In my continuous attempts to better myself, in searching for new sources of learning, I’ve had to look back at the trajectory of growth from childhood into adulthood, if only to assess where I stand now. Truth be told, I am struggling to accept my transition from growing up to growing old, and I am freaking out because I feel like I should have accomplished more by now. My friends, and dear ones they are, insist that I have accomplished plenty, but how are they to know where I am on my journey? What is the relative journey to which they are comparing mine, and how does one decide they’ve done enough?
You spend the first few years of your life asking questions about life, not knowing it is called life, not knowing what consequences are, or even that they exist. Sometimes, the answers you seek are so complex, especially to an adult mind, that they would overwhelm your tiny noggin and wouldn’t make any sense, so they say: “you’ll understand when you grow up”. What they don’t tell you is that there is no such thing, and yet they lead you to believe that it’s a sort of destination that will come with age. Well, that’s not true either.
How do you wear a sanitary pad? What is virginity for? Where does dandruff come from? Why can’t my brother hold a tune, but I can? Why is he better than me at other things? How do you know your friend is really a friend? What is a friend? Am I gay because boys don’t like me?
Your world starts off black and white, and then, as you begin to get the hang of it, just when you think you’ve got it, it shifts under you like a monster in its sleep, and you realize there isn’t any black, nor white, but a grayscale in between, that appeared when you weren’t paying attention. That girlfriend you have, whom everyone is calling a slut because she has a boyfriend, isn’t really doing anything wrong, yet everyone is up in arms about it. That boy you like doesn’t think you’re worth a second glance, yet he likes the girl with the large boobs; well, there’s nothing you can do about that, is there? So you have one friend, and everyone else doesn’t care who you are; you can’t force them to like you – you’ve tried before and it did not work.
Who teaches you about these things? At first, parents. They tell you to pay no attention to what the other kids say, they tell you to mind your manners and speak the truth, they say to experiment with how to wear a sanitary pad because everyone is different and only you know what is best for yourself. Other times, they say – still – that you’ll understand when you grow up. But you don’t listen, and you blame them when they’re wrong, when they make mistakes of their own, and then you’re a teenager and you think you know everything there is to know. You’re such a rebel!
When I was very young, I thought a grown-up was an older person who was depressed and busy all the time, which is why it didn’t sound like a very good deal to me to become one; I also thought it would be inevitable, since I was told that I WILL understand someday, so I’ve spent my late teens dreading that I would become a grown-up. Then there were no more parents. I was on my own, of my own volition, in charge of my life, armed with everything I needed to know. It took a couple of years, but I couldn’t hold understanding off forever, so I began to see more and more cracks in the image I had of LIFE. The monster was twisting in its sleep again. I might have jabbed it by accident. Hindsight is so clear, isn’t it!? Looking back, I see the way my brain developed. The monster always stirred about the time they predict it does: when I realized I could think in my own head (I was in the bathroom thinking that I was thinking), when I realized it was wrong to judge (because I had just made the same “mistake”), and when I realized I was good at predicting consequences (and staying away from them).
It never stops. I’m still wondering if I’ve grown up. The realization that there was no destination “grown-up” hit me like cruel betrayal. I thought it would happen after I had stopped growing, but the only thing I found there was that I was growing old instead. You could no longer bounce a quarter off my ass, but I wasn’t done learning yet. How could that be?! How could they not tell me that I would grow old before I had grown up?
Learning is like catching knowledge out of the ether, when the conceptual connections you had not made before suddenly spark into existence, and everything is clearer than before. You can see all the way back in time, and look at all the colors you thought were tones of gray, and just black and white before that, and you marvel at your own ignorance. The kids didn’t care about you because you were the odd one out. That boy saw that too and picked the popular girl instead. The friend you had was a little odd herself and she got you, you spoke the same language. No, you are not gay, but you aren’t perfectly straight either. There is no such thing.
Learning never stops, the shifting becomes more subtle, each crack becomes a crevice, then a valley, easier to navigate when you can see where you’re going. You understand that you are but a speck in the grand scheme of things, surrounded by 7 billion other specks all going through exactly the same process. And when your parents can’t help guide you anymore, you find people who can, people whose path is more similar to yours, people who’ve had experiences that you hope/dread that you will have. And then there comes a time when you realize there is no more help. Older people, more experienced people, start to say things like: go ahead and see what happens; or: I wish I could tell you but I don’t know. That’s when you understand that everyone is on their own, learning as they go, and never stop. That same process you share with the rest of humanity behaves like a subatomic particle, the same, but with a completely unique path, one that can’t be reproduced.
You still keep close tabs on those whom you consider role-models, because you never know when they will make some massive discovery you never knew you needed. And you wish for eternal grandparents who have all the answers because they lived all the years, and they always have a cookie for you.
Learning is exciting, for it holds within the beauty of uncertainty. Never stop.