Rites of passage play a large part in our society. Specific birthdays, graduating high school, the loss of virginity, a first beer, all are social constructs that signify that a boy is becoming a man. But the idea of being a man, even at 20, is somewhat elusive. I'm not a boy, but I don't consider myself a man by any stretch of the imagination. Men work 9-to-5s and have beer bellies and worry about things like going bald and mortgage payments. I've always thought that guys in college are in a limbo-state between adolescence and adulthood. But I was recently proven wrong.
I had a rite of passage in a supermarket this week.
I was picking up some groceries for my mom while home for fall break. A trip to the grocery store in my hometown consists of a few parts:
1. Avoiding old teachers
2. Avoiding people who I graduated with who haven't left town
3. Leaving as quickly as possible with little to no human interaction.
With a sigh of relief, I had successfully accomplished the first two, and I was standing in the checkout line, poised to leave. I handed the cashier my money and turned to pick up the bags when the bag boy said it.
"Have a nice day, sir."
This wasn't the usual pleasantry that comes secondhand to any Southerner. This was a word weighted with meaning. It meant "you are older than me" (which I am, but not by much). It meant "you are clearly and visibly old enough to warrant a small sign of respect." It was meant as a polite gesture, which is what really killed me. This kid genuinely meant it. I was flooded by a rush of differing emotions. I wanted to gag, to cry, to scream, to tear at my hair and run out of the store. I wanted to prove to him that I wasn't a "sir". I'm hip. Do "sirs" listen to Fetty Wap? Can "sirs" hit the Quan? This one can.
Instead of arguing, I smiled (it probably looked more like a wince), took my change, and shuffled out to the parking lot. I replayed the scene in my head over and over, each time putting a more sinister emphasis on "sir" so that it took on a tone of mocking. Always overly-imaginative, I started rationalizing it in ridiculous ways. "Maybe this is like a Freaky Friday thing and my dad and I switched places." "Maybe that kid just looks 16, but is really 12, so everyone must be a sir to him. Someone should shut this place down. Child labor laws"
In hindsight, I'm not mad about being called "sir". I'm frustrated because for the first time in my life, I was confronted with the idea of my aging. It may have started a lot earlier than I thought it would, but I know I'm still young. I still have my adult years ahead of me (God willing), with a whole world full of people to meet and places to explore. For now, I'll just enjoy this period of time in which I can act like a fool on a Friday night and still be called "sir" the next day.
Time marches on, and all we can do is enjoy the beat.