Thoughts about Dependence on My Grandson’s First Independence Day

This morning I found myself thinking about my grandson’s first Independence Day: how he is growing, keen to learn and master the world, but also how he will react to the dazzle and display of fireworks. Thrilled, I’m sure, whenever he can stay up late enough to watch. And, I couldn’t help but wonder about an implicit trade-off as children begin to master the world, but perhaps lose some of its magic in the process.

My free association took me to a 1956 nighttime baseball game my uncle promised to take me to — take me to watch the great center fielder Mickey Mantle. I fairly burst with anticipation to monitor Mantle in a contest under the lights, the latter still a novelty for the adults and a first-time experience for me. I continue to enjoy baseball and have traveled to nearly 20 cities for games in ballparks old and new. But I’m not anymore the nine-year-old boy blown away by the idea — the impatient, invisible, excited expectation of attendance — or the youngster of a similar age on another occasion who was stunned by the color green and the expansive daytime beauty of Wrigley Field as I walked up to the concourse from the shadowy underworld of the old stadium, feeling as if I were in a better place — as if the gates of heaven opened for me.

We become more experienced, more confident, and wiser while losing a bit of the thrill of accomplishment. You notice the growing security in any small child and the tenacity and curiosity driving it, but he can’t yet imagine his adult self who will be more used to things, less overwhelmed; a person who, having “seen it all,” won’t get as excited, stimulated, and intoxicated. Perhaps, in part, that’s why we drink or drug to mimic the feelings of a world from which the cellophane wrapper has just been removed.

The little one is so desperate to get away. Yes, he checks over his shoulder to assure himself that the parent has his back, but eventually no longer checking and no longer wanting to be checked, supervised, reigned in. Freedom and competence and recklessness rule. Later come maturity and jadedness, too. We are like toothpaste out of the tube, pristine for a moment, then losing something hard to define. The rewards of the life of one who has broken free are different, more dependable and therefore more essential, but less remarkable and joyous. The colors are duller.

Perhaps, as adults, some of us go places not seen and seek the thrill of a fresh relationship with a younger body to recapture the old intensity: an unconscious effort to touch an uninnocent-innocent in the hope her relative newness will rub off.

Our mature challenge is to make the day new, a bigger effort than for the 10-month-old for whom it simply is new.

But, little boy, I’m sure you wouldn’t be happy as a forever dependent oldster, even for all the moments of untarnished delight joined to your present dependency. Yours is the wonder of a life of constant enlightenment and unfolding, but there is no profit in perpetual incapacity, of reliance on your parents. You must know this deep down because you work so hard to escape it and enter an existence full of mastery achieved at the expense of routine.

One of the happiest memories of my life took place after being taken to a drive-in movie by my parents. It was not only the first film I’d ever seen and the first outdoor movie I’d ever attended, but 3-D to boot! You had to wear special glasses to get the effect, of course. (The trailer above displays an over-the-top promotion of said entertainment: The House of Wax).

I possess little memory of the video. What I do recall is the ride home in the family Chevrolet. The horizontal, seven-year-old version of myself drifted into that Neverland between waking and sleep on the pre-seat-belted bench behind my parents. I was as content as I have ever been, fully confident of having mom and dad to myself (since my two little brothers were back home with a sitter) in the days when I still thought of my elders as Zeus and Hera, god and goddess of the universe. I was sure of being taken care of: safe, serene, and inexpressibly happy, as though a fairy god-mother had touched me with her wand.

I have no advice for the little guy who will visit our home today: it would make no impact on his not-yet-perfected word processor-mind. But if my experience would make a difference, I’d say this:

Don’t grow up too fast, tiny man. Your parents will never again be so young, handsome, and wonderful. You will never be loved with more self-sacrificing intensity. The sparklers on this still dependent Independence Day will never so astonish you.

Seize the day, now and forever.

How We Grow Up — Confused

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We grow up by inches. The pencil marks on the wall measure our lengthening.

Or perhaps we grow up by pinches: the painful squeeze some adults perform on us, unasked. They reach for a cheek, grab skin between thumb and curled index finger, then tug. They smile and say something complimentary. Confusion follows. The friendly face and the pain are at odds. What we make of the event informs our understanding of love.

