(Thanks to Alan Guthrie)
Being an adult is not the moment that you realize that people will leave you. It's the moment that you figure out that you will have to leave other people for their greater good.
Being an adult is not realizing that you will fail. It's figuring out that you will fail someone else.
Being an adult is not being angry at the world. It's figuring out why you're really angry.
Being an adult is finding the futility in trying to change other people.
Being an adult is not pointing out other people's stupidity. It's figuring out your own.
To some, the tree in the picture by Mr. Guthrie is dead and sad, but there is a real beauty to it. It is the true metaphor of the world. Eventually the pieces will be stripped away and we will all be laid bare. If what is left is beautiful, it will be seen that way. If not...then so be it. There is a beauty in the futility of fighting the course of the river.
I don't really sleep anymore. My body and mind won't let me, so I contemplate. Some nights, I go into my son's room, and I just watch him sleep. This big head with a little body that occasionally jerks at a nightmare, and I wonder what a two year old dreams about that would scare him. There aren't monsters in his life yet as his mother and I have been careful about that, so what makes him jerk his body and scream a little. Is it being without his parents? Is it falling down stairs (as he did once)? And yet as I watch him, my fears begin to take realization. If I die tomorrow, I don't care...but what will happen to him? To my wife?
It used to be easy. When I was in college, I nearly died a few times. There were accidents, times of idiocy, and even just straight dumb luck, yet I survived every moment. If I hadn't...then oh well.
And it's odd, because I remember the exact moment I understood death. I was five years old standing in my parents' bathroom, and the whole process and idea of death clicked in my head. The world literally shifted to a point of clarity. I can't describe it better than that, but the whole world moved left and clicked into place. My parents and sisters would one day die...then I would too...and I would be gone forever. Yes, Virginia, even at an early age I knew that Christo and I wouldn't agree. So I did what every "genius" child would do: I hid in my parents' clothes hamper. I was convinced that Death (in the personification of the Grim Reaper) wouldn't look in there because it was dirty clothes...and who the heck hides in a hamper? I was in there for only an hour, but I thought I was in there for longer (because kids don't really have that concept of time yet).
This would change, however, as time passed. I no longer feared my death, and I really can't tell you why. It's not a "I believe in ever-lasting soul" thing, but more of a just not caring anymore. This was seen when I got to college. In my first year, I took part in pychological experiments as part of what I thought would be my major: behavioral psychology. One of the experiments was about extreme situations and self-preservation. The tester had setup a situation where three or four people would be in a room and (unbeknownst to us) a man would enter with a gun and threaten us. The test was apparently about seeing if we would follow directions under duress (This is another reason why I don't like psychologists). So there we sat, in came the gunman, and he gave us directions that we were supposed to follow. I would love to say that I walked up to him, put the gun up to my forehead, and, in a low, gruff voice, said, "Go ahead...pull the trigger," but I can't. I followed instructions...sort of. As I was told later, I made sure to step in front of everyone when the gun was pointed toward us. Didn't matter if it was the other guy or the girl in with us. Whenever the gun turned toward anyone, I stepped in front of them.
And that's what I want to do with the people I care about. I want to step in front of them and take the bullet. In my head, I've lived a good life (if it's not a metaphorical bullet, but a real one). And yes, pain is necessary to learning. We have to hurt someone, and someone has to hurt us if we are to be complete...yet I think of my son again. I don't want him to ever experience the pain I have. I want to protect him.
You see, the hardest part of being an adult is realizing that you are connected to people...and if that connection is severed, it hurts them.
I have to stop and think of him, my wife, and those who care about me and I care for if the situation rises where I might die. I would take a bullet for my students, I really would, but what would it mean for my son? And what If I'm dying? What if Cancer has a hold on my body and ravages me inside and out? I would never want my son to have to do what I did with my father. I took my father's hand and walked him through the hospital. It was a horrifying experience. Who could ever want that for their child?
It's easy to disappear. Unlist your number, change that cell phone, delete an email address. People are resilient, and we can overcome pain.
And the beauty of futility is that eventually we will become orphans and have to deal with it.
So I sit in my son's room and watch him sleep. I wish him happy dreams where he rides the train he loves so much. And I hope I prepare him for the future.
Being an adult is not wishing you could be young again. It's preparing those around you for you leaving.
Being an adult is not saying used to be better. It's questioning what makes things better and why.
Love your friends and family while you have them. The current can always shift in an instant.