The term Coming of Age is roughly translated to mean the period when a youth transitions into an adult. Ages vary from culture to culture, but the adolescent years are generally considered to be in-sync with this term. Sometimes this period is marked by special ceremonies which celebrate this passage from childhood to adulthood. However it is defined (or wherever) there is a universal sense about this period in one’s life. In America, many adults recall this season with fondness. Like the carnival sign below, very often our youth is remembered as a magic carpet ride, full of fun, fun, fun and zero difficulties or troublesome issues. That’s not exactly how I recall my youth, although there were plenty of fun times and the occasional magic.
The other morning – without any forethought – I began to think about this term which, in turn, took me back to my childhood, through my teen years and into the early adult years. Funny how the mind works sometimes because I can’t figure out what triggered this avalanche of mental images. Although this piece may seem like a vain trip down nostalgia’s road, this is not what I want to explore or present. Rather, I desire to probe the era where so much change occurred and I developed so many of my habits, convictions, perceptions and responses to life’s challenges. Perhaps some of my examples may resonate with you.
My childhood years were pretty wonderful with few cares in my world. The only serious issues during this period were my asthma which put me in the hospital on a pretty consistent basis, and my mom’s second divorce. Life for me and my family wasn’t always easy, especially as we entered our second decade of living, and there were real hardships, and even dysfunction for a while, but mostly the memories are positive, and I count my blessings. Memories are powerful and can transform my mood in either direction. When the bad ones pop up, I strive to reject them so they won’t haunt me. When the good ones sprout I grab onto them and relish their soothing effect on my soul. Memories, moods and behavior are inseparably linked.
Enter adolescence with the exuberance and the baggage that comes with it. These are the years that most think about when a child develops into a young adult. Do you remember? Some days I would be on top of the world-I could hardly stand how great I felt- and other days I was so uncertain of myself and growing up that I barely coped. Mood swings, the blues, jumpin’ for joy at times, and periods of serious contemplation attended these lean years of growing up. Life seemed either superbly great or fearfully awful. Certainly there were many mundane days, but life as an adolescent seemed like an uncertain adventure most of the time.
Those were the days of close friendships and enemies; independence and peer pressure; standing tall and compromising; achieving and failing; caution and recklessness; confidence and self-doubting; dares and stupid follow-throughs; puberty, attractions, dating and lots of questions; first loves, first jobs, heartaches and disappointments; courage and fear; learning and repeating the same mistakes; muscle cars and fist fights; rock-n-roll and solitude; learning and ignoring; war and peace; politics-good and bad; Wide World of Sports and soap operas; bell bottoms, mini-skirts and ugly glasses; drugs and the war on drugs; family mealtimes and TV dinners; regular visits to the moon and ballistic missiles; peace rallies and riots; drag racing and getting caught; hanging out and clicks; drive-in movies and drinking. Yes, we had it all during my coming of age years, and I probably just touched the surface.
My later teen years morphed into the early twenties and shared some of the same dynamics as adolescence, but not nearly as extreme. Maturity began to overcome the child in me and what I learned actually made sense. I began to see the world in a different light and comprehended the vastness of the universe and complexities of life. There were many wonderful moments during these years, and there were just as many tough ones, but they all contributed to my development into the person I am today. During this period of my life I was similar to most other young persons, in that I thought I knew more than most adults-including my parents. You can laugh now! Time and the School of Hard Knocks have taught me the folly of such thinking.
It has occurred to me that our entire lives are really coming of age times. As we mature we become wiser, thereby reducing the mistakes, failures and mishaps. Obviously, we are never free of these negatives and their consequences. On the flip side, the positives and their consequences accompany us, as well. Each day…each year produces new experiences and sensations; some feel completely fresh and alive while others seem routine and pedestrian. Some are short-lived and others stretch-out for what seems to be too long. Regardless, we are still coming of age in the same way as when we experienced the transition from adolescence to adulthood. I believe the difference is one of perspective: the traditional concept is more or less age-based, while our current transitions are reflective-based. By that, I mean we transition from one level of understanding to another through the process of evaluating the past, present and future. We have a lifetime of experience and learning to fall back on. As we are constantly being presented with new and challenging concepts and situations, we can respond with increasing assurance.
What was once a mystery usually turns out to be a truth or a lie. Yet, some ambiguity remains in our lives because we live in a world with ever-changing dynamics. We are finite creatures with limitations which restrict our full understanding about everything we encounter. This frustrates many…the not knowing. That is not to say I turn my back on education; by no means! For each new day we probe deeper and deeper into the unknown, we discover abundant and new facts which challenge and change us. This is a wonderful thing about being human. However, we must not deceive ourselves into thinking we can know ‘it ‘ all…we will always be left wanting.
For me, the only constant is found in a God who was and is and always will be the same. This is my reality. I recognize it is not everyone’s. I find security in this truth, for no matter how much chaos surrounds me, I know God doesn’t panic or wring His hands wondering what will happen next. He has it all figured out for He is sovereign over all creation. Amazingly, all He asks of me is to simply trust Him. And, I do. Hopefully, you do, too. The ultimate coming of age will occur when I see His glorious face in the light of eternity.