“…before I get old”

“All grown up: When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?”

Here’s a Freudian slip for you: when I first typed the writing prompt above, I wrote ‘last’ instead of ‘first’. Which maybe tells you that I don’t feel ‘grown up’ very often.

Close advisers have told me that there is a very good reason for this.

The thing is, growing up – you can call it ‘getting older’ or ‘ageing’ if you prefer, but really it’s just ‘living’ – is a process. So, being ‘all grown up’ would suggest that the process has come to an end. Which sounds a bit terminal.

Did I feel ‘all grown up’ the first time I went to school in long trousers? Probably not; it was just a stage I had to go through, like all other men. Apart from scout masters, obviously.

Did I feel ‘all grown up’ when I left school and went to university? No, although I did think I knew everything. And being able to go to the pub without dropping my voice by half an octave was nice.

Truth is, I don’t remember ever mentally stepping back and saying to myself ‘there, now you’re all grown up’. Not even when I got married, or became a father, or went through any of the other ‘rites of passage’ that are commonly seen as life’s mileposts. I have to agree with John Lennon: ‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. The ‘long term’ is what you get when all those short terms are stitched together.

My guess is that ‘grown up’, as conventionally understood, is what you imagine ‘old’ people feel like. This can sometimes, especially in the formative (sc. teenage) years, be so different to your own feelings that adults can appear to be an entirely separate species. 

I now realise that the feeling is mutual. It probably always has been. After all, there is graffiti in Pompeii complaining about ‘the youth of today’.

There is nothing inherently wrong with ‘growing up’, any more than there is with ‘being young’. Where the problem arises is in the tendency for the mind and body to age at different rates, so that the dichotomy between the circumstantial evidence of your birth certificate and what is actually going on in your head becomes (literally) more painfully clear. As life expectancy increases, and people remain more active for longer, you are likely increasingly to come across the problem of the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak.

Although it’s still better than the alternative.

As long as ‘the lift still goes to the top floor’, just be grateful, because taking the stairs ceases to be a realistic option. As Oscar Wilde said:‘The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young’.

So no, I have never felt like a finished-article grown-up. Like these gentlemen, I hope I never do:

Amen to that. Although I’m not in any hurry.

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