Recently a friend told me of a thrilling career opportunity that he had been offered and accepted. He and his wife are in their late 50s and the opportunity involved relocating to Asia. Excitement was written all over his face as he said to me, "It is so much easier to do this now with the kids gone, and us still young. Or at least believing that we are still young."
To me those words said everything. He looked, and I am going to guess felt, younger than I have seen him in years as he told me of the job he had never expected to be offered, in an industry from which he had retired a decade earlier. When I watched him I felt a little like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. I wanted what he was having.
On a parallel track I am watching my nearly grown sons go out into the world for the first time. They are experiencing life in the big city, minus mom and dad. When I cut through the thick layer of jealousy that comes from wanting to be my children, I realize that both my sons and my friend are at a moment in life where so many things are unknown and so much feels possible. The reason my friend feels so young is that at this moment, his life is much like my children's, filled with more questions than answers.
Young adulthood, for most of us was filled with big questions; where would we live, who would we marry and what would we do? But then there were the seemingly smaller ones that turn out to be much bigger than we can know. Who will be my friends? What will I believe in? What kind of a person will I become?
Adulthood is the long pursuit of answers to our own life's questions, but when we find the answers and the questions become too few, what do we have?
Parenthood has the sense of the unknown built into its very structure and fools us into believing that our youth has been prolonged and our journey uncharted. My father-in-law used to always say about my kids, "they keep you young." I thought he meant that the sheer effort involved with raising young kids would keep me fit and in touch with the youth culture.
I now think I was wrong. Our kids kept us young because they made the landscape of our lives ever changing. Even if we didn't move house or job, or take on new challenges or adventures, our lives as their parents never stood still as we followed them through the stages of childhood.
Parenthood lulls us into thinking that life still has so many questions, but the questions are in our children's lives, not ours, and it is easy to confuse the two.
Staying young is more than trying a new activity or hobby. While avocations can spark new interests, in reality, if I take up knitting or travel to Hawaii, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. There may be novelty, but no real questions. Novelty is like eating candy when you want a meal. Briefly you will feel a rush of exuberance, but it will leave you hungry.
My friend has left New York and I have not doubt that his journey will be successful. Part of his success comes from the partnership I can see that he has with his wife. She has developed a thriving business in our town, she speaks only English and has deep roots in our community. When he came to her with this opportunity she could have focused on these very real facts. Instead she saw adventure, a new country and new language and most importantly, I believe, that leap into the unknown.
The feeling of youth is that vibration, a heady mixture of fear, thrill and adventure that ran through our bodies and minds when we were young. We experience it when we don't know what will come next in some element of our lives. When it is sapped from us, when we feel that life's questions have all been answered, that the scenery, real or in our minds, has stopped moving, it is then that we lose that wonderful link with our vibrant pasts.