9 January 2010
So I had one of those "Man, I'm old" moments at work a few days ago. I was talking with an apprentice - who is perhaps twenty years old - about how exactly to do some little task that we both figured should be done. He offered what he thought was the best solution, and it made sense. "Make it so," I commanded in an affected voice. Then, continuing with the joke, I brought my right hand up to shoulder level, then gently flicked the hand forward at the wrist, pointing with my index finger and curling the other three as I did it. "Engage," I said.
It's not like I was expecting a roar of laughter or anything. But a chuckle, a bemused grin, even a rolling of the eyes, wouldn't be unreasonable to expect. But nothing came. Not the tiniest twitch save a little glance of the eyes away and back again in a slightly unnatural moment of silence.
"You don't even know what that's from, do you?" I finally said.
"No idea," was the response.
The fact that there are people old enough to drink in Saskatchewan who are yet too young to be familiar with the signature move of Captain Jean-Luc Picard astounds me. But that amount of time really has passed.
And I would hardly call myself old; I'm only thirty-two. I'm old if I'm at a Justin Bieber concert (at which point, I have much bigger problems than being old). But I'm relatively young, really. Still, I'm not in that phase of life that everyone tells you so emphatically to enjoy. "This is the best time of your life," we'd often hear when we were in high school, usually from people above forty or so.
I've always thought that there are few things you could say to a young person that could possibly be more depressing. Really, the upshot of that statement is "Enjoy being under twenty-one, because it's all downhill from here. In a couple of years, life will be a little less fun, and then it will be sort of OK, and then it will kind of suck, and after that, it will suck more and more every year until you're dead. Bye!"
And we won't even begin to talk about the people for whom High School was a nightmare of struggle or ridicule or humiliation. That kind of experience would make for a pretty crummy "high point" of anyone's life.
Now, whenever I hear someone giving that kind of advice, I feel a little bit sorry for them. I find myself wondering what kind of regret they carry with them about the last decade or two of their lives. I actually still hear people say similar things to me, even at my age now: "Ah, you're young." You can hear the sad wistfulness in their voice, and the fact that they miss their youth so much speaks to their dissatisfaction with their current circumstances. It's one thing when those words take the tone of a fond recollection; that I can understand and appreciate. But so often, the statements are full of sadness, disappointment, and perhaps most importantly, resignation.
It's that surrender, that resignation, that baffles me the most. They sound as though they have given up on any possibility of actually enjoying the lives they now have as much as they enjoyed the lives they once did. I have to wonder: what is it about their position now that is so oppressive or limiting? Responsibilities? Commitments? What barrier stands between them and real joy in living?
It's true that we take on more and more responsibilities as we grow up. I have a few myself. But we choose our commitments, and one would think we had reasons to do so when we did. We get married, we have children, we buy houses and establish careers. None of these things could we have done (ideally) when we were in High School. If the life we had then was so great, why do we give it up? If we love our spouses and our children, if we live where we like and have chosen careers we are interested in, then what about our lives as youths was so much better?
In my younger days, I couldn't have felt the warmth of the long-held companion that my wife is to me now. In my days before a child I could not have watched my own toddler reason something out that makes such perfect logical sense and is yet so completely and hilariously wrong. Not until now could I know the quiet elation of teaching an obscure tradesman's trick to a knee-knocking apprentice, or the satisfaction of telling him that he's done something well.
And I still have my pursuits. There is no birthday that stands as the deadline for dreams; be it writing a novel or shooting a four-inch group offhand at a hundred meters, there's plenty I have left to work toward, and I love working toward all of it.
My younger days weren't at all my best. They were different, to be sure, and there are plenty of memories that still make me laugh or smile. But there's wonder enough in the world to keep me busy for lifetimes to come, and I only get one. Maybe I groaned those few days ago when I felt my age so keenly, especially as "feeling old" is still a somewhat new feeling to me. But if I groaned, I did it with a grin.