It's often said that our generation refuses to grow up; that in our nineties we’ll still be thinking, and maybe acting, like we are in our twenties.
That might be okay if it means we retain the zest for life our younger selves possessed. Or, within reason, we still want to move around the world athletically on capable limbs, defying atrophy. Or that we retain that twinkle in the eye, the last vestige of the raw lust that in our youth could dangerously override reason. (Mine did.)
No harm in staying young at heart.
The harm is in not growing up.
Our generation is possibly the most fortunate that ever lived. No epic wars to extinguish millions. Plenty of employment without the need for much education (obvious professions aside). Science relentlessly improving and lengthening life. Knowledge and insight that makes all generations before us seem quaint, even the last one.
So much landed in our laps. We mostly got what we wanted, and then some.
Does that mean that we, as a generation, are “spoiled,” that in having it so easy, we didn’t have to struggle? And that in not struggling, millions of us didn’t achieve the level of maturity one gains through adversity?
I realize it’s foolish to generalize.
But the uneasy thought of failing to grow up was raised recently by Bob Lefsetz, an often cranky, reliably opinionated man I read every day because of his large mind and willingness to be blunt, often acerbically blunt. Here’s what Bob said some weeks ago in his daily email, about boomers and growing up:
And when you reach a certain age, you stop boasting. There's nothing worse than a baby boomer telling you how much he has, where he's been, what he's done, didn't he get the memo, didn't he ever grow up, everybody's on their own trip, and none of us are better than any other and it all doesn't matter. I know, I know, you don't want to believe this, but hopefully you'll realize this someday, if you ever grow up.
“If you ever grow up.” Like I said, blunt. But lesson to boomer self: don’t talk about yourself, or talk like you invented maturity, or pretend everything is always just peachy, when, like everybody else, you know it’s not.
Just as I was about to seal this post in its finished state, point made, I read “When Your Body Says No,” a wistful article about loss in Outside magazine (online) that softened Bob’s bite for me.
The piece was written by Christopher Solomon, a journalist and lifelong runner. Three years ago, he felt a painful jab in his left calf while running. He hasn’t been able to run much since. Undiagnosed, the condition persists. The loss has been both a mystery and a robbery for Solomon. In these two potent paragraphs near the end of the article, he touches on loss and what it means to adulthood, to growing up:
It’s not age that makes you an adult, I see now, or even most of the experiences that age brings. What finally does it is the things you lose along the way. A parent dies; you don’t get the girl. And you are wrecked. And you are less for these losses. What makes you an adult, finally, is that you choose to keep going afterward.
The problem is that I can’t decide who I want to be. I want to be the bulletproof man I was, but I want to age with equanimity. I want to fight, but I want to appreciate the grace of all I still can do. Maybe this confusion explains why acceptance still feels too much like giving up.
That last line reverberates: “Maybe this confusion explains why acceptance still feels too much like giving up.”
In the daily wrestling match that goes on in our minds, acceptance vs. being driven, resisting, then giving up, is a recurring bout, for me, when it comes to aging, and, I’m thinking, growing up.
Which leads me to conclude that no matter how old we get, there’s always growing up to do.
“Hey, what are you doing in this post-career stage of life?”
“Growing up. It’s hard work, well worth it, and about time.”