Did anything similar happen to you? A young person can miss how language sometimes disguises the infliction of injury. The smiling words say, in effect, nothing is wrong. Stress results. Some children reduce their anxiety by ignoring the contradiction between words and deeds. A blind spot is thus born.

Too bad. The immediate relief of your worrisome thought (“He doesn’t love me”) sets you up for greater harm. You become unable to distinguish those who hurt you from others who are genuinely loving. You’ve been conditioned to accept that an excruciating squeeze signals something good, at least occasionally — even though your nerve endings tell you otherwise.

Life requires us to make sense of nonsense. Our youthful minds are confounded. Who and what are we to believe?

I was probably under 10-years-old when my dad first took me to a White Sox game at old Comiskey Park in Chicago. He found a space for our Chevrolet on a street near the stadium.

A small boy about my age rode up on his bicycle.

“Watch your car for a quarter, mister?”

“No, thanks,” answered dad.

We walked toward the giant steel and brick amphitheater.

“Why would we need our car watched?” I asked my father.

“Protection. He was selling ‘protection’ — that something would ‘happen’ to the car if we didn’t pay him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He or one of his buddies might damage the Chevy.”

“Are you afraid they will?”

“No. Don’t worry.”

The car survived unscathed. Remember, though, we lived in Chicago. I learned my town was a place where mobsters once sold shopkeepers an adult-sized version of protection: pay us every month or we will wreck your business, destroy your merchandise, break your legs. What I’d seen was a mini-version of an Al Capone universe, all disguised as a proper business deal: standing guard over dad’s property, providing him a service. A contradiction again. Like the squeeze your relative expects you to believe is a sign of love, the protection offered was no protection.

You wet your bed. The parent screams at you.

“You’re too old for this. Look at the mess you made. Now your mom has to wash the sheet and covers again!

Mom comforts you.

“Dad didn’t mean it. He was frustrated. He did it for your own good. Your father really loves you.”

Really? Love = screaming? Since the math doesn’t work, you choose one or the other. Love feels better. When you are yelled at again will you believe you are loved? The worse for you if you do. Especially later.

By adulthood, friends are puzzled.

“How can you let him do that to you? You’re too good for him. You’re beautiful and smart. Why do you stay with him?”

We are misled by those whose unkindness is hidden by smoke and mirrors. They can be understood only by a fog-piercing X-ray vision we don’t possess. If blinders to inconsistency are put on early, they turn invisible, but still restrict our sight. Incomprehension becomes automatic, unconscious.

No wonder we go to therapists. No wonder they say, “Tell me about your childhood.”

The top image is Scolding by José Ferraz de Almeida, Jr. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Maturity: Ten Steps To Get You There

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As children we cannot wait to grow up. Time is the enemy. Our pint size and inexperience — not to mention our elders — tell us that we are not ready yet; ready for all the things we’d like to do.

Soon after our chronology reaches double-digits we want to drive and drink and date. We want to be independent. We want to be taken seriously; to do the right thing, to flee the coop.

Time stands in the way, like an implacable Big Ben, blocking our path. Its clock-faces look down like some sort of gigantic, elongated, menacing owl, hovering over our air space. Well, nothing we can do about that. But what can we do to achieve maturity? Surely, just waiting to get older isn’t enough. And age, by itself, is no guarantee of wisdom.

Joseph Conrad’s novella The Shadow Line: A Confession deals with just that: the kind of experience without which one remains innocent of oneself and the world no matter what your age; the kind of experience that is informative and transformative of one’s character. In other words, that brings maturity.

Conrad’s narrator is a young man, a seaman, with no one to look out for but himself. He is impulsive and makes important decisions without quite knowing why. He is easily offended and uncertain of his proper place in the company of others. He wants to get on with things, at the point in his life where:

…one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth, too, must be left behind.

What he will confront — indeed, what he needs to confront — is a crisis at sea with an enemy no less implacable than Time. It is Mother Nature he will face, and the things that can happen when water and air and all the uncontrollable elements conspire to frustrate the lives of men. And he will feel much older because of it:

It seems to me that all my life before that momentous day is infinitely remote, a fading memory of light-hearted youth, something on the other side of a shadow.

