In two weeks I turn eighteen. I can vote, order items off of the television with a credit card, smoke cigarettes, join the army. I can be tried in the court of law as an adult and go to a state penitentiary as an adult. I can go to sleep one night, a child under the supervision of my parents, and wake up the next morning a fully capable American citizen responsible for my own well-being. It’s a strange concept. The idea that one day you are not mature enough to be merited a “grown up” and the next day you are.
I sometimes worry that I’m not ready. I’m not ready to pay bills and taxes and be responsible for my actions when I don’t have a mother to write me a sick note. I feel young and naïve in the way that I can’t imagine that nice mechanic ripping me off at the car shop because I couldn’t tell a lug nut from a crow bar. Part of me sees the greed and cruelty of humans as they cut each other off in traffic and roll their eyes at slow waiters, but the other part, a much larger part would like to hope, would really love to hope, that maybe there’s a light, more than a light, a sun at the end of the tunnel. We’ve expected the worst and lived up to those expectations and maybe we can do better. And perhaps it’s these ideals and dreams that make me unfit for adulthood. Every time I bring them up to my Mother (or any adult, really) I watch her eyes glaze over as she pretends to listen but is really thinking about that clogged faucet or an irregularly high phone bill. Ideals won’t matter when I’m stretching a paycheck seven different ways.
But then my Mind wanders to a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt that has always stayed with me. “Many older people take an unmerited pride in the mere fact that they are adults. When youth comes crashing in on them with enthusiasm and ideals, they put on their most patronizing smiles and send them out with what they call their blessings. But you and I know they have not given their blessings but a cold shower. They pat the young person on the back and say: ‘You’re young. Enjoy your enthusiasm and your ideals while you can. For when you grow up and grow out into the world you’ll see how foolish your ideas actually were.’ And the trouble is, young people do grow up and grow away from their ideals. And that is one reason why the world into which they go gets better so slowly.” This is comforting to me in a way FDR would never have imagined.
I know plenty of adults with steady bank accounts but no direction, with flawless credit but little zeal for life. I see these people every day and, in my naïve and imprudent youth, I pity them. Maybe this is unjustified on my part, but I would choose my ignorant ideals over a life of stubborn pattern. And if this is foolish than I’m a fool.
Because maybe I already am an adult. Maybe I’m exactly the kind of adult this world, in its torn and angry condition, needs. Maybe I can juggle adult pains like bills and taxes and wrinkles and still keep my ideals with me, still fight for the better cause, still expect man to rise above his predecessors. Maybe I can believe in kindness and compassion even when the IRS won’t show me any. Maybe I can keep hope, because really, that’s all ideals are. Hope. And I believe that no matter how old I am, fifty-two, twenty one, eighty-five, no matter how much my chronological age classifies me as an “adult”, I will still have hope. This I believe.
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