Growing up is a rather confusing process. All the people that I have met have only done so once, and there seems to be a crucial balance between remaining joyful and being mature. And there is a curious irony in the desire to be “grown up” because the more you attempt to act grown up, the more childishly desperate you actually become.
Some people seem to err on the side of “serious” grown up ideal, while others believe in the Peter Pan way of doing things and never releasing any of the childish habits.
On one certain weekend retreat about three years ago, I experienced that type of person who seemed to have what I like to call the Pan complex. It’s the kind of experience that is difficult to understand unless you hear the whole thing. So it goes like this:
During a lunch on the retreat, Bill came up to me with my friend Jason and asked if I wanted to go on a hike later on. We were at a nice mountain resort area and being the Boy Scout who had been in classes all weekend, I happily agreed.
Although I didn’t know Bill all that well, I already knew Jason from church. Jason is the sort of fellow who has an eternally scruffy chin and giddy aura about him. Something of an actor who can fit any role, no matter if it be a thickly-accented Russian comrade or squeaky-voiced Frodo, Jason had the sort of quick wit to fit the situation while having the slightly untrustworthy earnestness about promises. Overall, a steadily hilarious figure with a bent for serious considerations about the silliest things.
It wasn’t until after dinner they turned up and asked if I was ready for an “adventure.” Before I could get any solid answer from them, they declared that we were meeting outside the bunkhouse, and then they vanished.
Now the bunkhouse was set partially on a hill and partially on a platform that extended out from the hill. The overhang of the platform created a sort of darkened clearing with large wood pillars surrounding it.
So meeting with the band of adventurers (Bill, Jason and Dylan) outside the bunkhouse, I was promptly asked what kind of adventurer I wanted to be. Seeing my confusion, Bill gave me the download. He was a powerful wizard with a lightning wand, while Jason was an expert in hand-to-hand combat and Dylan was a swordsman.
Concluding that his party (he decided it was “his” somewhere along the way) needed more steel, Bill handed me a twig and dubbed me Dylan’s fellow swordsman.
Wondering if there was actually going to be real point in the deal, I asked what our quest was (unfortunately none of us had seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so the opportunity for that joke was lost).
“Monster hunting!” was the prompt answer. Without further ado, Bill marched us off to the cave formed by the overhanging platform of the bunkhouse. It was the strangely bright night like that of a full moon, so there was an illuminating sheen that covered everything.
Once at the entrance of the dim cave, Bill announced our first prey: the cannibal pixies.
I was really having doubts about the worthiness of my time and energy spent on this quest, but it was not long before Bill broke off his speech.
“Here they come!” He bellowed and lashed out with his staff with invisible lightening bursting out in imaginative glory.
Jason sprinted into the cave with a flying kick and began throwing devastating punches to the little beasties.
Dylan flicked his branch like a pro, spinning and ducking through the swarms of flying cannibal pixies.
The unheard roar of the desperate battle was intense, filled with clangs and pings of the bird-sized monstrosities.
Meanwhile, I wandered under the overhang with hesitancy. Hearing the focused grunts of my fellow combatants, I waved my stick around in a lazy circle, wondering how on earth these near 20-year-olds were creating such vivid images of the battle.
Jason paused mid-karate chop and turned to me.
“Whew! Pixies, dude. They’re kinda hard to see, aren’t they?” and with a slight grin he resumed his attacks.
Having finally defeated the fearsome pixies, Bill then led us in an ambush against werewolves. Apparently, if these werewolves bit someone, the victim would become a bloodthirsty vampire (I’m fairly sure that’s not how either of those mythologies work).
I was bitten. It was a sad and sudden transformation (no one other than Bill had seen it happen).
Right before he put me out of my misery with his obviously silver wand, I asked Bill one thing, possibly due to my biting state of mind: “Aren’t we a bit old to be playing this? Bill, you are literally 18 years old.”
“NO! Let me enjoy my childhood!” he screeched, tapping my heart and turning me into a friendly werewolf.
My next class started in the next 20 minutes, so I bid farewell to my fellow “hikers” and set off.
But it set me wondering: what does it really mean to grow up? There seem to be generally three schools of thought concerning the whole idea of “growing up.”
The first I like to call the “Mr. Banks and Mr. Darling School of Responsibility” (fans of Mary Poppins and Peter Pan will understand). Growing up is based on doing grown-up things, like working jobs and learning about money, and generally doing productive works by academic and corporate standards.
The second is, as I observed, “Bill’s Monster Slaying Academy.” The foundation is simple: only fun, no true responsibility, and driven by emotion.
Lastly, I most agree with Sir Robert Baden Powell’s philosophy with regard to growing up. He expresses parts of it thusly in thoughts about Boy Scouts: “Scouting is a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of a man” and “Vigorous Scout games are the best form of physical education because most of them bring in moral education.”
Here and in other quotes of his, Baden-Powell urges us to learn how to play children’s games as adults: with maturity, wisdom and merriment. We youth can only grow if we can act sensibly and smartly while having the same amount of joy, for what have we accomplished otherwise?
On one extreme is boredom and neutering of the very soul, and the other side of the scale has the moral and working value of chaff in the wind.
So let’s find the balance and stay full of merriment and joy while being the diligent and good workers that suit the ideals of growing up. Like most things in life, the best method seems to be found in moderation.