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We Are So Young

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For all the time I’ve spent thinking about what to include in my routine were I a stand-up comedian (for some unspoken reason I feel compelled to be prepared for the hypothetical scenario of the mic being suddenly thrust upon me), I’ve only ever been able to come up with two jokes. The first involves the notion of more athletic coaches following baseball’s suit and dressing in the uniforms donned by their respective players. Bela Karolyi in a leotard? Come on, that’s funny.

The second joke has to do with the wigs worn by noblemen in eras past. You know the ones. Long, poofy, curly. Downright feminine, and always either white or brown. You never see any depictions of graying wigs. No brown with a few stray grays. No salt and pepper. No gradients when it comes to this notion of follicle maturity. Which means that at some point then, a man simply flipped the switch. And can’t you imagine a formerly brown-wigged man showing up to work one day suddenly donning a mound of the brightest white? “Rough night?” his comrades would ask.

Because I am not a stand-up comedian—please thank whatever Deity you subscribe to for this—this second joke actually gives me pause. Because I am a writer, it sends me into a bit of a pensive and aching analysis of youth—how and when it ends, and the much more haunting question of who decides when it ends? What is the threshold for being young?

Like much of the world, I was moved by the late Marina Keegan’s final essay, printed in the university newspaper just prior to her graduation from Yale. It’s not just that her words—“We are so young. We have so much time.”—became so cruelly ironic when she was killed in a car accident five days after graduation. It’s that her message continues to turn my stomach into a pit of schoolyard angst over whether or not I can still include myself in Marina’s collective “We.”

She wasn’t talking to me, of course. I’m no longer twenty-two. Aside from age or college—something that categorizes us as young by default—how do we know if we still qualify? As long as the workers in Times Square see your small frame and hand you a booster for your theater seat? As long as the guys behind the counter at Artichoke Pizza call you “Doll” on your way out the door? As long as your eyes are clear and your muscles strong and your back straight? As long as you are not old? Does not being old equal being young?

Marina offers an interesting perspective on the matter, one much more satisfying than the ice cream cone of belief that equates youth to how young a person feels; how young he acts. Cautioning her fellow classmates against the notion that it is ever too late to “begin a beginning” or that “we must settle for continuance, for commencement,” Marina makes a connection between youth and possibility. “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.” Think about that. We are so young.

What makes young people so young is not only the myriad of choices still to be made, but also the ability to change course—perhaps drastically—even after those choices have been made. Using this criteria, then, I’d wager it could encompass a much larger percentage of the population if only we would stop looking at our decisions as undoable. Stop looking at our books as written, our paths as taken. It’s the reason why I’m in New York in the first place. To pursue the career I always wanted, even though it’s many years after I envisioned pursuing it. So late to the game am I that I’d be foolish not to admit that the odds of it not working out in my favor are much larger than slim. But I’m trying. Because I can. And if I’ve learned anything from Marina Keegan, it’s that I wish I would have been like her from the beginning, resolutely declaring my future occupation to all my friends: “Like, a real one,” she told them. “With my life.”

I may never stop wishing to be young. Never stop clinging to the collective ease and carefreeness with which the youth of this world can adopt. Indeed, they can’t help themselves. It is theirs. The way it once was mine. And, to some extent—We are so young—still is. Or maybe, like Tennyson’s Tithonus, I will inevitably tire of life’s longevity. Either way, I’m sure there will come a moment when my wrinkly, post-menopausal self will no longer need to be young.

I can only hope that by then I will have come up with a few more jokes. You know, just in case I need them.

 

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