Coming of age is supposedly the time when you experiment, make mistakes, cause drama, rebel, and ultimately learn to take responsibility for your own actions. During the coming of age years, anything that happens seems like the end of the world. A rumor about you floating around the school hallways makes you want to disappear forever. A fight you have with a group of girls convinces you that there is no chance in hell that you’ll ever be friends with them again. A mistake you made with a boy in high school makes you believe you’ll never find the right one. But people move on to other rumors, you’ll end up at those girls weddings, and when the time is right, you’ll marry the man you were meant to spend the rest of your life with – and THAT is what should really be called “coming of age.”
During high school and college we have nothing to lose. Everyone moves on. Everyone forgets. Nothing is life or death. You can be selfish. You can be wild. You can stagger home at 5AM covered in paint and glitter and no one will judge you. You can pull 3 all-nighters in a row and drink red bull for breakfast and no one will utter a word. You’re free to make mistakes and screw up in the hope that eventually you’ll find yourself. But just when you think you’ve finally found yourself, you’ll realize you haven’t found anything at all.
Once you get out of the psychopathic cycle that is high school and college, and join the real world by getting a job and/or moving out of your parents’ house and/or getting married, that’s when coming of age really begins. Suddenly, you need to wake up when it’s still dark outside, someone wants to know what you want for dinner and you text your mother-in-law on a daily basis. Responsibilities pile up at work and laundry piles up at home. You’ll fail at everything at first – cleaning, cooking, baking (apparently baking and cooking are two different things)… you’ll try to do everything so you’ll end up doing nothing. But you’ll try. You’ll try to consistently impress at work, you’ll try to do small things around the house in hopes of building up the courage to try again all the things you failed at the first time. You’ll try so hard to be an adult and suddenly you have everything to lose. You have a career, you have a husband, you have a home, you have new found spirituality in the mitzvot you can perform as a wife, and in a second, it can all be taken away.
Coming of age means your mind wanders to places it never has before. You’re brought to tears when thinking about death or illness because now you imagine your life without someone. You make up stories in your head about things that your kids might go through and you don’t even have kids yet! You imagine the worst and constantly worry because what if one of those sudden tragic accidents happens to you or someone you love? How will you go on? You light candles for Shabbat and, with your hands over your face, you start crying thinking about just how very lucky you are. You slowly learn to not be selfish, you slowly learn when to keep quiet and slowly but surely you realize that this is your real coming of age. No rebellion, no drama, no “freedom” in the high school sense of the word, just trying and happiness.