Saturday, August 4, 2007

Never Trust Anyone Under 30

Despite the snazzy shoes, I can be slow sometimes.

Last week, one of my daughters was complaining that I don't understand what it's like to be 14.

Before I knew what I was saying, the following words popped out of my mouth, "I do. I do understand what it's like to be a teenager. I was a teenager myself. I thought that older people had forgotten what it was like, but I was wrong. They remembered. I just didn't know what it was like for them; I'd never been an adult."

I've been wondering recently what it must have been like to have been my mother when I was a teenager. I was so confident in my ignorance, so sure that my shiny new ideals were more than a match for her time-tested views.

There are cultures in which age and experience is valued and younger folks respect the wisdom of their elders. Ours is not one of them.

In our culture, we have a peculiar notion that the ignorant and inexperienced can do a better job than the educated and aged. We're suspicious of knowledge and expertise. We cheer when the brash young street rat challenges the steely-haired scientist.

I swallowed the cultural meme whole, without subjecting it to any kind of analysis.

Age has much to say that youth doesn't want to hear. "I ask you about the mysteries of the universe and you tell me about flossing my teeth?" Experience teaches lessons of fallibility and mortality, lessons that your average 18-year-old doesn't think she needs to learn. She'll be different; she'll soar above human frailties; she'll make something worthwhile of her life.

My mom was wise enough not to give me much advice (except about things like flossing). She was wise enough to listen and not to judge too much. She taught mostly by example, by living her life fully by her own lights, by changing what she could and accepting what she couldn't.

She was right about so many things I got wrong. She was right about vegetarianism, and about the wisdom of certain of my early relationships. She was right about moderation and compromise, and about not being too extreme or judgmental. She was right about the importance of human relationships, of family, of the value of good friends. She was right about the need to seize the precious moment, to live your life to the fullest while you can.

Right now, I admire her more than I ever have. My dad has brain cancer. My parents continue to travel, to visit with friends and family, and to do all the things they enjoy. They're fighting for my dad's life, but they're also living every day to the fullest.

So thanks, Mom, for teaching me your wisdom. I'll remember to floss.

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