I’m sure many of you will echo my sentiments when I say that I feel oversaturated in COVID-19 content from the media. I have no interest in adding to the void in my very small nest on the internet. Yet, with so much talk of infection in every shop, workplace and sitting room in the country, I realise that I have dwelled heavily on the privilege of being young.
With no small amount of indignation, I’ve had to acknowledge that I will forget the majority of my daily, youthful experiences. In the hopes of gently memorialising some of my (our) experiences, I am writing to you here.
Recently, I attended an induction day for a new job which involves collaborating with a lot of very creative people. Everyone from animators and scientists to pottery experts and filmmakers was in the one room, eyeing each other up with interest. As an introverted writer, I felt somewhat plain compared to these eclectic brains.
When I sat down next to a woman I didn’t know, her very first words upon turning to face me were ‘Christ, you look young! Have you even gone to college yet?’. Far from insulted, I explained that I was approaching twenty-six this August. She looked abashed and quickly uttered an apology. Not wanting the woman to feel too embarrassed, I jokingly added that I felt jaded enough from life to be nearing retirement.
For reason I couldn’t immediately define, that interaction has niggled the back of my mind since it happened. Last week, I met with two friends whom I’ve known for thirteen years and it fell into place. My realisation is far from ground-breaking: I have a fundamental dislike for feeling exhausted in my youth. My apparent prime, if I’m to consult anyone over the age of forty.
(As a side note, I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction. Alongside this dislike, I believe that if we accept the societal truth that youth is ‘best’ and ageing is ‘worst’, then we are calling that experience into being. Thus, creating our own tilt in life as a downward slope.)
I know from my friends that this feeling isn’t exactly a unique sentiment. Nearly all of my friends have expressed anxieties about the coming forty years in the workforce. How will we keep going with such poor morale, with such little passion in our lives?
Financial worries seem to cloud our everyday. How will we become homeowners, send our children to college or care for our ageing parents? These legitimate questions seem to have no easy answer.
However, it is important to remember that when these thoughts take over the steering wheels of our minds, it’s time to backtrack. It’s not all bad. That has been one of the beauties of the privilege of growing up. I have seen that happiness and sadness can exist together, resulting in a life that is not always perfect but relentlessly contains the potential to be beautiful.
I understand something I didn’t as a teenager. We can be on anti-depressants or in therapy and still experience moments so sharply brilliant that we laugh until our chests hurt. We can fret over living with our parents until our thirties and still receive a hug from a friend that is filled with such love that life is, momentarily, fixed and whole once more.
The truth is what it always has been. Youth is an imperfect experience. This has been the case even for our parents, many of whom regale nights out in the eighties as shining memories and days without smartphones as simplistic bliss.
Right now, you and I are both as young as we will ever be. We have life ahead of us, that much cannot be denied. Whether we have another six months or sixty years, there are certain experiences of youth I know I will forget. And forgetting, as my parents taught me, is the point of sharp, momentary joys. Forgetting means that both quality and quantity of experiences have occurred and what better gift is there than continuous life?
Here is what I will undoubtedly forget about being young, what I may challenge my own children about and what I hope to remember fondly in moments of déjà vu in years to come:
1. I will forget that being a teenager can be as painful as it is joyful. You laugh hard, but often cry harder. Fights, squabbles, boyfriends, exams – you will never experience anything with such highs and lows as you do in those brief teenage years. It is simply hard to exist in the world as a teenager and no one gives you allowances for that struggle, least of which yourself. That said, I will never forget the horror of Youth Club discos, no matter how hard I try.
2. I will forget the patience I unwittingly demanded from my parents. From the mood swings, arrogance, and ignorance. I will forget their pleasant smiles, as they hand me just enough rope to hang myself with. Thankfully, I will never forget that it is their faces whom I want to see at the start and end of every day.
3. I will forget that there was a time when it felt as though my only ally in the world was my sister. I will forget that no spouse or friend can match someone who knew you when you were young. I will never forget her nails digging into my arms as we fought over who would empty the dishwasher. After all, while she may not be my only ally anymore, she is the best one.
4. I will forget the privilege of experiencing so little of death. I will forget a time before grief became inevitable, where I did not understand how funerals worked or how expensive a coffin could be. I will never forget that those older than me over me protection, buffering me from the reality of an ending-life.
5. I will forget how the pillow lines on my cheeks faded quickly in the morning, how my skin bounces back and I get asked for ID buying a scratch card. I will never forget when my knees started to creak and my back began to hurt from standing for too long. (Somewhere around 2014, for those who are curious).
6. I will forget a time when cellulite was a primary concern. I will never forget severing the connection I bound with my weighing scales, ultimately forcing me on an epic self-love journey more clichéd than Eat, Pray, Love.
7. I will forget a time when I begged the Universe to make me likable to those girls in school. I will forget the real anguish of someone who doubts whether or not they are fundamentally valid. I will never forget the sting of being the one not to get the invite and how humbling that experience was.
8. I will forget a time when I didn’t appreciate how willing my parents were to drive me anywhere. I will never forget the disappointing realisation that the diesel in the car running out is now my responsibility.
9. I will forgot what it feels like to have boundless time to simply live. I will forget spending summers watching Gossip Girl and Christmas holidays sleeping in, guilt-free. I will never forget my initial realisation of just how few 20 annual leave days is a in a year.
10. I will forget the first feelings of rage and frustration when my brain awoke for the first time to examine the politics of today, arriving with fully formed opinions. I will hopefully forget that we live in a time stupid enough to have debates where insults include words like Snowflakes.
11. I will forget how important it felt to make a difference in the world. To leave a mark, something memorable. I will never forget those who have marked my life with the gentlest of actions.
I’ll leave it there for today. After all, I’ve rambled on a lot more than I ever intended to.
With love and kind thoughts,