In the space of three weeks Conrad’s unnamed protagonist is changed by his match with adversity. But what if you are not a seaman challenged by the Godless waters? What might you do to hasten maturity’s arrival? A few things come to mind:

  • Try things that are new and difficult for you. Will you suffer? Yes. Will you fail? Sometimes. But if you keep at it, you will grow from the experience. Keeping only to the tried and true will teach you little.
  • Question authority. No, this doesn’t mean throwing rocks and breaking the law. It means asking yourself whether you should believe all that you’ve been “told.” For example, is your religion the one and only “true” religion? Are your parents good models of how to live? Does your political party have a monopoly on truth? Does material wealth bring happiness? Is technology making your life better? Remember, the crowd isn’t always right.
  • Reflect on yourself, your character, and your behavior. Take an unflinching look at yourself, who you are, and who you want to be as a person rather than as someone of a certain rank or job title. Ask yourself why you keep doing things that don’t work very well. Look at how much of your decision process and conduct is performed on auto-pilot, fixed on a course that was set long ago.
  • Compete, especially in team sports. It is said that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” thus referring to the character-building that can happen in team sports played in places like Eton College, an independent boarding school. Pulling for and working with a team of almost any kind is an opportunity to grow as a person. You cannot become mature as a solo-act.
  • Be open to experience and what it can teach. This means you have to be prepared to have your attitudes changed by what you observe (especially of yourself) and what you participate in; and that you have to go out and “have” experiences (including passionate ones), not just read about them or watch them on TV or simulate them via the computer. Beware of electronic signals and noises, cell phones and computer screens that tweet and squawk and bother and bewilder you with things that usually aren’t important. Rather, as Epictetus suggested, be a spectator of yourself and achieve understanding that way.
  • Be open to others. Allow yourself to become close to a few others, not so defended against what they might do to you that you are marooned in a fortress of your own design. You will be fooled and sometimes you will be hurt, but it is hard to mature without the experience of intimacy. And without the joys that come with human contact.
  • Take responsibility. Don’t always be a follower. Develop a sense of leadership and be willing to accept at least some responsibility for your failures, in or out of leadership positions. As Cassius said in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
  • Alter your default tendencies. If you are prone to act impulsively, slow down and become more reflective. If you are prone to looking back, try to look forward. If you anxiously await the future, set yourself the task of living more in the moment. None of this comes easily, but the practice of mindfulness meditation can often help.
  • Determine what is most important in your life, commit to it, and “live it.” I have an old friend with whom I sometimes differ on political questions. Nonetheless, I admire him enormously for “living” his beliefs. For example, he is a staunch advocate of the sanctity of life, a position founded on a deep religious faith. He not only defends this position, but has spent much of his adult life taking unwanted children into his home and sometimes adopting them. I am in awe. He has committed to something much bigger than himself.
  • Supplement your experience with reading. I’m talking here about the women and men of great ideas who lived in a quieter world: Virginia Wolfe, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Plato, Epictetus, and others. But be aware that however great their writing, you will not appreciate them (and learn from them) nearly so much until you have done some living. Their words are dead until they are infiltrated by the events, motives, and meanings that you know first hand.

A young man or woman will profit if he looks at life like a funnel. Begin at the wide end, taking in everything, investigating many things. Sample the riches that nature and civilization have provided for you. Once you have begun to establish your values, what is important to you, and what you are good at, narrow your focus. Make some choices. Concentrate on perfecting  your chosen craft and devoting your time to fewer things in greater depth.

At some point you will have to discover whether “God is in the details” or “the devil is in the details.” But if your approach to work is slapdash and casual, I doubt that even the devil will care. Discipline matters and you cannot be mature unless you both know its importance and “show” that you know by putting it into practice.

One final thought. If maturity, aka wisdom, is your aim, be aware that you must never stop learning, never stop growing, never stop deepening the capacities of head and heart. Life is rich. Spend your time well. There is never enough. Once over “the shadow-line,” you are free to roam.

The top image is a 2004 photo of Big Ben at Dusk by Andrew Dunn, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Be Careful Who You Mess With

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Stewart had a way with words. You pretty much had to if your name was Stewart Slonimsky and you were the nerdiest kid in your class. He was a little bit of a lot of things you didn’t want to be: a little bit awkward, a little bit overweight, a little bit short, a little bit shy, and a little bit funny-looking because of his coke-bottle-thick horn-rimmed glasses.

