(This is an unedited, free-form “thought dump” triggered by a discussion last night with two promising young people who, after spending a few hours together, realized they hadn’t been born when I was in college).
At age eight, I felt exceedingly young. Teenagers seemed so cool, so tough, and able to do anything. Further, they seemed so much older than me: I couldn’t run as fast, jump as high, or solve as complex a math problem as they could. More importantly, becoming a teenager seemed like an eternity away. After all, with a single summer lasting forever, five or six more summers to become a teenager might as well have been a lifetime. A five-year age gap was nearly unfathomable.
As a teenager, I felt very young. I saw 20-somethings as adults. Once again, they were at an entirely different stage of life. They had concluded their childhood having left elementary and secondary schooling. Many had finished college and already had jobs. Some were already getting married. Frankly, a ten-year age gap between a 13-year-old and 23-year-old seemed monumental.
When I was a 20-something, I felt quite young…and not yet quite an adult. 30- and 40-somethings seemed to define what being an “adult” meant. They seemed so mature, they perhaps had children some of whom were teenagers, and they seemed to be in a completely different stage of life than I was. I frequently wondered if my 40-something friends realized how much younger I was. I saw them as in an entirely different generation whereas they seemed to treat me as a generational peer. The 20-year age gap between a 22-year-old and 42-year old seemed very substantial and hard to imagine as the former.
As a 40-something now, I still feel young. While 50-somethings don’t feel much older, 60- and 70-somethings seem to be in a different stage of life than me. They have an empty nest, their kids are my age and might themselves have kids, and, while they might still have professional careers, those careers aren’t as central to their daily life as mine is. What’s strange, though, is that their stage of life doesn’t seem that distant anymore…I can imagine it and can practically sense it. At this point, a 5-year age gap is meaningless, a 10-year age gap is where most of my friends fit, and a 20-year gap doesn’t seem that insurmountable. After all, those “old teenagers” I saw as an 8-year-old are now my peers; in fact, so are the 20-somethings of which I wasn’t even aware as an 8-year-old.
What’s even more strange is the 20-year gap goes in both directions. That is, while I recognize a 25-year old is younger, I don’t think of them that differently fundamentally. After all, I realize how quickly they’ll get to be my age. They might pull less muscles playing sports against me, but I can hold my own. I frequently find myself in conversations with someone I think is a few years younger than me only to find out they’re 10 or even 15 years younger. It’s at that point I realize they’re wondering what I used to wonder: “does this guy realize he’s a lot older than me?”.
Despite all of this, I still feel “young”…not in a physical sense (with my gray hair and permanently-insured body) but, rather, in an intellectual and emotional sense. I still know so little and have so much I want and need to learn. I’m still figuring life out. I certainly haven’t figured out this whole parenting thing. In short, I’m still looking forward to growing up and overcoming my insecurities. But, alas, I don’t think I ever will.
I can clearly imagine being an 80-something wondering why a world that has aged with me, and at exactly the same pace, sees me so differently when I feel so much the same inside. I can clearly imagine being 80 and talking to an 8-year old wanting to give him advice while, at the same time, reminiscing at how that 8-year-old has absolutely no concept of the age gap between us.
Age truly doesn’t recognize itself…it doesn’t have the capacity to do so.