The Peter Pan Complex has never made a lot of sense to me. I loved my childhood--and all the attendant references to cul-de-sacs and bike rides and made up games and imaginations run wild--but to me, even then, childhood merely paved the way for adulthood. In fact, my most imaginative and carefree moments were spent in preparation for an impending career (it helped, of course, that my chosen career meant doodling for a paycheck). I adored adults because they understood the nature of my humor and I understood their seasoned pragmatism. Most of the people I've known in life have gotten better as they aged. My parents have. Jody most certainly has (I cannot begin to describe to you the depths to which her nerdiness plunged on a regular basis, but I will say that there isn't a lot of social oxygen down there). Most of my friends only get better with time.
Of course, let's all accept that I'm speaking from the misty hinterlands of subjectivity here, because I'm sure some of you might say, "Well my so-and-so just got meaner or hairier or battier or pickier as he or she got older, and I want to hold on to that Peter Pan feeling for ever and ever, come hell or high water!" I'll concede that this isn't true across the board. Or maybe it's that I'm far more a Wendy than a Peter. But I'll say that as I rounded the bend last week and entered the fourth decade of my time on this earth, I felt a sense of optimism because, like so many others before me, I feel like I'm just getting better with age.
A worrier like me is well, well aware of the latent pitfalls that come with aging. If anything, any single day spent living is one step closer to The End Of It All, and for most of us, it's not a graceful descent. If I allowed myself the luxury of marinating in this concept, I would surely drown in it. The crows feet have faintly impressed themselves into the edges of my temples. My hair won't be naturally brown for much longer. Despite all the strides I've made with regard to my personal health over the past year, the fact that I guzzle Diet Coke like a fiend or live in the Here and Now or was raised in the radiant, microwaveable glow of hormone-injected corn-based food all my life will almost surely haunt me sooner rather than later. The world, as we're reminded every day, is and always has been, a volatile place to be. Maybe the eternal obsession with life on other planets is rooted in the fact that for all its gentle rolling fields and dew-dripping glades, Earth has a way of overturning the unnatural order of things again and again and again. At a certain point, one must be convinced that life elsewhere might be safer, more reliable, somehow more sustainable than what we have now.
What we have now is fragile. But by the grace of God, I have been given thirty years so far. I have a mind full of memories of a life that I am grateful to say I've lived well. If I have regrets, they're immediate, ephemeral, and fleeting. I have known the kind of love that speaks of its Creator, of infinity and of mystery and of boundlessness. If I'm hopeful about anything, it's to know love more. It's to love better. If there's anything I can be proud of, it's the love I've known, the love I've learned, and the love I've given. If I have gained a debt in need of settling, it's the debt of gratitude I owe to the people in my life who have shown me kindness when I was wholly undeserving, mercy when I was self-righteous, generosity when I was withholding, patience when I demanded more, and a challenge when I preferred laziness.
I'll leave you with a Steinbeck quote, because he has a way with words that I, in all my thirty years, can hardly approach--nor will I in thirty more, I suspect:
"A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span...And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I've lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage." (Travels with Charley in Search of America)