Kids made fun of his name early and late. Even in the first few grades the boys would mock him as he walked by. Small groups made a sibilant “ssssssssss” sound under their breath, imitating the S.S. initials that Stewart’s parents Steve and Sonia Slonimsky stuck him with. It was just loud enough for Stu to hear it, but not loud enough so that teachers and other adults would catch on. Then, when TV taught everyone the meaning of “SS,” Hitler’s Schutzstaffel corp of war criminals, Stewart would get lots of “Heil Hitler!” shouts on the playground, as the bullies shot their right arms out at him in the Nazi salute.

Stewart’s superior brain saved him. As time passed he learned to disarm his oppressors with a few words. When Dominic Dallessandro, all brawn and no brains, gave Stewart a hard time, Stewart nicknamed him “Dim Dom” and threatened something worse, ending Dom’s taunts; and when Frank “Julie” Julianovich did the Hitler SS thing, Stu called him “Family Jewels,” and alluded to inadequacies pertaining to his sexual equipment that got big laughs even from “Julie’s” buddies. Yes, Stewart had perfected the art of flaying his opponents with his tongue, inflicting injuries greater than any physical harm they might threaten him with. By the second year in high school no one messed with Stu anymore.

Ironically enough, Stu was a passably likeable person if you were on his good side, willing to help if your homework was too challenging. But the praise he got from teachers and the admiration of his intellect from his peers went to his head. By the last two years of high school, Stewart could be fairly described as rather full of himself. His opinions sounded like proclamations from on high. Fools were not suffered gladly. If you didn’t have as much brain power as he did, Stu could be disdainful and dismissive, rarely willing to give you the time of day; the kind of kid who, just with a look, communicated “I can do something really hard and you can’t.”

My friend’s parents kept his ego pretty well pumped-up. Both were graduates of the University of Chicago, an elite school known to attract people who were both super-bright and rather odd. Humility didn’t come easily to them and they believed Stewart was just as special as they were. Moreover, mom and dad Slonimsky talked publicly about unconventional ideas that, for the 1960s, were pretty shocking. One dinner at their home featured a discussion of nudist colonies and “free love.” Mr. Slonimsky even asked me what I thought about the latter. The only thing the 16-year-old virgin version of myself could say was, “You mean it usually costs something?”

As I said, most instructors were enamored of Stu. He made their classes exciting and, if the teachers were smart enough they enjoyed the intellectual repartee he triggered — the back and forth jousting between people who see things from different and novel angles. All this only encouraged his willingness to offer ideas that no one else dared to utter.

An English class essay topic gave Stewart’s imagination free rein. We were required to write about anything that “would make the world a better place to live.” It was the kind of question that one heard asked to finalists in the Miss America Pageant. The teacher was Miss Elvira Thompson, a throw-back to the nineteenth century who had clearly given up even the pretense of teaching creatively some years before. She was hardened, straight-laced, priggish, close to retirement, and obviously hated her job. She looked a little bit like this:

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Predictably for 1963, most kids wrote about nuclear disarmament, better race relations, a cure for cancer, and the like. But not Stewart. We knew something had happened when Miss Thompson made an announcement as a prelude to handing back the papers, just a few minutes before the end of our next class.

“Class, usually I don’t like to single out one student for special comment, but this is an exception. One of you has written an essay so different and unorthodox that everyone in the class should know of it as an example: an example for you not to follow. It is possibly the worst paper of its kind I’ve had the displeasure to read in 40 years of teaching.”

Thompson took a deep breath and paused, her face contorting as she searched for adjectives disgusting enough to describe her visceral reaction to the essay. Apparently, words failed her. She began to pass the papers back to us and then said, “Mr. Slonimsky, see me after class. The rest of you are dismissed.”

I waited outside the room for Thompson to finish with him. We walked to lunch together, though Stewart looked like he’d already eaten it — eaten something really unappetizing. His expression was blank and his skin, never full of color, more pasty than usual.

“What happened?”

