In Defense of Growing Up, Part Two

I wanted to continue off of my last post, “In Defense of Growing Up,” with a few more thoughts on the subject. Blog posts, they say, need to be short. I’ve learned that it takes me a few hundred pages to fully develop some ideas and discover what I really think—that’s why I am a novelist, after all. And it’s also why I read so much. I know it takes other people a while to fully depict complex and beautiful thoughts, too.

Of course, being a voracious reader has its downsides. The first one that comes to mind is that I find much of what I want to express has already been said in much better and coherent ways by much more intelligent and wise people than myself. I’ll share with you a case in point here. The day after I wrote my last post, I started reading George Macdonald’s The Princess and Curdie. And there it was: “The boy should enclose and keep, as his life, the old child at the heart of him, and never let it go. He must still, to be a right man, be his mother’s darling, and more, his father’s pride, and more. The child is not meant to die, but to be forever freshborn.”

Thank you, Mr. Macdonald. It took only three sentences to convey that idea wonderfully. After I read that, I couldn’t help but imagine the mic drop.

I was very happy to find that I agreed with one of my favorite authors on the subject. Though he doesn’t explicitly advocate for growing up, it is evident in that particular book. Curdie does grow up, and he takes on some rather serious and dangerous trials. It is only because he has grown older that he is given a great gift—the gift to perceive a person’s true nature by touching their hands. When he takes his mother’s hands, he sees them as the hands of a queen, untouched by hard work and age. When he takes the hand of the corrupt official, he sees himself suddenly holding a pig’s foot.

Of course, the story is fantasy, but it is evident that Curdie changes, gaining maturity and discernment. Those are his greatest weapons, and not, as you might suspect, the horde of demon creatures that he picks up in the wastelands. (If that sounds like your cup of tea, I do recommend giving it a read!) His adventure doesn’t end once he’s reached the end of childhood.

To me, story is one of the most important aspects of life. Sometime I’ll probably post a few thoughts on that topic, but for now, I’ll leave it at that. Story is vital. We find stories to teach ourselves what is good, what is life. We fold them in the deepest part of ourselves, in our hearts, without realizing it. And then we begin telling stories to ourselves:

If I had gotten my letter from Hogwarts, I would have become a great witch.

If I had possessed the Force, I would have become a powerful Jedi and saved hundreds of lives.

If I had found a magical wardrobe, I would have disappeared into Narnia and become a king.

But none of those things happened, so we wonder what is left. We might think, I am no longer a child, and I am too old for these wonders. But what we do not think is that these dreams are all based on what a child can do.

We believe that a child can defeat the most powerful dark wizard in the world. We believe that a single child can affect the balance of a universe. We believe that a child can save and rule a magical land.

But for some reason, we do not believe that adults can do these things. When we grow older, we lose talent, interest, passion, beauty, promise.

What a lie this is.

It is the second part of the problem of not wanting to grow up. If we think that the child we were is forever lost to us, then we think that it is too late for us to do anything world or life changing after we have left childhood. The story that we don’t often tell ourselves is that it takes time to change the world. It might take training, physical, emotional, or mental. It might take maturity and consideration. It might take endurance. It might take mastery—all of these things necessitate time. When we think of time as an enemy, we believe that this is a bad thing. But all of these are worthwhile, hard, and lovely.

It is a rough truth, particularly for those of us who are driven to finish jigsaw puzzles, but at no point in our lives do we reach completion. We do not stop changing and do not stop growing, but this means that it is never too late to work on yourself, to rediscover what’s around you, to get up again. It is never too late to change your mind or change a life, yours or someone else’s. Embrace what comes with time, and I hope that you will think of this from time to time. If we believe a child’s tiny hands can wield powerful magic and that a child can wear a noble crown and reign in justice and fairness, certainly we can believe that a child, grown up, can be a wonderful, fearsome creature indeed.

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