What Is The Adolescent Age?
"So, teenage angst for you?," said the Wise Woman stirring the pot before her. Whatever it was, it smelled good.
I sniffed the air secretly, but I think she caught me at it, because she paused a moment before going on.
Moment ...MOM. ent .. I had never maid the connection before.
She laughed across the room. "I guess this is working well enough," she said and placed the lid over the pot so it could simmer while we talked.
"Life is full of surprises," she started, "and the age of adolescence is the biggest time for them. Your life expands beyond the walls of your home and the borders of the backyard or the neighborhood block where you spend most of your time. It starts when you are allowed to escape the limits of the safe environment and venture out unaccompanied by family ... to start exploring and experiencing on your own."
I smiled, remembering the first time I dared to stray out and have my first adventure trespassing into the forbidden backyard of a neighbor's abandoned house. I could still feel a bit of the excitement and the daring of entering the unknown and the pull of the fence wire tearing my shirt.
"Did you have one of those experiences?" I asked, curious more than I wanted to admit.
"Yes. Mine was staying out late, after it was dark, and finding out punishment was a scolding because of the worry I caused .. not because it was so awful. And I was drawn to adventure into the underground storm drains during the hot dry summers .. once or twice ... before I grew too big to squeeze through the entrance ... and too sensible about the likelihood of getting lost or stuck down there." Her smile told me there was more to the story.
"I learned a great lesson when the ragtag bunch of neighborhood kids were down there the second time. Some of the smaller kids were falling behind ... and the others just wanted to move on and leave them behind to find their own way. In the dark, that can be scary, not knowing your way. The older kids seemed not to care. And I learned the valuable lesson of choosing with care who you choose to go exploring with, rely on and put your trust in to see you safely home. To this day, it remains with me ... the need for a buddy you trust with your life ... when you go scuba diving or traveling around the universe ... or anywhere else in the Unknown, for that matter."
She laughed, realizing she had gotten off the subject, but I was more curious and satisfied than ever. What exactly was she cooking up?
"Back to Life Age Two, when it feels like your life really begins."
"The world is a place of adventure, surprises, secrets, knowledge and mysteries .. just waiting to be explored, experienced, known and mastered. Like an oyster, it waits to be discovered, opened up and savored ... or at least that is the underlying sense of it ... although most adults have lost the ability to see and experience the World that way." Her sad smiled hinted at more.
"Your closest companions change from caregivers to friends, schoolmates buddies and your first real girl friends and boy friends. Each day is now full of tasks .. things to be learned and mastered ... and sleep starts to become troubled with dreams about fitting in, being accepted and popular. Our eyes, ears, hands, toes and tongues start exploring the world of others ... seeking to see the world through their eyes, dipping out toes into the camp of our enemies, handing in school assignments , and dodging the wagging tongues of the gossips who stake out their turf."
I nodded, remembering my high school years feeling awkward and shunned by the popular crowd.
"You start to explore the dynamics of relationships outside the family, trying out what works and discovering what does not with friends, teachers and schoolmates. Now is when play acting really begins ... as we take up and cast off roles, searching for who we really are ... and what we are meant to be ding with our lives. If we work at it, our life calling comes and whispers in our ear and gives us clues. But our attention is grabbed by all the things in the world, seeking to find the things, activities, people, and places we love so we can focus on them. And far too often, we are either labeled and stuck in a role as the 'cheerleader', 'track star', 'math wiz', 'science geek' ... or worse, given no label at all and left to wander clueless.
"Each day brings us new experiences , new tests and trials ... in friendship, love, courage and honesty. We struggle to figure out who we want to become ... what we want to believe in .. what our lives are about ... and what the culture and our generation expects of us -- and whether we are willing to do that, gladly or reluctantly.
"Few of us master all the critical tasks ... learning the basic skills of life, discovering our life path, understanding our life calling and purpose, figuring out what our potential is, and learning the basic life lessons of love and friendship."
I had to grin, although there was a bit of pain and sadness behind it. "That describes me to a T. I was pretty much clueless in high school -- I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to become."
"I know," she said gently. "It was obvious from the look in your eyes."
I sat for a moment absorbing that. Was I so obvious?
"Not at all, I just know what to look for," she answered.
"The challenges are where most people struggle," she said. "Learning the unwritten rules of the culture, which might differ radically from those of your family ... making mistakes right in front of your peers and friends ... struggling with accepting yourself in a world that wants you to be somebody else ... dealing with the choice of staying within the safety of the herd or striking out on your own -- all these are huge challenges for someone struggling to find themselves and their thing in life."
"So, can you ever go back? Ever right the wrongs? Ever make up for lost time if you were lost in high school and college?" I asked because I seriously wanted to know.
"The trick, is to try and catch yourself early ... find the tools and wisdom you need to figure things out at the right time in your life, before you start down the road in life. But if you can't do that ... if time and graduation moves you on ... before you have figured this stuff out .... it will affect your life, hamstring you into making choices that may fit somebody else better than you. There is no doubt about it. And you see people everyday, all around you, who end up doing things for a living and living places they would never have willing chosen ... if they had what their options were, early on.
"So ... no, you can not go back and right those wrongs. But you can understand them, come to peace with them, and then do better than make up for lost time. You can take all of your experiences, even if they are off the beaten track of your path in life ... the one you were meant to be on ... and turn them into something worthwhile, something unique and valuable. "
I laughed. Turn all my mistakes into something valuable? More likely it was best tossed onto the garbage heap. Was my life a garbage heap? Is that what I was saying?
"Every experience in life is valuable .. every experience has something to teach you ... insights into what you love or where there is danger and pain ... fodder for feeding your life calling and purpose. Granted," she said, seeing me wince, "there are some experiences that are worth their weight in gold that you would never knowingly sign up for ... things like a job from hell or a life threatening disease ... but there are no wrong paths .... wrong turns and dead ends and shortcuts that end up making you feel lost and alone and worthless ... but the path you choose is yours ... and contains the things and experiences you need."
I had to wince again, remembering a few wrong turns that had taken years to discover. "Are you sure?" I asked.
"Yes ... pretty sure. Wrong turns show you the importance of making right turns .. unlesS off course, you need to turn left and not get left behind.
I knew with that ... that it was time to think about the next age .... which was ...
"Young adult ... want to hare about it?" she asked, getting up to check the pot. Did she have a rabbit in that pot, I wondered to myself.
next: the young adult age