Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Eulogy for Youth’s End

I am jealous of my daughter’s generation and their wanton disregard for all the cautionary tales we throw at them. I am jealous of their sure conviction that a vast gulf separates them from my generation’s age, and aging, and aches &, pains, and lapsing physical capabilities and broken beauty. I often wistfully wish I could regain that age; that if I could but have my youth again, I would know better now how to spend the time in-between. Twenty-Four is all possibility, and an infinite future in which to make decisions and choices at leisure.

We hasten, my generation, to caution our children-turned-young-adults, about the swift passage of years just over the next horizon. We do this because we hope they will take heed and make good decisions now before they reap the fruit of decisions gone irrevocably bad. And we do this because we are jealous of the years they have before they find they may have painted themselves into a corner, and wish we could have those years too. They listen to us no more than we listened to our parents and their contemporaries in turn.

But then on occasion, those precious, nascent, jealously regarded years are dispensed with in no time whatsoever. Without regard for its thrumming imbued magic of potentiality and potency, this stretch of time is reduced without warning to a black hole, devouring itself to a pinpoint of nothing.

My daughter had a friend in high school. She and he enjoyed their shared companionship gazing at stars from our back lawn as we slept unaware of their liaisons. Her window let her out of her room and into the shared night of the cosmos, grass, coffee and teenage philosophy. We met him on occasion, learning of their nocturnal friendship only sometime later. But we “approved” of him. He was good and kind and he made her happy. It has been some years, I think, since they have shared much more than a distant friendship, but he was every bit a shaper of her adolescence, for good or for bad, as my wife and I were – at least for a time.

But that time, several years ago, is gone. And his time, now, is also gone. He was murdered by strangers, without motive – as far as the police know – this past Sunday.

I didn’t know him well. I don’t grieve for him per se. I grieve vicariously with my daughter. But I also find myself grieving in a way I don’t fully understand. I think it may be that though I knew him only a little and only a number of years ago, I did actually know him. And he represented that boundless possibility of future years. And while I can’t have those years for myself, and while I am jealous of those who do have them for themselves, I am ultimately a champion of their right to have those years for themselves. Their theft leaves me appalled. There is a diminished set of years to be lived by a bright light. As with all of us, that luminescence would have gradually faded, perhaps to become merely wan, but more likely to become varied in subtle hues of wisdom, regret, and joy. But it has been unfairly snuffed.

I don’t believe in heaven. I believe in the life we have. I will not squander the years I have yet in front of me. I will dispense with keening over my lost youth – now that I have a clearer appreciation of what lost youth really is.