I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, half-looking at some outdated Time magazine, and waiting to have a surgeon remove a pound of gauze and tape from my fucked up finger. I was sitting there stoically, but must admit I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, as well as a little terrified of seeing (or feeling) what lay beneath my bandaging. It was then that the front end of a walker pushed through the door. It took a couple more pushes before an elderly woman emerged behind it. She was advanced in her years, and each laborious shove only carried her two inches at a time across the room. She eventually made her way to the nearest seat, where she promptly plopped herself down. Taking a ragged breath, she smoothed her hair, and exclaimed in a breathless huff: “Enjoy your life while you’re still young!”
Whoa, man. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little intense. “Thank you, that’s a good reminder.” I said politely once I’d found my words. We sat in silence for a moment, until a nurse came to fetch and take me to my room. The old lady was gone when I was done getting unwrapped, prodded and re-wrapped, but I have to say her words stuck with me. I was lying in bed that night when it struck me: I’ve never enjoyed my youth -not really.
You see, I was 4, going on 40, and have been ever since. I was that kid. You know the one…THAT kid. The rule-keeper, the fact-checker, the adult-fetcher, the voice of reason, the one who would inform you matter-of-factly that you will most certainly get hurt trying to jump Billy with your bike and perhaps this isn’t such a good idea after all. I seemingly never outgrew this. I was the 18 year old that didn’t drink at Mardi Gras because it ‘felt wrong’. To be fair, I did freak out and my pendulum did swing all the way to a wild extreme for a couple years in my mid-20′s, but even then I was too disappointed in my own behavior to really enjoy it.
This woman’s simple comment made me see I’d spent my life thus far in one of two spaces: worrying profusely about my future, or over-analzying my past to death. Each day somewhat wasted on worrying, until it was over and could be moved to the past pile for hindsight critique. Wow. What utter shit.
Though I feel 80 half the time, I really am only in my 30s. This is the prime of my life. Sure, thoughts like where I’ll be in five years are important and valid, but they don’t have to consume me. I can have those thoughts while I enjoy living. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I can relish my friendships, and fall in love, or just have good sex, or go do great things on my own. I can fulfill every last one of my senses with concerts, museums, travel, great food/drink and lots of laughs and affection. Life will not blow up if I take a watchful eye off of it long enough to have a good fucking time.
I used to think my biggest fear in this life was to grow old. This woman spurned a revelation that my true fear is to grow old with regrets. Strangely (or maybe not, since this is the way it usually works), I had set up a self-fulfilled prophecy, and was well on my way to remorse-ville. So, thank you old woman, for your profound declaration. Not only did it give me a fresh perspective, and spare me the fate I feared, but it also reminded me that often the biggest lessons come from the unlikeliest of sources, if we’re willing to pay attention.