“She said that she thinks I’m sick, crazy, and disturbed; actually, the sickest, craziest, and most disturbed student she has ever had. She said it’s the most offensive paper she’s ever read. She wants me to go to a shrink.”

“What could you have written to get her so upset?”

Slonimsky looked straight ahead and jammed his left fist toward me. I extricated the crumpled paper from his hand. At the top of it, in red pencil, was the grade: F-. I started to read it as we sat down to lunch.

SOMETHING TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE

by

Stewart Slonimsky

I believe the world would be a much superior place in which to live if every school, office building, home, park, and recreation area were equipped with a masturbation machine. The device would resemble a Coca-Cola dispenser from the outside. It would be self-cleaning and self-sterilizing. Once having inserted the price of $1.00 in coins into the machine (and depending upon your sex, height, weight, and age) you would then insert…

Stewart interrupted me and began to sputter.

“See! She didn’t like it. She didn’t even get to the part about it relieving frustration; lowering the rate of mental illness, venereal disease, and divorce; minimizing violence and cutting down on out-of-wedlock births and abortions. She ignored the fact that it would make the world a happier place! What’s with her, anyway? She probably thinks masturbation is a sin, makes you go blind, and crap like that. I mean, look at this: all these big red ‘Xs’ after the word ‘insert.’ A lot of nerve she’s got!”

I could not argue with Stewart. No one could ever successfully argue with Stewart. Doubtless, there was something worthwhile about the idea. But expecting Miss Thompson to appreciate it, a woman who probably hadn’t permitted herself a sexual impulse since before the Great Depression, represented a big misjudgment. That was Stewart. His ideas, he thought, were self-evidently brilliant and everyone should accept them without any hesitation.

Stewart’s parents supported him, of course. They even complained about the teacher to the principal. But, those were the days before parents felt empowered to make demands and engage legal counsel. Miss Thompson was on her way to retirement by the end of the year anyway. Elvira Thompson survived and so did Stewart, who was already seen as peculiar if brilliant by his classmates. He wasn’t required to go to a psychiatrist in the end. But every so often Stewart would comment at lunch about “that bitch Elvira Thomson.” He didn’t forget and he didn’t forgive.

I lost track of Stewart after graduation. We went to different colleges about a thousand miles apart. He proved to be an engineering and technology guy. I was more into psychology and history.

If you do some research you will discover that Stewart was ahead of his time when he wrote his essay. A number of manufacturers do make masturbation machines today. They started about 20 years after Stewart first had the idea, with crudely assembled rubber hoses and vacuums that were converted from floor-model home vacuum cleaners.

In thinking back to that time, I actually searched Stewart out on the internet. It turns out the Stu had the last laugh. He became an inventor and made a fortune. As you’ve probably guessed, one of his products is indeed a masturbation machine, although much smaller, portable, and less public than the “coke machine” version he first wrote about. It looks pretty sleek, actually. On the side of it there is the picture of a sexy and alluring woman, the sort of female, I suppose, that a man might fantasize about “in the act” of using the device.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention that the machine has a name. It is called the “Elvira T. Dominatrix Masturbation Dream Maker: Pleasure Dome Model.”

In case you are wondering, there is no “Stewart Slonimsky.” What you’ve just read is a work of fiction. The top image is Berlin Masturbation Machine art exhibit, 3/27/11 by user:Ctac. It is followed by Head of an Old Woman, probably a nurse, ca. the third or second century B.C; artist unknown, photographed by Jastrow. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Signs of Maturity: What Does It Mean to “Grow Up?”

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“Oh, grow up!” Is there anyone who didn’t hear some version of this humiliating admonition as a kid? Often voiced by another kid, or some chronologically mature person who probably needed to “grow up” himself.

Still, it does raise an important question: what does it mean to grow up? What qualities are present in those people we respect for their maturity?

Although it may not be very humble to do so, let’s start with the quality of humility. And its important to remember that humility is not identical to a lack confidence. Rather, it involves the recognition that in the big picture of the universe, you are a very, very small part. That is to say, unless your name is one that ranks with Einstein or Beethoven, virtually no one will know your name in a hundred years.

As Goethe put it, “Names are like sound and smoke.” They disappear that easily. Humbling indeed. You probably aren’t as important as you think you are.

