look closely. think twice. cut once.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Forever Young

I just finished reading Pastoral by Nevil Shute, a quiet little romance set during World War II on a Royal Air Force base. It's an incidental story of several young pilots, a number of their bomber missions, fishing, and interactions with the WAAFs (the female branch of the RAF). It's not monumental - rather, it's about the small moments of pleasure and beauty several young people can find in the midst of a World War. It's a story that recognizes its own ordinariness (as the story concludes, we are told that nothing special has happened, a pilot is marrying a WAAF, that's all), but in its quiet detail, its stoic characters, and the importance placed on competence, honor, and dignity, it achieves a simple purity.

The majority of the characters are in their twenties - correction: early twenties. I sat there reading conversations among young men who considered the protagonist, Marshall, a old veteran pilot at the age of twenty-two, and marveled at the maturity of these fellows. Even ignoring the horror that I felt at realizing characters who seemed in my head to be emotionally in their thirties were in actuality younger than me - even ignoring that, the contrast between these characters and the college boys I knew is stark.


 
As I was reading along and meditating on the differences and their possible causes, I came across this, a quiet reflection during a moment of crisis:
"This was what discipline was for, to enable you to pigeonhole your feelings and carry on and do the job you had to do. Discipline, she thought sadly, meant the difference between a grown-up and a child. A child could cry."
Almost all the characters in this novel are military, and military by necessity (and pride) - the war is on, this is England's finest hour, and all able-bodied young men and women have joined up - and as we all know, a key part of military and air force training is strict discipline. But is that why they all seem older than people their age today? I think it might be part of it - but I can't think it could be all.

When they were my age my grandparents were already married; the same is true for my own parents (we won't even get started on Juliet). I don't think any of these pairings were considered too young to be making a life decision of that magnitude (well, maybe Juliet ...). Frankly, I am reaching the (gulp) age when it doesn't seem that young to be making such a decision either, so I guess I should stop freaking out when I hear friends are getting married. But I have other friends (or at this point, acquaintances) from my high school days who (I have learned from facebook) got married within two years of high school graduation, which ... just kind of blows my mind. It seems far too young for such a step, and perhaps the best evidence of that is that most of those marriages have already ended in the intervening years.

My generation, in many ways, just feels very ... young. Colleges and universities are populated by people who are legally adults but who still think of themselves as - and act like - children. Yes, they are for the most part still dependent on their parents, so that makes sense. But - and maybe this is because I mostly interact with theatrically-minded (and therefore mildly crazy) people - even after college, everyone still seems young. We're refusing to grow up. We're all flailing around New York City, avoiding responsibility, culpability, for as long as we can keep our blinders up. Reality shows about idiotic twenty-somethings killing their brain cells and acting out are further encouraging the notion that we don't have to deal with real adulthood for at least another ten years.

And that's a bit dangerous. Because a side effect is that no one is planning very far ahead (pessimists around me can claim that that's just as well, as the world will be ending soon anyway) - people are piling up debts (our government setting a great example there) and not thinking long-term enough to save and sequester funds for if and when things fall even further apart. Instead, we indulge, we play, and we assume someone will look after us until we're "ready" to do it ourselves ... at some point.

This is not me bragging, but I actually feel like I grew up fairly young - because I had to. I had stretches in my adolescence when I had to learn self-sufficiency and adapt to solitude. So I learned to be comfortable with both. That being said, I headed off to college still entirely financially dependent on my parents; but it was very important to me once I graduated that I be able to support myself and pay my own way. I learned young to be able to take care of myself, and in learning that, I learned how important it is to be able to take care of myself. It's important to know that you have that capacity in you, and to feel pride in your ability to do so. The most important money in your checking account is the money you earned.

That being said, there are certain ways I refuse to ever "grow up":
  • Disneyland or Disneyworld are the bestest places to vacation ever
  • Arts and Crafts will never not be fun
  • If you judge me for having stuffed animals we probably won't remain friends
  • Monkeys at the zoo are delightful
  • Composing silly poems is a productive use of time
  • Christmas morning is a time of magic
  • Chickens are inherently funny

We grow up when we have to. We grow up when there's no other option. If I were any kind of researcher, I'd point to examples in nature of mama somethings pushing their formerly baby somethings out of the nest. I think it's good to grow up - staying too long with Peter Pan in Neverland feels like cheating. But ... it doesn't hurt to visit.

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