When did we grow up?
JUNE 25 — I was eight. It was another forgettably dull day at school. Then he showed up.
My first impression of him was that he looked so shy: his head was down the whole time as his father spoke to our class teacher. As we looked on, the whole class was relatively silent, eager for the introduction that we knew would come. We don’t get new classmates every day.
That was nearly two decades ago. Last July, I went to his wedding reception with my then-fiancée (now wife). As I watched my old friend walk down the aisle with his lovely wife, I marvelled, “Has it been that long since I first met him?”
It’s funny how time sneaks up on you. In childhood we often talked of what we wanted and what we would be when we grew up. I wanted, at different times, to be different things — a chemist, then an archaeologist, and even a detective at one point (guess what manga inspired that). Adulthood seemed so far away from me. So far, in fact, that sometimes it’s unimaginable that I would ever actually be a grown-up.
And so I would say, “When I grow up...” every now and then and leave it at that, contentedly believing that some day I would be what I wanted to be and some day I would do what I wanted to do. That it would somehow just happen in the future, the far, distant future.
Maybe you felt that way too. But that perhaps is where we got tricked. That phrase, “When I grow up...”, quietly ingrained in us the deceptive notion that growing up would be an event.
That notion tricked us into believing that when we grew up, when it’s finally our time, the world would be aware, would rejoice, as we are suddenly transformed amid an explosion of applause and adulation. That we would suddenly wake up one day and feel different, surrounded by a heavenly luminance as we take the next step, the final step in our ascension from childish naïveté to the enlightened wisdom of adulthood.
We thought that growing up was like walking through a doorway, instantly leaving one room behind as we entered another.
But growing up doesn’t work that way. There is no doorway to walk through. There is no next step.
Life is just a long highway we cruise along on, and as we drive on we change, little by little. Each passing day takes a tiny bit of us with it, and the next day always has something to replace that missing bit with. And so we grow, ever so slowly, unnoticeably, from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Then one day, we’ll wake up and realise how much of our lives has been lived, how much of our candle has been burnt.
We’ll realise how much we’ve grown since we last noticed. Indeed, when did we last notice? After kindergarten we looked forward to school, and then in school we couldn’t wait to be done and finally go to university. And in university we’d wish graduation comes sooner so that we can start working, start making our own money. And then we’d actually start working, meet someone and fall in love and get married.
There is always something else we can’t wait to do, another stage we can’t wait to be on. Life becomes a blur as we keep racing to the next destination. And before we know it, we’d have cute little things who call us daddy or mommy. Adorably small, helpless individuals who depend on us for food, for care, for love. For guidance as they, too, embark on their own journeys through life. Just like my old friend above now has.
We first met as boys so long ago. Last week, he welcomed his son, his own boy, into his life. Congratulations, buddy!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.