessary burden, a sacrifice you make for your family. In my more thoughtful moments as a child, I realized that my parents hardly seemed to have fun on their own. Instead, they spent their time trying to "make fun" for their kids. This was a beautiful and wonderful thing; my parents are my heroes and dear friends. But it always made me a bit sad for them.
So as I grew up, I developed this (mis?)conception of adulthood--one of responsibility, weighty seriousness, and sacrifice. I would read Bible verses like the one in I Cor. 13 that talked about "putting away childish things" and I would envision coming to the point where I would have to give up all of the petty little things of my life that I loved so dearly, put on a drab and dreary suit, and "be an adult." All the toys, and the comic books, and the video games, and everything fun would all go into a big box that is locked against me forever. And it depressed the hell out of me. It still does.
But what I'm trying to learn now, what I'm trying to find, is a way to grow up without having to be so much of an adult. And as I'm seeking this, I am starting to see that my folks can be fun too. And they can have fun. And they enjoy being around each other and around their kids. I mean, my family actually played in the snow on Christmas Eve. My dad, coming off a gruelling shift at work (my dad has worked retail for the past 25 years), actually made a snow angel on the inch of snow that accumulated on the trampoline in the back yard. He scooped up as much as he could off the car and made an eight-inch-tall "Texas snowman".
I considered declaring 2005 to be "The Year of Growing Up," because I felt it was something I needed to do more of. But I realized that maturity isn't self-actualized by an act of will; it's the end-product of a slow and steady stream of choices made and habits built or broken. It's the destination. We call it a process when we're outside of it, but I don't think we can ever know when it's happened until after the fact. Retrospect gives us the special 3-D glasses with which to see how much we've grown.
So, instead of deciding to grow up by sheer determination, and instead of fearing growing up as the death of happiness, I've decided to stop worrying about it. When it happens, it will happen. Instead, I should focus on what I can actively control: spending less time and money on truly trivial things that don't payoff with as much satisfaction as advertised; investing those same resources in things that have actual results and useful dividends; taking each day as an opportunity to do some good in the world, and pursuing that with as much passion as anything else in my life; not sweating how far I think I've come, but focusing rather on where I want to go; taking myself neither too seriously, nor too lightly; seeking the face of my God in all things; loving everyone I can as purely and openly as I can; and being always thankful for the multitude of blessings I am given daily.
This sounds a little bit like a New Years' resolution. It's not. It's just the next step.