Which means, of course, that your problems, at least most of them, aren’t that important either. The ability to recognize that most problems are transitory and only temporarily bothersome is another sign of maturity. Now, I’m not talking about brain cancer here, but the more garden-variety ups and downs of life. It sometimes helps weather them to realize that you will care little if anything about those difficulties in five years or even five months.

No, as the saying goes, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.” Or, at least most of it.

Another important quality of being a grown-up, I think, is to have a balance between your head and your heart. We all know people who are way out of balance — those who claim to be imperturbably logical like the Mr. Spock-type Vulcans from Star Trek and others who come apart at the smallest disappointment or frustration, letting their emotions whip them around like a passenger on a “tilt-a-whirl” amusement park ride.

Emotions are there for a reason; the pain of them needs to be attended to, lest you leave your hand on the stove’s burner because nature didn’t inform you to remove that hand. Equally, your head is required to have good judgment and learn from experience, to be cool under fire, and to forge ahead in spite of fear.

In other words, balance is a sign of maturity. Balance of head and heart, work and play, action and contemplation, passion and repose. Socrates said that one should be grateful to old-age that the passions rule us less. But do not live a life without passion, especially when you are young enough to enjoy it! He also said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And so maturity requires some thought about your life, where you’ve been and where you are going, why you have done what you’ve done, what worked and what didn’t, and what lies ahead. It requires an unflinching look in the mirror and the intention to improve.

That means, of course, that being a “grown-up” demands that one has learned something from experience and continues to learn more as experience unfolds. My friend Henry Fogel has said, “I like to make new mistakes!” Meaning, naturally, that there is no point in repeating the same old ones.

Another friend, Rich Adelstein, once told me that he thought that if he were able to figure out the solutions to his then-current problems (he was 50 at the time), he believed that he could simply keep living in the same fashion, using the same solutions to confront whatever was ahead of him. But, he rightly realized, that there would be new problems requiring new solutions, and that the version of himself that faced those new problems would be older and different, and therefore might see things quite a bit differently than the 50-year-old version.

This is an example of maturity, along with a signpost to some of its characteristics, including the need to change, the ability and willingness to be flexible, and the awareness that learning along the way is required. Rich was able to change, and to change his mind about the need to change.

What other qualities might be present in the mature, “grown-up” person? Confidence and the capacity for self-assertion, certainly; the ability to laugh, and to laugh at yourself, not at the expense of others; to take risks and do things that might be hard or embarrassing or scary or frustrating until you master them; to be independent in thought and deed, not to follow the crowd or require a caretaker or someone to make decisions for you; and of course, the capacity for intimacy and love, knowing all the while that embracing others makes you vulnerable to loss.

An additional aspect of wisdom that is usually related to age is having a sense of what is worth fighting for and what is not. There are more than enough battles worth joining in this imperfect world, but one cannot take on all of them without battling 24 hours a day, an exhausting and impossible prospect. And so, maturity requires sufficient knowledge of oneself and the world to make decisions about standing fast or standing aside; holding to principle or being willing to compromise. And accepting that sometimes we will be defeated.

So, yes, being a grown-up means accepting the world on its terms: that loss and disappointment, in causes and in people, are an inevitable part of  life, and that to defend too strongly against them deprives you of the most important and precious things that life has to offer: the thrill and camaraderie of fighting the good fight; and at a more personal level, love, closeness, tenderness, and the acceptance and affection that can only come from unguardedness. To live as if your heart has never been broken and never can be, then, shows both maturity and courage.

Responsibility-taking is another part of being mature, admitting that “yes, it was I who made the mistake.” We all heard the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree a long time ago, and it is entirely about responsibility-taking and honesty. And, as that reference might suggest, honesty is no small part of the “grown-up” life. As the sages say, it simplifies life enormously to be honest. Too many people justify their dishonesty by claiming that they are trying to spare someone else’s feelings. Don’t be deceived. Usually it is much more self-serving than that.

Back to humility, where we started. Part of being mature is having the humility to realize that you too might, “but for the grace of God,” be in someone else’s less advantageous spot, and that therefore they should be judged less harshly for whatever they have done or whatever has happened to them, or perhaps not judged at all.

