Wednesday, September 10, 2014

tagbey love and priest walls

Being in a position of authority is a peculiar circumstance. It is rather mind-boggling and fits oddly--like a pair of new dress shoes or unworn jeans. You know it's right, but if doesn't quite feel right yet.
So I sat with a friend, marveling in this new phenomenon of adulthood. As I whispered to him (through Facebook chat) about how I currently had twenty-some high school seniors in my charge, we wondered how one went about corralling a chorus of middle-schoolers or instituting absolute silence in a room of high school students.

The trick, we decided, was in remembering always that these students are in the tense, fraught, angsty throes of "becoming." They are very much in transition--they have not yet found their way into an "am," they are still much more in flux than that. An adult, to them, is someone who has finished their process of becoming--someone who has arrived. Someone who knows who they are, someone who knows what they are. Someone who has finished the process of becoming.

And adult, then, is someone who they deem can speak with authority to them. Someone who is confident in who they are and who they have become.

But, this is so silly, I thought. Because I have certainly not yet ended my process of "becoming," of becoming more and more each day the person I am supposed to be. No adult, no human has finished this process. My mother had not yet "become" her way into an "is." Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has not yet finished his journey of becoming, neither has Barack Obama or Queen Elizabeth or Werner Herzog. No living human being (look, we even have present progressive verbs built into our name) can claim that they have finished the process of becoming. For, goodness, the process of "becoming" is the very stuff that our human lives are made of. The only being that has ever been able to say "I AM" is not one that was created.

For a moment, I felt disingenuous for pretending that I had finished my "becoming," for acting as if I I had found the security and firm sense of self that eludes a sixteen-year-old, for projecting an authority that said: "I have finished the process of becoming."

But truly, what a necessary fiction. For we all learn when we are young that we must take turns when we are playing. So now, I thought it is my turn to play the adult. I am still a child, just like these other children: I am still becoming, still in flux, still in transition. But now, it is my turn to play the role of the teacher, to take on the authority of the instructor. It is not so much that I possess that authority myself, but there's authority that comes with the role. It is now my turn to be the teacher not the student, because I think that's what it means to be the adult: to leave behind your childhood in order that others may be children in your stead.

And that's not a role that is false or untrue to ourselves. It's not a role that ought to be worn with embarrassment or shame. The roles of authority we take upon ourselves are really not our own authority. They are a sharing in someone's authority who is much greater than ourselves. And we do not take up that authority for ourselves, but for others. We often refer to being an adult as referring to "taking responsibility" or "being responsible" or "shouldering our responsibilities," which is just a dryer and less compelling way to say "being an adult means to live for others." Selfishness, the besetting sin of childhood, is not the sin of adults (which does not mean adults are immune to selfishness, unfortunately). Adults can be full of pride, full of envy, full of many sins, [particularly full of self-importance]. But not selfishness. Selfishness's province are the sandboxes of childhood. As we accept this role that is really not of our own creation, but it is ours to accept, we can wear authority of adulthood with humility, sincerity, and without attempting to shrug it off our shoulders.
 It is inauthentic to pretend that we are children when we are adults, simply because we have the self-awareness to recognize that we not yet "are" but are still "becoming."

Here I am, going on and on about what it means to be an adult, when I have only twenty-two years of living to my name. I flush with embarrassment, just considering how foolish I sound. But, I also flush with a strange sort of guilty wonder when I walk to the front of a classroom, and tell twenty high schoolers to cease and desist their noisy flirting, joking, and yelling at one another. Who put me in charge of this classroom, I think? And I wonder that if, before long, these students will see through my outward vestiges of adulthood and discover the child underneath the surface.

I sincerely hope that, until the day I die, I will live with the guilty, sneaky joy of wondering if I will be caught out, if one day they will catch me off-guard, and my disguise of adulthood will be peeled away to reveal the child underneath, who is continuously and endlessly becoming.

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