“Youth is wasted on the young”
I came across a thread online, and in it people were contemplating the meaning of this pervasive quote. To every wise individual of age, the quote would mean something slightly different. Others contributing to the thread would probably respond by chucking their tongues or perhaps with amused, gentle laughter at my own attempt to explore the six wonderfully thought provoking words. (They warned that no one younger than fifty-five dare try and discuss the quote.)
I’m only twenty, and I don’t have the passing of the seasons, the years, the experiences or realizations—and ultimately, the wisdom—to guide me in speculation. But at twenty, I can at least say that I’m starting to notice time flowing differently.
For one, the early 2000’s definitely doesn’t feel like ten years ago. I remember the first time I felt this. A brilliant day on the 405 on my drive back from Santa Monica. As I passed the Getty and traffic began to clear up, I rolled my windows down to feel the cool, coastal breezes before returning inland when a song began to play on the radio… “These are my confessions, just when I thought I said all I could say…” For me at the time, there was nothing more euphoric than cruising down a hill on the clear side of traffic (while the other side looked like, well, 405 traffic) through the bright early afternoon sunshine, with the radio coincidentally blasting one of my all time favorite songs. It was even more euphoric because the liberating moment was at best ephemeral; at the bottom of the hill where the 405 and 101 merged, cars started lining up again, and I withdrew by closing my windows and lowering the volume of the radio. As it grew quieter, my thoughts began to take over.
When did Usher release that album? 2005?… 2004? After hearing Usher’s Confessions, I wanted to hear all my early 2000’s R&B favorites—R. Kelly, Ne-Yo, Trey Songz, Mario. It was the genre that I first truly learned to love. Even as R&B left mainstream, I would play the same songs over and over again, on my iPod Shuffle then iPod Nano then Blackberry then iPhone, and then in every new house I’d move into and in my first car too. The songs never really left me and were always so familiar, but I suddenly came to the realization that these songs and I were separated by a distance of ten years. It’s funny because I could remember the exact moment I grew fond of a number of these songs. I recalled one of these moments with exact precision—I was wearing a long sleeve on one of the hottest days of that spring. After school, my crush and I walked down the blazing outdoor halls toward the ice cream trucks. He slid the left piece of his earphone into my ear and gave me a playful nudge on the waist, where I was most ticklish. I never blush, but if I did I would have turned brighter than the world’s ripest tomato. He whispered, “This is my favorite song”, and it became my own favorite too, to this day.
I couldn’t believe that such a vivid moment happened almost ten years ago. To some, ten years may not seem very long ago, but for me, that's a half-lifetime ago. That meant that if I went back to that day and went back the same amount another time, I would be in my mother’s womb. The time from my mom’s womb to the day I heard my favorite song seemed intensely long, but the time from my favorite song to now, seemed intensely short. I shared this thought with my best friend, and she remarked to me that that was the same year her and I became friends. I remembered that exact moment too. We were on an overcrowded bus on a field trip and happened to sit next to each other. We began to bond over futile gossip that little girls share. We were probably child drama queens. I can still recall how she was then, in her short, brown, curly hair, her orange polo shirt — the way a slight dimple appeared on the side of her cheek when she smiled. I realized that if we were to remain best friends for the same amount of time from the day we first became friends, we would both be thirty. At this thought, I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable and anxious.
How fast would I become thirty? What had I accomplished between the time I heard my favorite song until now? My twenties were supposed to be the years I embark into adulthood, step into my career, find true love and perhaps marry, become the person I had wanted to become all of my childhood. The twenties were supposedly the prime years of life, the highlight of youth, the years in which one comes across the most fun—these were supposed to be the golden years. But I, finally having gotten a grasp of how short ten years was, became nervous. Am I currently doing the right thing? Am I wasting my youth? If I could remember the day of my favorite song so well today, how well would I remember the days of my twenties in my thirties? And how much better would I remember my thirties in my forties? In the short time of ten years, how will I meet the majority of expectations I held for myself in my twenties? I suddenly felt that I needed more time to build better habits, figure out my identity and desires to prepare myself for the heyday of my youth—years that might permanently define me. I, all of a sudden, saw time as incredibly swift and youth as incredibly fleeting.
I saw the youth in my grandparents and people I’ve never seen in their younger years. In fact, not so long ago, they had been very young. I realized my grandmother was the pretty young lady I saw in her velvety, dusty photo albums. I went to go see a Hitchcock film a few weeks ago and got to stare at a window (albeit black and white) into an era I had always perceived as very long ago. Except for the black and white and graininess of the film, making things appear “old”, much seemed the same. Women were seducing men in the same poses, flicking their eyeliners in the same direction and shape, men boasting about their game in the same sleazy ways. In a thousand years, a young lover will leave their significant other for the same impersonal reason Aeneas left Dido. Although many things change—the architectural landscape, the fashion tastes, and technology—we all experience youth collectively. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, anyone who has ever set foot in this world have felt the same sentiments during youth: energy and a sense of immortality, the feeling that death is very far away. The experience of youth, its immense illusion of freedom, is a commonality that binds us all, despite time and place.
And it seems that although today I crumble under the immense expectations surrounding youth, I will yearn for it more than anything when it quickly passes. It is a time when we are more optimistic than cynical after being jaded by life in our later years. It is a time when despite failure, there’s time for new slates and opportunities. In fact, it’s a time when for a short while, we can feel infinite.
The quote “Youth is wasted on the young” probably came from a person, well done with their youthful years (maybe George Bernard Shaw). He knew exactly how the young—the young, regardless of their origins in time or place—abused or did not take full advantage of the infiniteness youth gives us. Today,
Youth is wasted on the young because of the late nights we lay awake in bed, not knowing how to deal with the anxieties or feelings of emptiness and hopelessness that prevent us from getting sleep.
Youth is wasted on the young because the infiniteness gives off the impression that laziness and delaying important matters is okay.
Youth is wasted on the young because we would do just about anything to escape routine, but it’s the only thing giving us structure.
Youth is wasted on the young because we are confused.
Youth is wasted on the young because we are terribly busy trying to build ourselves that we forget entirely about our youth and tire our bodies, only to wonder where youth went one morning.
Perhaps youth is not just the physical beauty and endless energy, but because youth can’t exist without the young, the other inseparable side of youth may be just that – mistakes, confusion, and insecurity. The infiniteness will make us feel restless at times.
In fact, youth is the first stroke of paint on a grainy wall, the first layer of pedals on a blooming rose, the first heavy steps of a marathon. Youth is inevitably imperfect and full of disquiet, but in the end, I would still gladly drink from the waters of Bimimi or St. Augustine.