Monday, December 15, 2008

Certainty: Being a grown up.

I didn't realize that I'd get a "moment" where I finally realized beyond a shred of doubt that I am now a responsible grown up. I just kind of thought it happens bit by bit, the dimming of wonder and magic and fear, until at last you are a hollowed out mundane creature with no soul--just like every other grown up in the world. And this moment I'd feared since my first viewing of Peter Pan came at the most unlikely of times. It happened this weekend, while locked up with the other teachers at my school working on the entrance exam for next year's TFLHS students.

Upon the realization, I experienced the grief and nostalgia I expected, but the actual feeling is so much more complicated. And more beautiful.

***

Ten years ago (holy fuck, was it *REALLY* TEN years ago??? Actually... doing the math again... it was 11 years. Yikes.), my friends and I went on a camping trip to the wilds of Virginia. Rose and I made up an elaborate ghost story on the four-hour drive out there to keep ourselves occupied. Every one of the 17 or so campers on the trip had an integral role in it, including the dog. We had plot twists and surprise endings and planned to turn it into a movie as soon as we could. It was really good (at least we thought so).

We were so into it when we finally pulled into the campsite, that we were frightened half to death when our friend we had picked to be the murderer jumped up to the van we were in, his white face rising suddenly out of the darkness, smashed awkwardly and grotesquely against the window. It took us almost five whole minutes to recover from the shock.

All weekend, we played games at night to frighten ourselves--vampire games and storytelling contests. During the day we played violent war games in the woods and silly daring games on the river that had some mild rapids. We climbed the mountain and pushed ourselves out to the edges of the precipices of the rocks. We revelled in the rush, the fear. We invited it, soaked in it, loved it.

People say teens are fearless. That's not really true. We were scared, we just pretended not to be. If we hadn't been at least a little scared, the games wouldn't have been fun at all... they would have been dull. The truth that no one tells you is that the state of being a child is a state of fear. Of uncertainty. Innocence comes from not knowing what we know when we grow older and get some experience.

***

This weekend, I was locked up in my school with the other English teachers to prepare the entrance exam. The building is big and old and very dark at night. I joked to a co-teacher that we were in a horror movie. That she would be the first to die because she's going to get married next month and she's one of the youngest.

I said it as a joke.

But as soon as I said the words, it hit me that the scene WAS perfect for a horror movie--the full moon outside was huge. We were locked in the school and then later the dorms alone all night. There was a small group of people randomly thrown together from different backgrounds. And we'd even been self-righteously mocking Chinese vampires.

And the memory of the camping trip and our never-finished movie came rushing into my mind as I realized that even in the eerie dark stillness of the cold school building in a faraway land (Korea), I didn't feel even the slightest flinch of fear. I was completely confident that we would finish our task easily, that I would sleep comfortably during the night, and that I would awake in the morning to the test-takers, who would be the ones with REAL fears.

And in that moment, I knew that this mean I was grown up. That my imagination had sufficiently dimmed to the point that I couldn't feel a moment's hesitation that something outside the realm of the possibilities I knew to exist in this world would cause me any harm or grief. My world is now concrete and predictable. I feel safe.

I still experience fear as an adult. But it's real world fears... that I'll fall off the cliff if I'm not careful; that North and South Korea will fail to reach a peaceful accord; that our world will passively accept the sexual abuse of women and children; that humans will irretrievably damage our planet by consuming all its resources. I'm not afraid anymore of things I don't know anything about--dark places, death, monsters, even terrorists. This is the stuff of fantasy.

If my fears have changed so that I am a grown up than what of my sense of wonder and creativity? What of the positive side of imagination and innocence? Have I lost those, too?

I don't know. I'm looking back on the world of childhood through a hazy veil because of the certainty I have now as an adult. I know certain things didn't happen, such as seeing a unicorn by the stream in the woods as a girl, but I know it because my adult sensibilities tell me that there are no such thing as unicorns. In my memories, it exists just the same as all my other memories from that time. I know now that Santa didn't bring me toys because I helped my mother wrap "Santa's" gifts for my younger sister when I was sixteen, but I remember the magic of waking up in the morning to check if the milk and cookies we left out for him were gone (they always were).

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