I was raised to nibble on the old chestnut that youth was the most perfect, achingly lovely thing around. When I was a kid, it was perfectly normal to hear some Rothman’s chain smoking old man mutter about the best years of my life as he slowly leaned back in his old recliner, hands rustling the paper while the cigarette dangled like a dare from his mouth. From a kitchen a woman always seemed to agree he’s right you know. Enjoy it while you got it. It’s all down hill from there! and she’d continue on frying pork chops in lard or taking all the nutritional value out of carrots and peas, her own cigarette bouncing on her lips.
We’ve all been to that house, watched TV there. Hell, for some of us, it might have been home.
As a small child we were dazzled with the idea of “growing up“-growing up was magic. When you grew up, you could stay up all night if you wanted, watching the scrambed channels, or maybe Bleu Nuit. Grown up, you could spend your money on anything, run through the streets, wear “those” jeans, a pair of which each of us had. Our older siblings were gods, blessed it seemed with power and knowledge and a casual will they rarely hesitated to use.
We crept towards puberty, then like a Mac truck we hit it, full stop, and in an instance, in a howling second of hormones, felt the innocence leak out from us. How did we not see? Our brothers weren’t smarter! Our mother’s couldn’t MAKE us not go to Joan’s house. We had power, even if we rarely weilded it in the interests of seeing tomorrow. We were growing up, and getting that adult look. A few years in, looking back at 5 or 6 was full of nostalgia, of that damn it, I wish I knew then feeling, and a soft longing for the sandbox.
But wait!, they’d yell, this is THE best time of your life, high school. Treasure it-life will never be this good again.
A teacher told me this once, and I stared at him, puzzled, and asking how anything at 17 could be the best of an entire life. He smiled a wry grin and told me I’d see, someday.
(I’m still waiting. Mr. McNeil, I’d really like that answer now if you don’t mind.)
You crawl, gasping from high school, into the maw of university, college, work, and suddenly, you aren’t a kid. You aren’t young. You’re just another adult clinging vaguely to a dream they made you write down at 15, and wondering how exactly you could get out of this mess.
Adulthood. Past the best time of your life, and now in possession of a recliner suspiciously like the one your best friend’s dad had once.
I don’t buy it. I never have.
Think about it. Most of us are living in North America, or some other fairly developed country. For the most part, we’re lower-middle class-we eat well, roof over our heads. We’ll live to be 78 or some random age. We’ll have full lives.
So why should it only be good until 18 or 19? Why the shelf life on joy? Why delude generations into thinking that old age, aging itself, is something worth fearing, and actively loathing?
Wasn’t the moment you laid your eyes on your children one of the best things? Building your own house? Writing that novel?
Planting the ultimate garden? Dreaming the perfect dream, spun on air at 48 or 66?
Our dreams don’t end when we haul up the big girl panties and get our own apartments. Our lust for life and newness doesn’t just drain out with lochia or muscle tone.
Our vibrancy does not have a shelf life. It does not become irrelevant with age.
I’d argue, instead, that it matters so much more as we grow older, as we absorb the world around us in so many new ways, as we make connections between how our mother held our hands at 6 and how she cradles our children now.
There are moments in life that are incredible, and some of those, for me, happened at 17 or 19, I can’t lie. But some happened later on as well, at 25, or at 31. The best time in a life is now, the present-the constant wave that makes youth, the time behind us that creates the very ground we walk on, somewhat useless and weakened. We use our past to feed the future, it’s thought and knowledge molding who we become.
We are so very much more than the very hormone drenched years we’d mostly like to forget.
I find myself, these past weeks, finding a new comfort level with age, a respect, a guarded honor. It is necessary and good. I do not have to change who I am to age-I can still listen to black metal and cyndi lauper in one day. I can still have tattoos-I can age as I wish, instead of according to a created timeline that was pulled from air one day in about 1967. My aging is what’s relevant-not the aging of others, be it slow, or quick.
My relevancy is only for me, and my road to the best life ever.
I just wish it hadn’t taken me this long to see it.