I was at my restaurant job yesterday, rolling silverware with the other servers. Most of them were just turning eighteen, off to college and spending their summer working and hanging out with their friends. They were talking about their high school friends, previous travel experiences they took to beef up their college applications, and their adventures with fake ID's. It happens every summer. Each new crop of kids, some of whom used to be seating hosts, is now old enough to become a server and earn the accompanying pile 'o cash they can now spend for fun (those days seem forever ago to me). Old enough to know they're legal adults but young enough to still be protected by their parents, they live in a paradox of youthful arrogance and equally youthful naivete. I should know, I was there at one point (though I never had a fake....).
For the first time, however, I felt old. Not old as in, "My youth is done!" but old as in, that feels so far away from me. While they're thinking of summer parties and saying goodbye to friends and high school sweethearts, I'm looking for a new apartment and planning a budget on a stipend. While they are fretting over majors and focusing more on the social aspect of college, I'm contemplating career moves and grad school. While they can shop simply because they have the extra money, I'm making grocery lists and planning trips to Target to organize my space. While they can't wait to leave their parents, I miss mine. While they've been attending friends' Sweet Sixteens, I've been attending weddings. While they revel in the status of legal adulthood, I'm living an adult's life.
It's amazing to think that a human being can change so much in what seems to be so little. Four years ago, I was like them. I myself could not wait to get out of my small town (best decision I made after become Catholic and going to Kenya). I myself was so sure of things, whether of my dreams to be a doctor or of my high school sweetheart. While I did think of the future, my life was more about school clubs and friends. Of course, that all changed. My dreams changed, my relationship ended, I made new friends, and school clubs started giving way to jobs, internships and travel. I'm in a fairly new relationship now and realizing I made a much better decision this time around. I started living on my own and learned how to deal with banks and leases. While I'm a lot happier in DC, I realized that I do miss my family and coming home to visit is pretty nice. I learned that not making my bed every day just made me feel disorganized and that eating ice cream just because I could was the fastest way to sap my energy and make me need new clothes when I can't afford them. I learned that shit happens and all you can do is clean it yourself, regardless of whether you're the one who left it.
I understand why older adults yearn for that period of youth. You're so sure of yourself, because you do have some innocence, yet you're old enough to have freedom at the same time. For some of these kids, life hasn't complicated things for them yet, not through parental divorce, teen pregnancy, or the death of their friends. You feel the immense power of your youth, protecting you from all evils, feeling sure that nothing will ever happen to you. Yet, while all of this will disappear, it will give way to something greater. A feeling of purpose, a drive to succeed and contribute something worthy, a strength that allows you to pull through the difficulties. Friends who really do have your back, who choose to be loyal to you for no other reason than they simply want to. Maybe, one day, a partner who doesn't care about the loss of your youthful looks but loves you instead for what's inside and vows to stick with you till death do you part. Hopefully, it will give way to a greater capacity to love and to give, a sense of humility about your weaknesses and a sense of confidence about your strength. It is through this growth process that allows young people to become exactly what they wish to be.
That's part of why youth is so amazing. Not because of who you are at that time. It's because it allows you to choose who you will become. That's why we all hope to be forever young.