Is youth wasted on the young?
Sometime around one’s 30th birthday, to be certain, one realizes with a start the astonishing measure of self-absorption and small-mindedness that has defined one’s first decade as a card-carrying adult.
Post-adolescence is a time of vanity, ignorance, selfish pride. Of breaking hearts and being heartbroken. Of exploration, excess, and ego, and immortal pretentions.
And then, blessedly, it ends. One grows, and one reflects back with regretful aplomb. There is shame in the recognition, yes, and some measure of cold relief, too–one has, at least, improved and grown enough to recognize the degree of petulance with which one formerly moved about the world; to reject youthful notions of moral infallibility and to criticize them roundly.
If one’s 20s are defined by extravagant self-conception, one’s 30s are all about repentance for past misdeeds: the casting off of accumulated pounds and self-serving beliefs, of bad friends and useless dogmas. The fixing of shortcomings and filling of cavities and the vowing, above all, to be better from here on out.
I’ve heard it said that we ought to consider ourselves lucky that our 20s only last a decade, as we might not survive them otherwise. What, then, of the claim that youth itself is ill-spent on the young?
I’m now 33, and in these days of sluggish metabolism and measured risk and mortgage payments and reflecting backwards and forwards almost compulsively, I find myself watching young people almost as sport. Oh, I enjoy it. They are so excellently smooth and untried and ripe and fresh! Even when they’re chain-smoking and making sour faces and drinking at mid-day. Like full, luscious rows of strawberries dangling from heavy vines, bouncing about, making useless pretty noise. I want to pluck them off and collect them in a bucket, to take it home with me and bask in the glow of their young-ness. I want to protect them from all the rot and rue that soon awaits them.
Of course, I can do no such thing.
Instead, I console myself by scattering my hard-fought lessons behind me as I go, by throwing out measured and stern warnings that will surely go unheeded. My wisdom is hard-fought, sure, but it’s irrelevant to everyone but my contemporaries, who have already figured it out for themselves anyway. Because I’m old. Because we live backwards. Because we can’t know what we don’t, not ever ever.