“Youth is wasted on the young.”
That quote, often attributed to playwright George Bernard Shaw among others, may on the surface appear paradoxical. However, to me its meaning is clear. When we are young and in our physical prime, both the slate of options for physical activity and the predicted impact of the effort exerted, are at their peak. What’s missing is the prudence necessary to choose how to harness our potential to ensure its maximization. That wisdom comes with age.
ALS has reinforced Shaw’s words for me. While I was not dictionary “young” when diagnosed, I was youthful in terms of my nonchalance to somber matters such as subsistence, mortality, and the passage of time. Upon learning of my fate, I immediately became psychologically older. My preceding vitality has long since “wasted” away, becoming a foggy souvenir. My challenge is to not allow my own hypothesized corollary to the aforementioned adage to become a reality. To avoid letting the wisdom that accompanies aging be wasted on the wise-aged.
As the successive laps around the sun accumulate, we reach a point in our lives when we become aware of how the length of each year seemingly shrinks. Our perception of the passage of time alters; the years appear to pass more rapidly; the seasons, birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmases seem to arrive closer together. Time seems to accelerate and we become aware of the rapidly dwindling timeframe we have left. Toss a terminal condition into the mix, and the effect is multiplied exponentially. A “wise” person acknowledges and accepts this temporal nonlinearity phenomenon.
I don’t want to accept it, at least not fully. Instead, I’d like to, whenever possible, follow the advice of Paul Simon, as espoused in “The 59th Street Bridge Song”: “Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last.”
Of course, I recognize the importance of squeezing the juice from life while I still have the chance, but not at breakneck speed. I want to take the time to savor as many of its precious drops that I can. I realize that may appear counterintuitive given my upended hourglass unless I can somehow invert the slope of my relative time continuum. To facilitate that aspiration, I borrow a trait, or two, from the toolbox of the truly young. Neil Young philosophized that, “You can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain,” but I’ve fashioned a fake ID which I use liberally.
I am often struck by the childlike — approaching infantile — reliance that I have on the kindness and care of others for sustenance, hygiene, and comfort. One day that awareness prompted an early memory to rush to the forefront of my mind. Back in the third grade, much like Forrest Gump, “for no particular reason,” I spent the entirety of a recess lying on my back in the grass, with my eyes closed. The vivid richness of the experience impressed me anew, some 45 years later. I recalled exhibiting selective hearing. To my right, I could hear my classmates playing kickball and afterward could regurgitate an accurate play-by-play. On my left, I identified seven different species of birds and sensed the activities of nearby insects. Strikingly, time crawled gloriously.
Motivated by that recollection, I decided to try to recapture its magic. I succeeded, somewhat. When I can set my curiosity, naiveté, and mental agility on high, while dialing down my biases, cynicism, and focus to their lowest settings, my personal metronome occasionally can be slowed down.
For example, when in that zone, my never-changing vista on the world outside can transform into a kaleidoscope. The leaves dancing in the wind have a perfect rhythmic choreography. The clouds play a whimsical game of tag. The shadows of the day demonstrate an Etch A Sketch-like dynamic architecture. If the windows are open and I close my eyes, an organic-inorganic fusional symphony is produced as nature interacts with technology. Seconds seem like minutes. Minutes feel like hours. Suddenly, amid an ever-rapidly dwindling supply of sand grains, I have all the time in the world.
Besides, being a believer in God, it positions me better to join Him in the afterlife. As Jesus said in Luke 18:17, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
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