"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

05 August 2011

Forever 21? No, Thanks!

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.


dylan said...

Twenty-one: One of my worst birthdays and worst years! (Was kicked out of college, for one thing.)

Twenty-two: Slightly better. (I found myself re-churched, under the influence of our Cistercian friend Thomas Merton. Visited a monastery for a week!)

Forty-one was perhaps best of all (first birthday at my current outpost in placid suburbia)!

Anonymous said...

I very much understand what you are saying (this is Hannah Lee Johnson, by the way). You are right Dr. Impson, it is a flaw in the early 20s crowd to want to forever stay young. However, just to share from another perspective, I don't have all of the same feelings towards the store name that you mentioned. For me, my 21st birthday wasn't a big deal. I didn't go out and party all night, and the only drink I had was a virgin strawberry daiquiri at Chili's. I had a small party with my family and a few friends. But my memory of 21 is still a wonderful one. Not because I loved a life without responsibilities, but because I was on the eve of all of those exciting and important changes. The unknown of what I would do, where I would go, and all that life had for me was thrilling. I also lived with other women my age in some of the sweetest (but by no means easy) community I've had yet in my life. So while being forever 21 is wrong, I don't feel bad shopping at the store because 21 was a season in my life--and one that I look back on fondly. Would it be so bad to shop at a store that reminds someone like me of that time even though I am growing up?

Beth Impson said...

Tom, I love it!

Hannah, dear, you are not of the group I criticized in the post, of course -- you are one of those I commend in the final paragraph. The name just struck me as symptomatic of one of the terrible flaws of our culture, the refusal to grow up. (And I certainly don't care where anyone shops -- goodness! Well, I do myself boycott stores that I know are essentially pornographic or give out or sell that which is so. But I didn't even go into this store -- obviously none of their clothing would have fit me! -- and I certainly don't care whether or why you or anyone else might!)

R.T. said...

I think my twenty-fourth birthday will be much better than my twenty-first:

Twenty-first: Can buy handguns?

Twenty-second: Engaged.

Twenty-third: New job, new house. Married and expecting.

Twenty-fourth: New baby, new promotion.

I wouldn't want to be twenty-one. Not now, and definitely not forever!

Beth Impson said...

And every year will be better, Ross, in one way or another. Circumstances will of course sometimes be worse, maybe even much worse, but you'll have so much more in love and wisdom and fellowship.

Krispeva said...

Mrs. Impson, if you buy at Forever 21, look on the bottom of the bag... John 3:16 is posted on every single bag that goes out the door!

Anonymous said...

(Hannah Johnson again) Oh don't worry Dr. Impson, I didn't think you were criticizing me? It's just interesting to see how a name can strike so many people so differently. And it does make me sad that my generation doesn't want to grow up, really each new season brings such exciting changes and such new joys. :-)

Beth Impson said...

Kristen, that's nice -- but it doesn't make the store name's suggested worldview Christian! :)

Hannah -- like marriage? :)