All Grown Up
By all rights, I’ve been an “adult” since I was 14, when I stopped asking my parents for permission to do things and started telling them what I was doing and when I’d be home. I’ve held 18 jobs since I was 15-years-old, usually two or three at a time. I bought and sold two cars, two homes, and started on my fourth college degree before I turned thirty. I’ve dated and been single and never really thought too much about kids throughout it all. I traveled around the U.S. and abroad, frequently on my own. Yet I’m starting to feel all grown up in a way I never have before, like so many pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.
It’s not your traditional puzzle, of course, but it has some recognizable pieces. In two weeks, I’ll be graduating with a degree I actually plan to use and moving on to a doctoral program at a respected private college. After a false start, I found my life’s calling in the work of spiritual care and teaching. I have a spiritual home in Buddhism and a role in society as a caregiver and academic.
Today my partner and I adopted a dog from the Upland Animal Shelter (a lovely facility with a great staff which I highly recommend). He’s a 4-5 month old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix we’ve named “Archer.” We fell in love at first sight with his calm temperament and perky ears. He comes home tomorrow, much to my cat’s dismay and my unending excitement. I’ve longed for a dog for seven lonely years and this guy is the best graduation present possible. He is going to make a great therapy dog. We’re such proud puppy parents!
Last week I moved into a new office at work – my very own office. It has windows and everything. I’ve had offices before, but somehow they always felt temporary and transitory, as if they belonged to the job and not me. I rarely bothered to decorate and always tried to keep my stuff to a simple two box minimum of office supplies, books, and files. Now I’m thinking of painting and laying down rugs and hanging art, like I’m going to be here a while. I have a phone extension for the first time in ages and I might just request business cards. I like what I do and it is a definite stepping stone in my career path, rather than just another odd job to make ends meet. I feel valued and cared for by my boss and coworkers.
In March, I traded living with a wonderful but distant housemate for a far more wonderful and intimate partner. As we moved in twice (once from his place and once from mine) to our new shared home, somehow Colin got upgraded from “boyfriend” to “partner” in my mind. Sixteen-year-olds who sneak out of their parents’ house at night have boyfriends. Thirty-two-year-olds have serious, committed live-in partners. I guess that makes me officially a DINK. We settled into a nice apartment with a little courtyard in a good neighborhood not far from his work and my new school. He cooks dinner for me and I iron his shirts and together we talk about what to do on the weekends and where to spend holidays.
In February, I got a car again after living car-free for two years. It’s a brand new Smart car, red, of course. I like trains and buses and I hate traffic, but’s it’s lovely to be independent again. She’s a sweet little goer, too, and under warranty so I can be worry free. It’s my first new car since 1999. I truly love everything about it, including its ridiculous proportions, which don’t seem so ridiculous when you’re looking down on the low-slung, two-seat BMW convertible you’re passing while going uphill on the freeway.
It’s not to say that any of these things qualify one for entry into the mythical “adult” life. The anxiety of being young, of always struggling financially, socially, and emotional is beginning to wane. For a long time, my life was colored by that struggle and the constant uncertainty of unpredictable, uncontrollable change. Now, I feel different, expanded somehow, like I have room to breathe. I guess all I’m trying to say is that I’m happy. It really didn’t take much. Good guy, steady income, safe home, interesting work, fun friends, spiritual fulfillment, and, of course, a dog and a cat I love. None of these things precisely made me happy, but they have made me grateful and quite content.
Holding on to that feeling of gratitude and contentment when we find it is one of the most challenging things we face in life. It’s so easy to think we need more and better if we want to keep hold of that happy feeling. Below a certain level of income, safety, and security, lasting happiness is very difficult. Living in poverty, fear, and uncertainty leads to suffering which makes gratitude and contentment difficult, if not impossible. However, above that very basic level, when our most pressing needs are provided for, our value and worth affirmed, and some level of security in our future assured, happiness is nowhere near as difficult to find as the ads on television and in fashion magazines would have us believe.
I think I’m finally feeling “grown up” now because for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, I’ve hit upon that magic combination. I’m not looking for my next job or next home or next life. My goal now is to remember my gratitude, cultivate contentment as deeply as I can, and work diligently to help others find the same. Of course, don’t expect me not to bitch about life every now and then anyway. All things are impermanent, remember!