18 is such a ripe age.
It is the pivotal point when one is still (to some extent) socially accepted as a pubescent, yet in other regards one begins to take on the responsibilities associated with adulthood. It’s from this point onwards that we either look forward to the obligations to come with the future years, or mourn the years that have passed and the childhood that is irrecoverable, and whichever attitude one may desire to assume, I think it is only fitting, as Charles appositely expresses in Brideshead Revisited to acknowledge that “the languor of Youth–how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrevocably lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth—all save this— come and go with us through life.” For me, a poignant consciousness dawned upon me that I shall never again have the capability, let alone the choice to return to this age of youth and vivacity. And whilst I’ve made my peace for the most part with the idea that each new age labours new fruits, and provides worthwhile opportunities I still get dispirited every once in a while when I think that these are meant to be the best years of my life that I will never get back; the years in which I’m meant to be carefree- when I’m meant to let myself fall in love with different people and ideas; the years when I’m meant to be passionate.
I remember when I was younger it seemed like a lifetime before I would reach 16 (my older sister at the time was 16, whilst I was around 5 and she always seemed to have an ‘unlimited’ freedom, the coolest friends and fashion which I craved) and now that I’ve finally surpassed the pinnacle age of youth, I only wish I could regress and freeze it at that moment. I’m not sure how to completely reconcile my thoughts, for whilst I know that I will only ever be the way I am now for a moment in my life, I still waste my time worrying about not being secure in the love I desire to share with a partner and the awkwardness of my body, yet I am undetermined as to what end I obtain this mentality that the ‘despair’ and ‘agony’ of unrequited love I experience now or the clumsiness and gracelessness of my teenage body will be forever. I think we only ever really get to experience a moment of time in an infinity and unfortunately that’s something, which we all sometimes take for granted in our self-absorption- we sometimes forget we’re just one speck of dust on a unswept rug.
When I recall my childhood, the most prominent memories are the unconcerned days when I would roam carelessly through the back gardens with my neighbours’ children. Interestingly, at each age that I recall as being the finest times of my life, I always envisage there to have been an overwhelming blast of sunlight. In particular the summer I turned 16 (yes, the prime age of ‘youth’) I recall the lingering uncircumspect summer days in which I would lazy about in the park after school with my friends. Being a diligent individual, of course the ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’ of school was always present for me, but looking back now at university level, the stress I experience was undeniably significantly less than it is now. And that goes with everything in life, not just intellectual endeavour, but indeed in terms of how we perceive our relationship with other people and with materialistic objects changes dramatically. If you have facebook, you might have seen during Christmas time this slightly depressing, but certainly truthful pic quote floating around on your homepage: “as you get older your Christmas list gets shorter, because the things you really want can’t be bought.” Whilst this does bare some truth, I think the principal reason as to why we are generally happier during our childhoods is, as the old saying goes, that ignorance is quite literally bliss; when we are children we’re oblivious to the moral dilemmas that await us in adulthood, the inevitability of death and that the greatest pain we will experience in life won’t just be the physical pain from cuts and wounds, but also the emotional pain that we are potentially exposed to as we allow ourselves to build connections with other people.
As far as I am able recall, my real exposure to the ‘grown-up’ world was when I asked my mum to explain some kind of scientific phenomena to me, and when she couldn’t it was then that I realised that my parents don’t know everything. I’m not sure why it came to me as a great shock, obviously now I’ve come to realise that no one can possibly know everything, but I think at the time it was just the acknowledgement that my mum, who I had always valued as a figure of certitude and assurance, could no longer provide me with the absolutes that I was seeking. And I am in no way suggesting that this a bad thing- indeed one should question everything, if only to remind yourself how to live, for if we stop questioning existence we run the risk of merging into the monotonous drool of atomic matter.
There seems to be a certain security (at least for me) in the past, I believe because of the security in familiarity and our fear of the unknown. If any of you have ever seen Midnight in Paris you’ll understand what I mean when I say we as humans have an endemic problem of idealising past ages; even as far as the Romans, the ideal of the ‘golden age’ was crystallised in civilisation. It’s weird to think that one day perhaps the future generation will look back and idealise our sordidly modern age, just I guess as Julia says, we’re all in some respects a produce of this “ghastly age… a tiny bit of a man pretending to be whole”- I wonder though if the primitive humans felt the same sentiment when a certain hunting spear, say, was remodelled to have more precision with a sharper blade…
It’s a common misconception I believe to think that passion is inextricably linked with youth (I guess this ideal is perhaps fostered by Romantic poets such as Keats, Byron, Shelly, and even Wilfred Owen, who unfortunately did not even make it to forty- in a way they’ve seem to glamorise dying young, suggesting, perhaps with the exception of Wilfred Owen here, that one’s passion is left unspoiled in a premature death), but the more I ponder upon the issue, the more I place my sentiments in line with those of John Williams: “The poets say that youth is the day of the fevered blood, the hour of love, the moment of passion and that with age comes the cooling baths of wisdom, whereby the fever is cured. The poets are wrong. I did not know love until late in my life when I could no longer grasp it. Youth is ignorant and its passion is abstract” – love for the young is too ambiguous and incomprehensible- our concept of love is fed by the mass media, with these falsified American teenage sitcoms, or even worse; by the Romantics who didn’t live long enough to experience the maturing nature of love. It’s clouded by our feverish experiences, in which we believe that we know the definition of love by living it, when really we only know the feeling of inquisitiveness and perhaps novelty.
It goes without saying, hand in hand, that the unknown is another motive that conceivably unnerves me about the prospect of growing up. Socrates most famously declares in the Apology: “To fear death gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew it is the greatest of evils.” Alas, if only we could all possess Socrates’ disposition! I suppose it’s healthy in a way to be reminded of our submissive position in the face of death, for just as Rome (the powerhouse of the ancient world as far as the Romans were concerned) were reminded of their mortality in the 2nd Punic Wars, so too is it only fitting that the entirety of humanity is reminded of its perishability .
This quest for vivacity is not one worth exerting oneself for, as I often find the best moment of desire and appetite in life rouses not when you are searching for it. However, now I fear that I am beginning to sound like a moralist, and you know what they say about moralists: “the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgements rather than gaining knowledge for the reason that judgement is easy and knowledge is difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgements reflect a vision of himself, which in his ignorance and pride he would impose upon the world. I implore you, do not become a moralist; you will destroy your art and your mind.”