Maturity means cherishing the quiet moments as much as the thrills. And, most definitely, it means living in the moment, mindful of everything, trying not to get caught up in hoping it were different (even though you might well be justified in doing so); allowing yourself to stay centered where you are in time, rather than to be looking back or forward while the irreplaceable, unrepeatable instant of your life passes by.

Look back too much and you will be caught in the sadness of  time-past and unfulfilled longings and regrets, while missing what is possible in the present. Similarly, living in the future tends to generate anxiety in anticipation of what may come, and deprives you of the same present moment that passes by those who are looking back at yesterday.

Accepting and liking oneself is a part of being a grown-up. Not that you don’t need to or want to change, but to appreciate what is good about yourself and to accept some of the inevitable limitations to which all of us are prone. Not to avoid self-improvement, but to avoid self-denigration.

To be a grown-up means living a principled life, one with a commitment to certain values, and to put those values to work, not just in words, but in deeds. As the AA crowd likes to say, “Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.” And those principles, those values, must be informed by the fact that we are all mortal, all in-transit, but that the planet and the human race are here (we hope) for the long haul. We are “just visiting” as the Monopoly board reminds us when we land on a certain space. The game will outlast us and so will life on this planet, if we don’t mess it up.

In putting those commitments to work, we must actually do work. Freud was right when he pointed to love and work as the essential organizing forces in any life. If you are mature, unless you are aged or infirm, there is work to be done. Life is made more interesting and engaging by doing it, too. The mature person is not simply a spectator in the game of life.

At least one other quality should be mentioned in this pantheon of qualities in the house of maturity: gratitude. Appreciation of what you do have and appreciation of simple things: a beautiful day, the affection of your children, the ability to do things, a touching song or story, and good friends — all the stuff of life that is too easily dismissed.

Let the last words on the subject of being a grown-up (and much more) go to Adlai Stevenson II, in his 1954 speech at the senior class dinner of his Alma Mater, Princeton University. These 55-year-old words spoken by the 54-year-old Stevenson are as appropriate now as then:

…What a man knows at fifty that he did not know at twenty is, for the most part, incommunicable. The laws, the aphorisms, the generalizations, the universal truths, the parables and the old saws — all of the observations about life which can be communicated handily in ready, verbal packages — are as well-known to a man at twenty who has been attentive as to a man at fifty. He has been told them all, he has read them all, and he has probably repeated them all before he graduates from college; but he has not lived them all.

What he knows at fifty that he did not know at twenty boils down to something like this: The knowledge he has acquired with age is not the knowledge of formulas, or forms of words, but of people, places, actions — a knowledge not gained by words but by touch, sight, sound, victories, failures, sleeplessness, devotion, love — the human experiences and emotions of this earth and of oneself and other men; and perhaps, too, a little faith, and a little reverence for things you cannot see…

To my way of thinking it is not the years in your life but the life in your years that count in the long run. You’ll have more fun, you’ll do more and you’ll get more, you’ll give more satisfaction the more you know, the more you have worked, and the more you have lived. For yours is a great adventure at a stirring time in the annals of men.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/64/Whirling_Dervishes_2.JPG/500px-Whirling_Dervishes_2.JPG

On the subject of maturity, you may find this of related interest: Youth vs. Experience and Maturity: Who Has the Edge?

You may be interested in this topic, as well: Maturity: Ten Steps To Get You There.

The top image is Mevlevi Dervishes Perform, created by K?vanc and sourced from Wikimedia Commons. According to the Wikimedia site, the Mevlevi Order is a Sufi order founded in 1273 in Konya, Turkey. “They are also known as the Whirling Dervishes due to their famous practice of whirling as a form of dhikr (remembrance of Allah).”

“Dervish is a term for an initiate of the Sufi Path… The Dervishes perform their dhikr in the form of a dance and music ceremony called the sema. The sema represents a mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to ‘Perfect(ion).’ Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth and arrives at the ‘Perfect.’ He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity (hence my use of the picture for this essay) and a greater perfection, so as to love and be of service to the whole of creation.”

The bottom photo is the work of shioshvilli and apparently depicts Whirling Dervishes performing the sema ceremony at the Sirkeci Railway Station in Istanbul, Turkey on June 10, 2006. It is also sourced from Wikimedia Commons.