As I wrote a couple weeks back, I leave early Friday afternoon for a Young Adult Quaker conference. The venue is a resource center named Pendle Hill that is outside of Philadelphia. The place name is particularly important for Quakers. In 1652, our founder, George Fox, felt led by God to walk up Pendle Hill in Northwest England. There he received a religious vision. The center for study and contemplation I will be attending is named in its honor.
During my week away, I recognize I have some personal business of my own to work through. I’m 33 now and will turn 34 in October. The outward limit to qualify as a young adult is 35. The Meeting where I worship extends that deadline into early forties. The dynamics of this city are partially a result. Older participants who are single or remain childless by choice find they have more in common with those a few years younger than they. The young parents in the Meeting band together for support, as young parents always have, but their lives are very different than ours.
How will I feel when I turn 40, I wonder. Will I feel too old to be among young adults? Even as a child, I was an old soul who sought first the company of adults. Young Adults are a tight-knit group and to be thrown into the deep end without a support network worries me. Though I have formed friendships with older Friends, age differences keep me from being able to fully relate. I’ve embraced my spiritual calling and have been successful among those of all ages, but my primary network is comprised of those close to my same age.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every young adult gathering I’ve attended. They are a haven for the religiously serious and the future leaders of the movement. Most of what we call Monthly Meetings (where one worships on Sunday) are disproportionately comprised of aging baby boomers, but there are always a handful of very active young adults. Distance usually separates us, but put together, we are a formidable force. I’ve forged connections with others who are ambitious, eager to make reforms and to keep the faith alive.
I really feel my age when around college students and those younger than 25. They are confirmed Millennials and remind me of my youngest sister. I qualify as Generation X, though I am one of the very last members. I am just old enough for grunge and old enough to remember a time before the Internet and cell phones. Before long, I’ll qualify as middle aged, wondering how I got there. I began losing my hair several years ago and am beginning to grey around the temples. I still feel young, but a different sort of young.
Integrating fully among those of all ages is my intention. Making progress requires everyone’s participation. I find that I have learned to code-switch admirably in order to speak to everyone. When I speak to those my parents’ age, I find I copy my father’s stories and mannerisms somewhat. It makes me feel a bit like a character actor playing a new part. Personality and basic communication, I have learned, is timeless. I envy a woman my own age that is skilled enough to make every person she talks to feel as though they are the most important person in the room.
I’m more distant, more cerebral. I have an anxiety disorder, which I’ve learned to fight through with the passage of time, but it causes me to withdraw more than I wish I did. My explicitly religious writings are now disseminated to a growing number of readers. Most are my age, though not everyone. I find I can communicate better in written form, though God granted me the ability to share vocal ministry during Meeting for Worship.
During my time away, I want to network more, to listen to new strategies for growth and learning. I’ve developed a good name for myself the past several years. As religious mystics, we recognize that God is mystery and our relationship with him is a process of seeking to understand. Meanwhile, the joy of community is blessing enough itself. When I age out, I hope that I am not in hot pursuit of an identity and a group where I belong.