American young people need to grow up.
Generally, the less I read about the normal American youth/young adult culture Out There, the happier I am, but last week, like a sheep to the slaughter I followed a promising link on a well-known website. "23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged at 23" it said. By a writer named Vanessa Elizabeth. I have five children between 19 and 27, none of which is engaged, but you never know, so my interest was piqued.
It really didn't have much to do with getting engaged or married, in my opinion, except as a snarky intro. In essence, it was about why you shouldn't commit yourself or act like an adult, and treated me to such gems as "Because you owe it to yourself. You are a human being that deserves to thrive inside AND outside of a relationship."
"Millennials deserve the opportunity to develop ourselves, alone."
"But then I look at my life, my relationships, and my future... and I realize that, I'm ***** awesome."
It could have been entitled, "23 Things to do Instead of Growing Up."
Ok, ok, I grudgingly grant there were a few sensible suggestions:
9. Start a small business.
12. Build something with your hands.
14. Join the Peace Corps.
The other 20 suggestions included:
2. Find your "thing."
3. Make out with a stranger.
4. Adopt a pet.
5. Start a band.
6. Make a cake. Make a second cake. Have your cake and eat it too.
7. Get a tattoo. It's more permanent than a marriage.
8. Explore a new religion.
10. Cut your hair.
11. Date two people at once and see how long it takes to blow up in your face.
13. Accomplish a Pinterest project.
15. Disappoint your parents.
16. Watch Girls, over and over again.
17. Eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting.
18. Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places.
19. Sign up for CrossFit.
20. [too weird to dignify with repetition]
21. Write your feelings down in a blog.
22. Be selfish.
23. Come with me to the Philippines for Chinese New Year.
This was not written for 13-year-olds in the throes of adolescent drama and selfishness and angst. It was for people in their early TWENTIES. Who have been through FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE. And are out there making life and career decisions.
I am serious. These people are encouraged to disappoint their parents, date two people at once, be selfish, and other such responsible, mature, adult, giving-back-to-God-and-the-universe-and-everyone-who-invested-in-you behaviors.
The implication is that if you choose, instead, to commit your life to another grownup and take on the adult responsibilities that go with it, you are at best to be pitied.
And I am wondering: what ever happened to growing up?
I would guess your parents and for sure your grandparents were acting like actual grownups when they reached the age of 23. Working, committing, investing, helping, contributing, deciding, and leading. In fact, many of them were probably doing all that by 17 or 18.
Maybe they ate a jar of Nutella in one sitting. But if so, it was because they were hungry for Nutella and not to prove a point. And they were accomplishing a lot more than a Pinterest project in a given day.
As I read that piece, I kept thinking of a young man named Richard.
We met him when we went to Kenya in 2011 to look up Steven's old friends. In an open-air restaurant we drank tea and ate chicken with half a dozen young men who were once orphan boys on the street, like Steven, and are still under the auspices of Into Africa but in a group home setting, rather than an orphanage.
All of these guys know that their situation is shaky at best and a few wrong decisions on their part could derail all of their hopes and plans. They study hard, they work hard, they know there's no safety net once they're on their own. And they are deeply grateful to Into Africa for providing a roof over their heads and a chance at life.
"Richard isn't here yet," we were told, and partway through the meal he showed up, a serious young man in a blue shirt and tie.
Richard's parents had passed away some time before, putting him and his two little brothers in the care of two older siblings. Who then died, one after another. So Richard, at about 16, was responsible not only for himself but for two little brothers, one of who had a facial deformity that limited his options in life.
In other words, Richard was an adult at 16. And this is Kenya. As I said, there is no safety net.
Mercifully, Richard connected with Into Africa. They didn't offer him an easy ride anywhere, but they kept him and his brothers fed and cared for so Richard could go to school.
As I wrote in a blog post afterwards:
Three of the orphan guys are brothers. The two younger ones look like they're about 12, and their older brother Richard joined us later, looking all sharp in a shirt and tie, after he had finished some exams at school. Their parents are dead, as are their two older sisters, and Richard takes his responsibility seriously as the head of the remaining household, hence the priority he gave to today's exams.
I left the lunch early to go buy some supplies for the baby orphanage we'll visit tomorrow, and Paul told me that after I left, Richard's principal happened to come by. Paul asked her how Richard is doing. "Very well," she said, "didn't you see his tie?"
He had a special badge on his tie denoting him as a student leader.
He wants to go to college and be a mechanical engineer.
At the time, he was hoping to do well enough to win scholarships into an engineering program. That must not have happened, because he is now in a teachers' college in a small town near Nairobi, and Into Africa is paying his fees.
I am sure he is studying just as hard as he was three years ago when we saw him.
I contacted Audrey McAninch from Into Africa today to get updated on Richard. She said:
Richard and his little brothers, I'm quite sure, are not going to try to make strangers feel uncomfortable today. Or get a tattoo. Or make a big deal of baking a cake.
Into Africa Missions
PO Box 2175
Lynnwood, WA 98036-2175
*Pay to the order of: Mission Dispatch / For: Into Africa Missions.
Specify that it's for Richard Omollo Odhiambo and/or his brothers.