I turned 37 on Monday. As one of those numbers between 35 and 40, age 37 isn't usually seen as a significant or transformative birthday, but I think it is. This birthday begins the majority of my life as an adult. At age 36, I had spent equal amounts of time (18 years) in childhood and adulthood. Starting at age 37, I will have spent more years on this Earth as an adult than as a child, and that will be true for the rest of my life.
I’m not sure if this fact changes anything in my life or if it should. Should I stop loving ice cream and naps? Probably the former if I don't want to gain more weight. Should I stop worrying so much about how much I weigh, welcome, like Lucille Clifton, the expanse of grown woman-hips and say goodbye to tiny sundresses, tinier shorts and unrealistic expectations of women's bodies?
I don't have a spouse or children. I don't own a home. I don't yet have a full-time employer or a full-time freelance career. I can't call myself an entrepreneur, though I've tried and failed to be one in the past and have always thought I would return to it. Absent all those markers of adulthood for most other adults I know, it's hard to imagine what will mark me as distinctively adult for the rest of my life.
I do have gray hairs. I don't like this.
Though American society tends to frame full adulthood in terms of accomplishments and external physical changes, maturity — growth — happens emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I spend much of my writing time these days thinking about the mostly female Christian communities that shaped my spirituality in my early adulthood, so I've thought as I write this about what and who will shape my growth from this point forward. Contrary to the expected college experience, the views I developed in my early adult years were traditional, conservative, and gendered. They saw the title "Mrs." or "wife of …" as almost every single woman's desire and destiny, and marriage — always between a man and a woman — as the man's place to lead, under the leadership of Christ. There was great joy and safety in being in God's will but misery and separation from God and from his — always his — guaranteed promises if one were to step out of his will. And discerning that will, hearing the voice of God, was another source of stress altogether.
I often frame my college years as confusing, stressful, immature or sad. They were all of that, but I think my Christian communities then had a purpose, too, and served it. They were a source of comfort, support and happiness when I was away from my family and in an environment that was hostile to women and black people. I'm not exaggerating when I say I don't think I could've survived my college years without my sisters in Christ.
As I enter my majority-adulthood life, I'm living in a nation that's never quite let go of its hostility towards women and people of color, especially black people. I believe some of the strength that I need to face the world, fight it, and survive it is still found in female friendships, but I'm looking for them outside of familiar circles. I'm not a regular churchgoer anymore since my Christianity has taken a dramatic turn to the left, and I don't think I could sit quietly by and agree if conservative views were espoused again like they were back when I was in college.
No one will replace my college squad, but at this point, my fantasy squad lies in the words and works of other women living and deceased: Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Roxane Gay, Delores S. Williams, Issa Rae, Nikky Finney. (I just watched the movie "Girls Trip" recently, and I'm trying to think of someone crazy enough to cut a cheating husband with a broken wine bottle, because, as the character Dina points out in the movie, Jesus loves her, too. But I don't know any of my writing idols well enough to state that they would do that.) Though a relationship with God is personal, it is influenced by the communal, and for the rest of my long life as an adult, I'm looking forward to seeing with whom and how I grow in spirit.
[Mariam Williams is a Kentucky writer living in Philadelphia. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and certificate in public history from Rutgers University-Camden. She is a contributor to the anthology Faithfully Feminist and blogs at RedboneAfropuff.com. Follow her on Twitter: @missmariamw.]
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