Youth is not wasted on the young

I’ve been organizing my personal files, paper and electronic, and  just rediscovered this piece. I wrote June 9, 2006 pretty soon after I started my blog. I didn’t post it because a young friend of mine who knew I was thinking about running for office talked me out of doing so. She was a little worried that it wasn’t serious enough and the Viagra joke bothered her. But having reread it–and being 6 years older and coming off of major surgery– I still like what it says about the importance of cross-generational collaboration and about the pleasures and pains of aging. And while I’ve lost touch with some of the young people I was working with in 2006, many of them are still friends and allies, and others have been replaced, in some cases by younger versions of themselves. Staying engaged with young people is still important to my life as a health appreciation for the knowledge and occasional wisdom that comes with age.  

I’d add one point–one of the great things about getting older (and deciding that you are never going to run for office again) is a certain freedom about having to appear serious. My young friend was wrong six  years ago. There is little to be gained in life from solemnity and taking yourself too seriously to poke a little fun at your own foibles and weaknesses. Even, perhaps especially if you want to lead others, it helps to show a little recognition of our common, shared humanity, and vulnerability.

She was probably right about the Viagra line. I wouldn’t write it today because it’s not a good joke. But too late to re-write history….

I turned fifty nine months ago. When people ask me, I have been saying that growing older is not fun. That’s partly because I see what growing older has meant to my parents and mother-in-law, who have been suffering from the pain, uncertainty, diminished capacities, and, sometimes, the indignities that seems to come with reaching the late seventies and eighties.

I have been thinking about this subject today because I just finished taking apart and putting back together my cell phone / PDA. I, perhaps foolishly, decided to replace a backup battery myself. I have, or used to have, the technical skills to do this. But I forgot one thing: my vision has deteriorated over the last ten years. I have been near-sighted since third grade and in the last ten years, have almost totally lost my near-point. So it is almost impossible for me to see the tiny screws that hold the phone together, let alone the bracket that hold the backup battery.

My eyes started going a while ago. Lately I have noticed I don’t hear as well as I used to, especially in noisy environments. So far sex is not a problem without chemical enhancement, knock wood (sorry). But it is different in ways that are mostly but not always for the better. And worst of all, I recover very slowly when I get banged up. A few years ago I fell while running to get on the R7. Twenty years ago I would jumped right up and been fine the next day. But this time I was in pain for about two weeks with some bruises and cuts.

I am old enough to complain with my friends about the younger generation. And of course, one of the things we say is that youth is wasted on the young. If only the young realized that some day their bodies would fail them they would appreciate what they have now.

Today, however, I realized that there is something wrong with this folk saying. Think about it. If you knew in your twenties how and when your body was going to fail in the future, how would you have lived your life differently?  Would you spend a lot more time looking at tiny objects? Would you make an effort to hold more conversations in noisy rooms? Would you try to get banged up more often? Would you spend more time having sex?

In our sex obsessed culture, maybe we would answer yes to that one. But, really, one of the things we do learn as we get older, and hopefully long before our body fails us, is that not every sexual opportunity is meant to be taken, even if what we are after is the physical pleasures of sex, and even more so if sex is a way of deeply connecting with other people.

So, I’m never going to say that youth is wasted on the young again, at least in so far as their bodies are concerned. And, I’m not all that worried about their souls. Over the last six months I have met an incredible group of young men and women, mostly associated with Philly for Change, who have a devotion to public life in general and this city in particular. They have been willing to put their bodies and souls on the line to make life better here.

Again, the older generation is quick to kvetch and point out that these kids don’t yet have the family and job commitments that would make it hard for them to spend days and nights politicking. But the fact is that they have lives as well, careers to develop (bar exams to take, dissertations and novels to write) as well as relationships to create. And, in many cases, they have put these things aside to learn the difficult art of politics.

They are, some of the time, infuriating in their naïve idealism and in their obsessions, which occasionally clouds their judgment. But that is precisely what youth is for—to make impossible demands and ask all those questions that as we age we sometimes forget to ask.

It also is a time to learn, and these young men and women have been farsighted enough to seek out and engage people older than themselves, who can once in a while give them useful advice.

So as far as these young men and women, youth is not being wasted. I see it being exploited it to its fullest. Those of us who know them are better for their company. And, soon enough, the whole city will see that as well.

And, as for my phone, well I found a bright place and found the right spot where I can still see well enough at short distances to open the case and then put the backup battery plug in the bracket. I’ve discovered, too, that just taking off my glasses gives a bit more near focus than I would otherwise have. So the procedure went forward. I almost got stuck when I dropped one of the screws that hold the whole thing together. But I borrowed the eyes of my 13 year old daughter to help me find it. And, thanks to this cross-generational collaboration, it is working again.

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