This past weekend, I reached perhaps the most longed for chronological milestone in one’s life, and the final one until the ever-so-sought after event in two septet allowing one to run for president of the United States. That is, I turned 21.
I’ve been around long enough to have earned the rights to consume alcohol, gamble and buy a house or car without a co-signer. Despite these newly achieved freedoms, I’m increasingly told it is all downhill from here.
In the week preceding the anniversary of my birth, I had my first experience as the focus subject of an “old man” joke. In a conversation with a teammate, he inquired if I was in eighth grade in 1999. It took me a few seconds to realize that the underlying message of that quip was that now, as a senior (though the youngest senior on the team) I am, relatively, the old guy. I’ve been around the block of college thrice before, and I am now approaching the death of my youth.
On runs with current high school students this summer, I already began to notice the effects of aging. The spring and pep in their legs, corrupted by at least 8,000 fewer miles than mine, was evident as the pace picked up on the short jaunt. Sure, I knew fully well that my strength and speed exceeded theirs. But, ripe fruit, being sweetest, will soon begin to rot.
With ominous clouds forming in the sky of my life, how am I, like so many before me, supposed to continue on and find meaning in the gradually worsening years allegedly ahead?
There is one conundrum. Why is it that those no more than a decade older than me say I’ve crested the hill, and those in their 40s, 50s or older remark how they wish they could be 30 again?
My generation and succeeding generations have been, and continue to be, instilled with a worldview constructed in the function, values and form of the scholastic structure. To wit, people go to school usually for a minimum of 12 years. Thus, a person is cultivated to be functional in and value a scholastic world which transfers to that person’s approach to the world outside of school.
It is easy to fabricate a world of commerce in the scholastic form; for this reason people can be successful professionally. Even so, it is impossible to reduce the human experience to numbers.
With a numerical societal ethic of the youth, the ways of commerce translate well to the trends of the early stages of life. When we are young and vital, with our strength and abilities consistently improving, the quantifying method works well. Satisfactory results are revealed when children get better at things. When we age a certain number of years, we are able to do specific things. It’s all very subjective.
As time progresses, the trends of human life change. No longer do certain skills improve. Thus, if one analyses the numbers of his life, they can be rather depressing.
The beginning years of getting old require some time for one’s values to adapt to and learn to interpret the new way things work.
Aspects of life that bring reward are obviously preferable to those that are disappointing. While numbers can bring about either sentiment, experiences are usually not quantifiable, but positivity can usually be derived from them. So, as we age, it’s increasingly important to evaluate the progress and success of a life not by how much, but how well.
After 21 and then 35, age landmarks seemingly cease to exist. Yet aging allows one many opportunities that one might avoid in earlier years. Buying a house, settling down, raising a family all contribute to one’s experience. Age also brings with it authority, and authority leads to freedom. Though one might be settled with a family, one has earned the right to do whatever they want within the law and their ability, not having to bow to paternal rules.
Many think because I am still fairly young, I can’t truly feel the effects of aging. Not every effect of age is personal. Hitting the final age landmark of 21 has caused me to look for the next great thing ahead. At the most elementary level, every day of experience I gain contributes to my knowledge base and each day I have hundreds more pieces of the puzzle, gradually allowing me to construct a more complete picture of the world, its truths, lies, trends and inhabitants. Perhaps, moving forward with this idea in mind, I will wake up more grateful for another day of vitality, not taking existence for granted and embracing the obstacles the universe has in store for me, earning privileges, experience and knowledge with each one that I trounce.