Yesterday we went to Chattanooga to celebrate K's birthday. He bought himself a gift, we ate at O'Charley's, then we went to Hamilton Place mall to browse a bit.
It was the first time I'd seen -- or heard of -- this store.
Who in the world wants to be 21 forever? Twenty-one-year-olds think they know everything but know nothing; they judge everyone around them for every perceived flaw they think they see; their footloose and fancy free lifestyle is self-absorbed and shallow; they believe that anything (or anyone) older than they is totally without value; they think they will live forever and thus endanger those around them . . .
What makes 21 attractive? Legal consumption of alcohol -- it's not called 20 Forever. The lack of responsibility -- few 21-year-olds these days are even married, much less parents; older than 21 would risk having to care for others. Being still bound up in video games and 10 movies a week and going out every night and expensive cups of coffee every day. Pleasing oneself, in other words, instead of growing up.
But it is a sad thing not to grow up. We were not born to stay foolish and self-absorbed; we were born to grow up and live in real community. The service given us by parents and others when we are children is meant to lead us to serve others, not give us the idea that others were created to serve us all our lives. The responsibilities of a full-time job, marriage, children, serving in a church and community: these are wholesome and satisfying in a way that living for self cannot ever be.
Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life that the life of the senses is never enough, we are never sated, always grasping for more and more; but the life of spirit satisfies, allows us to slow down and find life sweet. And the life of the spirit is the life of putting others -- God and neighbor -- above the self.
I'm always so moved and delighted to see many of our students here understanding this by the time they graduate -- knowing they do not want to be forever 21. May they be salt and light in an ever-darkening world, demonstrating the sweetness of service and satisfaction of growing up -- not to the dullness that the self-absorbed fear but to the adventure of genuine love and the bonds that only perseverance and commitment and shared purpose can ever create.