Something people say a lot to me when I mention all the trials and tribulations I've been going through in the last couple of weeks is "welcome to the real world".
I have a problem with this phrase for a couple of reasons. Namely, to say that I am now in the real world would imply that I was previously in an un-real world. As far as I can tell, the last 19 years haven't been spent asleep or in some alternate universe. Unless this is some Inception style plot twist in my life, (in which case the real world really doesn't matter because I must still be asleep) this most definitely is a word just as real as it was last year, or five years ago. More sheltered, maybe. But just as real.
And, secondly, it's a phrase that people say at every major milestone. High school, college, marriage. Seriously, how many real worlds are there?
So, what has changed? When I think about how to categorize a life I can't help but thinking about Alexander Pope. Pope was a writer who lived in the 18th century, and pretty much the only way you would know who he is if you are an English major. Pope wrote about this concept called "the chain of being" as a way of talking about knowledge, and it's an idea that has always been kind of interesting to me.
Visualize a chain. Now imagine that each link on the chain represents a being. The bottom link belongs to rocks and dirt, the top to God. In the middle are animals, humans, and everything else. Essentially, each level on the chain has access to a certain amount of knowledge that the organism on that level can master. It can never know more than it's level allows, only speculate, and the closer a link is to God, the more it can know. So, a rock can never know more than the bottom link, and God can know all the links.
I don't think the world is real or un-real, I just think that our capacity for knowledge, experience, and opportunity changes. For us, the links on the chain are landmarks. Each period of our life allows us to only accomplish so much. But unlike Pope, we have the opportunity to move up the chain with time, link by link.
So I'm up a link.