Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Paradox of Age

I've been thinking about youth - the energy, confusion, struggles, and amazing vision that can come with being young, specifically that strange period from roughly 18 to 30.  I seem to have a number of people in my life right now who are in this age range, and I am constantly amazed, in awe and sometimes frustrated by them.

Full disclosure, I am 47, closing in on 48 (this week!).  I sometimes feel like a dinosaur, though my older friends would, of course, dispute that fact.  I have entered the stage of life when you fall effortlessly into lengthy conversations that begin with the words "Remember when."  The impulse to reminisce seems very powerful at this point in my life.  I engage in a lot of involuntary grunting and other vocalizations when I get up off the couch or out of the car. I'm in good shape, and yet I seem to have a variety of random injuries and odd health quirks that were never there before. Most of the time, in my head, I don't feel so very different from who I was when I was younger. Then something will happen that pulls me up short and reminds me how very different the view looks from here, and how very different the pilot of this ship called my body is now. The agitated struggle feels calmer, the reality of mortality more inevitable, the truth of physical limitations undeniable, the need for approval less insatiable, the warm glow of small joys burnished brighter by time.

Recently, there have been a spate of articles about various generations - Generation X, the Boomers, the Millenials, and other labels I haven't fully retained because I've come to the conclusion that they are just that - arbitrary labels. The sad thing about attempting to draw these careful generational distinctions is that it seems to be giving in to the worst of our human tendency to define, and segregate, ourselves by our differences. These generational articles all seem to amount to mud slinging from one generation to another.

I see it in myself, the way I sometimes get unreasonably annoyed by a new fashion trend (cutesy animal hats on adults, for example), or inestimably frustrated by a particular  attitude of someone younger than me, or a younger person's failure to grasp or understand some part of who I am. It is the nature of youth to push, to question, to demand, to assume, to point out what it sees as the failings of the older generation, and to have knowledge gaps that prevent a full understanding of that generation. On the other hand, it is the nature of age to see youth from the outside and find fault in what is essentially a work in progress. The hard won knowledge and experience that comes from sticking around life long enough to reach middle age or old age is something we demand acknowledgment for, and burn to share. Meanwhile, the younger generation demands the chance to prove its strengths and talents, and craves the ability to strike out on its own and define itself separate from the influence of the elders, at the very moment when those elders most crave recognition and acknowledgment of their acquired experience.

How can these two sides ever come together? Really, truth be told, it's more than two sides. What we're talking about is a prism, a diamond, its many faces made up of the many different perspectives that come not only from different time periods but different  circumstances and personalities. When we are able to let go of the us vs. them attitude and reach out across the gaps of years to connect with people from a wide range of ages, our lives can be so much richer. I envy and celebrate the incredible energy and optimism and can-do attitude of youth. I honor and rejoice in the depth of knowledge and the courage and wisdom only evident in seniors. I cannot help laughing and marveling at the special perspectives of children. My world is made better by the connections I have with people from every age.

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