Robert’s column: A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

Photo courtesy of HUFFINGTONPOST.COM


Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.” –Mark Twain

Last June, I had a small crisis of conscience over a very big change in my life.

Without my consent, against my wishes, a very drastic, great transition was occurring. It was my 17th birthday. I had left 16 behind and before me stretched my final year of childhood before the ultimate transfiguration: that of becoming an adult upon turning 18. But even becoming 17 was difficult to grasp, because I see it as the start of adulthood, not just because I’m now technically an adult in Harry Potter’s Wizarding World and I can see R-rated movies, but because I have one year left to enjoy my childhood.

In less than a year, I will be 18; my birthday is the day after graduation. To me, that odd juxtaposition of the two days is momentous and very significant. I will begin the week as a minor, still in high school. By that Saturday, I’ll be a legal adult, graduated from high school. I don’t think there will ever be another week in my life that will bring so many changes that do so much so quickly.

* * *

Since I turned 12, I have never liked birthdays. It started off as a minor, middle-school annoyance: I was tired of people punching me endlessly in the shoulder, and I found it awkward when people sang to me in class. Ultimately I decided to avoid the whole spectacle and just not mention my birthday to anyone.   

All my painfully awkward, Sheldon Cooper-like neuroses aside, my minor annoyance turned into a full-blown battle against the dreaded birthday: that day which, like an extremely effective Halloween horror, creeps up unnoticed and scares him horribly. I began to fear growing older.

I remember turning 13 and being happy that I was at last a teenager. I was donning the mantle of bravado and naiveté of boys that age. Yet, as the years crept by and I grew older and more cynical (my adult readers will note that my self-described cynicism is likely typical teenage misanthropy) I realized the value of childhood and adolescence, and tried to hold onto it.

Roald Dahl once described adolescence as “that long and difficult metamorphosis when they are no longer children and have not yet become adults.” To adults, we teenagers seem to be feeling entitled and narcissistic, but this is only partly the case. Rather, many of us are trying to come to terms with becoming older and taking on the burden of successes and failures of generations before us.

To grow older, accepting responsibility and taking control of one’s actions—this is the teenager’s ultimate fear. I contend that there can be no greater fear. True, many of us shoulder responsibility and exercise great maturity. I secretly suspect all adolescents of harboring some secret desire to go back to childhood, living a life free of all responsibility. This is why we are reckless and do careless things: it is a cry from the heart. We wish we could stay home on Saturday mornings watching cartoons instead of going to work or other events. We wish we could hang out with friends after school instead of doing homework. It is human nature to want to stay young, to hold on to youth, but that is the main realization we humans must deal with—it is our curse.

* * *

One of the things I have heard most from adults, including teachers and professionals I’ve worked with, is that I seem older than my years. I do have a penchant for classic films and songs, and I love reading books and poetry—habits that many might consider habits of the “old”—but I’ve never considered myself to be older than my peers. In fact, based on my interactions and lack of social experience, I might well be younger. At times, I can be a 10-year-old encased in a 17-year-old body.  I will admit I still dress up for Hallowe’en. It is the one great tradition I have maintained and upheld for 17 years, but I have come to the conclusion that this year will be the last for which I shall dress up. I have determined that there is no call for an 18-year-old to go out and trick-or-treat. This will likely be the hardest change for me to reconcile, but I accept it as necessary. I cannot stay a child forever, as much as Peter Pan calls out to me to join him. As I slowly become older, I grasp how truly ephemeral life really is, which makes me appreciate the fleeting moments of childhood even more.

Leave a Reply