The Elders and the Youngsters

I just saw an animation that brought tears to my eyes. It was the song Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Yusuf sings the father’s part and the younger version of himself, Cat Stevens, sings the son version, taken from a recording of himself from decades ago, obviously.

In the song, the father is trying to urge the son not to go off and do something impulsive that will potentially alter his entire life. (At the time he wrote it, he was imagining a boy who wanted to run off and join the Russian Revolution, but really any scenario will do.) The father says, basically, stop and think. Take it slow. You still have a lot to learn. Be calm. Think of the consequences. “For you will still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.”

The son, on the other hand, says that he’s been ordered to listen his whole life, but he doesn’t feel like he’s been listened to. He says he knows himself, and that it’s time to make a change. His part is all about the frustration of not being heard and not being taken seriously, and the desire to make his own way.

The reason this animation struck me to the core is that I think, for the first time, it really hit me that I’m not young anymore. That’s a really hard pill to swallow. It took me long enough. I’m 55. (And I know the older readers will say that 55 isn’t that old. I get that. Everything is relative.)

I think everything is getting more poignant with me over time, because we are all on the cusp of radical, terrifying changes, and no one can predict what’s going to happen next. It feels as if the sand is shifting beneath our collective feet, and that’s unsettling at the best of times. It feels like things that used to be just slightly risky are now becoming a matter of life and death. I’m profoundly scared.

It’s really stressful, in particular, to watch the younger people in my life right now. (And by younger, in this case, I mean 40 and below.) So many of them are making crazy, impulsive decisions and not thinking about the long term impact. They are speculating based on a world that no longer exists. They’re risking their lives. They’re settling for relationships that aren’t the best for them. They’re tying themselves down to parts of the country that aren’t politically and/or economically and/or environmentally and/or socially feasible for the people that they are or will become.

I’m frustrated because I see so much potential in these people, and I know they are capable of so much more. I have to resign myself to the fact that their choices aren’t my business, really. I just see them making many mistakes that I have made, and I want to save them the agony that I know they’ll be going through. But in life, there are no shortcuts.

Add another layer onto the anxiety cake by realizing that I’ve had someone die quite expectedly on me in recent years. Poof! Gone. Just like that.

That changes you. It forever colors the way you look at the world. And it makes you realize that no one can fully understand your point of view until they’ve had that sort of experience themselves. People think they can imagine what it’s like. They haven’t a clue.

Life is so precious. It’s so fragile. It’s like a soap bubble. It can all be gone in a pop. Everyone knows this, but those of us who’ve seen that moment of pop are not allowed the luxury of forgetting it. And it truly is a luxury.

Yes, everyone has to make their own mistakes, and also have their own triumphs. But there are so many people that I’d like to shake (and hug) right now. And I can’t.

At the same time, to add complexity to the situation, I am really proud of some of the things the younger people are doing, attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been handed. I’m impressed with their innovation and their ability to think outside the box and come up with something different. Even though they’re making a lot of mistakes, they’re also making progress. I just have to remember that the world will keep revolving and evolving, with or without me.

But I can’t say this enough: Life is a gift. It should never be squandered. It shouldn’t be risked. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially now, in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping helping of political unrest.

Good God, am I becoming conservative? Please, no. Anything but that.

I think I’m just valuing things much more than I once did. It’s all so fleeting and final. It’s all so slippery and hard to grasp. Odds are extremely good that I won’t live until I’m 110, and I really don’t want to, if I’m honest. But that means I’m on the downhill slope. And as hard as I’d like to fight it, the slide is inevitable.

But, having climbed up the other side, I would very much like to show those who come behind me that there are easier trails. I want that with my whole heart. At the same time, I understand that blazing your own trail is the whole point. But until you get to the other side, you don’t quite realize that the hill is made up entirely of the consequences that are occurring because of your own actions and choices.

I carry with me a wealth of life experience, as does everyone on my side of the hill. And that experience includes both success and failure. But when you’re young you don’t see that as valuable. You’re too busy making the climb for yourself. It’s a waste and a shame to not learn from others, but everyone has their own hill to climb, and it’s time for me to accept that it’s high time to let go and focus on my next phase in life.

“Hey! You there! Watch out! That’s the exact spot where I tripped and broke my leg! Can’t you see that if you fall, it hurts me, too?”

Oh, never mind. You’ll figure it out.

It’s just all so damned bittersweet…

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

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