“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”
― Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite writers ever, and she often talks about how she is all the other ages she has been, which is why it wasn’t difficult for her to write about being 6 or 16 or 26…because those ages were a part of who she was at the time, she could draw on that part of herself and remember what it was like to be all those other ages and write an authentic story.
I always liked that idea, but it never really struck me like it did this morning, when I got, I guess you could say, a sort of epiphany.
See, most of the people I work with are considerably younger than I am, between 15-20 years or so for most of them. They’re all mostly in their twenties and do well, what many people in their twenties do. Activities which involve lots of cussing, drinking, herb usage, hooking up and staying up late. General irresponsibility and self-centeredness. I really like them. Seriously, they’re a lot of fun and they’re really very nice to me and don’t treat me like some old and out of touch lady. They tell me all their stories and I smile and nod and we laugh and tell inappropriate jokes and I listen to them rant about their boyfriends/girlfriends, cops, bosses and parents. Complain about school and rent and work.
I was noticing though that sometimes my reactions (internally anyway) to all this vary. There are days when I think “Man, wouldn’t it be nice to be 25 and not have to worry about a mortgage and a family and kidney disease” and all the other trappings of my grown up life. When I wish I could live with friends in some crappy-cool apartment and drive a beat up car and stay up all night doing whatever seemed fun and interesting at the moment. There are times when I’m kind of envious of them.
And then there are the days when I want to smack them and say “Grow the heck up!” and “What the HECK are you thinking!?” and other adult-ish sounding things like that.
I kind of assumed that these reactions were mostly based on how I was feeling on a particular day, if I was especially tolerant or frustrated with my life as it is, or if I was feeling impatient and self-righteous.
But this morning it occurred to me that my reactions are probably a result of the fact that my 20, 25 year old self is still in there…she’s still me, in some ways. And some days I miss that girl. I miss being that girl. I miss having her life. But I’m also the 35, 40 year old me. The one that knows how good I have it. Who loves her husband and family and knows just how stupid (and lucky!) I was at times when I was younger. I’m that and everything in between.
Which is a good thing, I think. It gives me a sense of understanding and wisdom. That yeah, I get it. I get why people do the things they do sometimes, why they make dumb and sometimes self-destructive decisions, because I remember what it’s like to be that age. But I also have the wisdom to know better too, to know that those days are behind me, and with good reason. To appreciate my life as it is now, and what I have gained and learned in the last 15 or 20 years. To not have just gotten stuck at 25 and never moved on.
Maybe this isn’t a particularly earth-shattering revelation but I found it to be pretty interesting and it gave me a new perspective on myself, and the people around me, and how I look at them. I’m glad I’m all those different “me’s”. I think it makes your life a lot richer if you can draw on who you are and who you were and really see a much bigger picture.
“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be… This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages…the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide… Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don’t ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and *be* fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.”
― Madeleine L’Engle