I am now a legal adult. Man, I just felt chills run up my spine. Even though I turned 18 three weeks ago it didn’t feel real until now. In the eyes of the US Government and the law I am no longer a child, but a full-fledged, autonomous American citizen with the power to vote for the wrong political party, join the Army and become a pitiful excuse for a soldier, or buy a pack of delicious Marlboro cancer sticks from the local 7-11. I’m a grown up. When did this happen? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was learning my ABCs and how to properly panic during a tornado drill? It feels like only a few moments have passed since I was a snaggletoothed tot with a bowl haircut and an unhealthy obsession with cats whose only real concern in life was debating the merits of playing house or playing tag. When did I get a bank account? When did I start caring about this country’s oil reserves? When did I become a major instead of a minor?
I’m 18 years old. That’s like 126 in dog years! I’d be the oldest person in the world if I was a dog! I know most 18 year olds probably think it took FOREVER to be 18, but for me it all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Maybe its because I’ve always been hyper aware of my own mortality. I can actually think back to a moment when I was about, say, six years old. I was lying on my back in my old house in Indiana and I was literally watching dust settle (I’m an only child, we make do with the entertainment options we can get). I stared up at the ceiling as I saw the tiny particles dance around the thin rays of afternoon sun beaming through the slits in my Venetian blinds. I imagined each minuscule speck was a tiny little person, floating through the world on a tiny little glider. They would soar through the unimaginably big chasm of my room, slowly flying in lazy circles on some never-ending journey. What does the world look like when you’re that small? I would muse to myself. How big must I look to those people. I must look like a huge mountain range that slowly becomes bigger with each inhale. I would sit up and grab one of my books about space. I would flip through the glossy pages and see a size comparison of the earth to the sun, then the sun to Sirius, then Sirius to a red hyper-giant star. The sun would be a tiny speck on the page, barely a pixel in diameter. If the sun itself was a mere speck in the universe, what was I? I didn’t even really exist then.
I looked back up at the particles of dust floating through the air. If I was nothing in the vast expanse of an infinite universe, what were they? I thought about a new concept I had learned the day before in my first grade science class. Apparently everything in the world was made up of billions upon billions of atoms. Everything I was, even my idea of self-awareness was just a cluster of trillions of tiny elements knitted together by God to make a person. How could the universe vary to such extremes? How could there be something as tiny as a carbon atom and something as huge as a galactic cluster of stars sending twinkling out to us from a thousand light-years away? Yet here I was, a little six-year-old girl closer in size to a particle of dancing dust than the magnitude of an atom. I was in the middle between infinitesimally small and unfathomably huge.
As I laid back down on the carpet I tried to feel the earth hurtling through space at a mind boggling 1,000 miles per hour. In less than 8,760 hours, this little six-year-old would be seven and this little blue planet, so minuscule compared to the magnitude of the sun it spun around, would continue to revolve unimpeded by my existence. I realized that each second ticking, the globe would move another 1500 feet and I was a second closer to the inevitable end of my existence.
As I sat there on the floor I came to grips with the fact that I was getting older just laying here. Even though the changes were minute and undetectable, I was slowly creeping into adulthood. Time ticked by without any control on my part. I began to cry. The dust had settled, all the graceful gliders had floated down to earth and the sunlight hid behind a cloud. I was alone in my darkened room, thinking about how huge the stars were.
Twelve years later I lie down on a different floor in a different room and watch the dust settle. I think about how huge the future looks with the rest of my life ahead of me, a mystery I am about to explore. Has anything really changed since I was that strange little girl contemplating the universe that she was such a small part of? The world around my swirls and spins and transforms but I am the same. I am still me regardless of the differences in my environment.
18 is an arbitrary number, just a count of how many times this silly kid has traveled around the sun on this planet we call home. Does it make me an adult? No. If responsibility and self-awareness make you grown up, then I’ve been grown up for years. If immaturity and uncertainty make you a child, then maybe I’ll never be truly full-grown. Whatever life brings I think I’ll always be a thinker, a person who sees the universe in a speck of dust. I wonder what God thinks when he sees all us dust particles blowing through life? Love.