Milestone birthdays don’t happen every year. So naturally, we want them to be special. The first landmark number of adulthood is the big 2-1, which I will be in about a week.
Like most young adults, I have waited excitedly for this special day. However, I started to wonder what was so great about turning 21 other than being blessed with another year and oh yeah, something about being the legal age to drink. Now, as someone who isn’t planning to get wasted (like this very funny yet very bad synopsis of a typical 21st birthday) I started to feel a bit deflated about why this 21 thing meant more than past ages. Not to shrug my cultural rite of passage but it simply didn’t seem so important, especially when you consider that China, Canada and Europe would call us good ol’ Americans late boomers since their drinking ages range from 16-19.
Maybe I’ll just pig out on free food, I thought.
Then I started thinking a little harder. Uncle Ben, Peter Parker’s uncle in the famous Spider-Man comic book series, warned his nephew that “With great power comes great responsibility.” If there was one sentence that could sum up turning 21 it’s probably that.
I did a bit of snooping and it turns out there are quite a few things you can do once you turn 21.
- Drink alcoholic beverages
- Get married in the state of Mississippi without a guardian’s approval (late bloomers too, huh?)
- Ride in a car with any learning driver
- Run for mayor
- Adopt a child
That’s some pretty heavy stuff if you ask me. Certainly not for the faint of heart. I like what author Tim Elmore said in his article about going out to dinner with his son for his 21st: “Rights without responsibility are rarely redemptive. In fact, much of the time, rights minus responsibilities simply create selfish brats. Privileges without price tags don’t really help us grow up.” Beautifully said.
At 21, Steve Jobs had already dropped out of college and was co-founding Apple, the place that makes the shiny iPhone 30% of smartphone users are on right now. I know what you’re thinking – “That’s not fair! We all can’t be Steve Jobs.” True, we can’t. But we can all be excellent versions of ourselves.
Some people say that the first twenty years are the longest of your life. Afterward you have all the privileges-and problems-of any adult, and it goes by fast. I guess my 21st birthday will be a time to celebrate life and the gift of responsibility with those closest to me, joining the ranks of adulthood, namely with my mom whose birthday I was born on. 🙂
So whatever we choose to do for our special 21st , remember that while we may always be young at heart, “the time has come for us. We are no longer the children. We are the ones the children will be watching, and soon enough in fact, our very own children will be the ones watching us. And twenty or thirty years from now, we will be at the graduation of those children, handing them a world that we had a real chance to remake.”
I hope to hand my kids a world in which I had an intensely positive impact. But tonight,
Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.
~ Titus Maccius Plautus
Now I’ll make a toast to that.