“No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.”
– Ernest Hemmingway, A Farewell to Arms
I woke up on Christmas Eve feeling absolutely miserable. My temporary crown had fallen off the night before and Adlina being Adlina saw it fit to associate the failure of my temporary cement to the end of the world. So I woke up convinced that the world was against me and that whatever I was going to do was going to fail – just like my temporary tooth did.
Eizwan dragged me to the dentist and the rest of the weekend was much better. I assume that the anesthetic had something to do with the weekend being slightly hazy but all in all, I had a very good weekend.
I met up with my old childhood friend, YK. We did what all adults do on their day off. We had lunch. We watched a movie. We went to the arcade. We hung out at the mall. We bought headbands.
It was really strange. We were doing the exact same thing what we used to do back when we were fourteen. I told YK that.
‘The only difference is that at around 7pm, our parents would call us up, asking us where we are and to come home now.’
‘Well, actually my mum called me up.’
‘Is she asking you to come home?!’
‘Nah, she asked me if I wanted dinner, and I did, she’d leave some stuff out for me.’
YK later declared that despite us approaching the big 3-0 and that she did not feel old. Or like an adult.
I don’t though. As of late I do feel like an adult. I had just spent a month with young ‘uns and despite ‘adults’ saying they feel like they’re still a kid – we are nowhere like children.
The awful truth is, as I get older I start to realize how much of being young I forget. I may have lost the silly wide-eyed innocence that had gotten me into a lot of trouble but with that innocence, I have lost the cocky fearlessness that allowed me to do whatever I wanted.
I think the old envy the youth, not for their energy but for their belief that they can do anything. The young believe they can change the world from their presence alone, they believe that they can be the best and that electrifying will and determination alone is enough to make me feel tired.
And very envious.
I love being an adult. I think the number of times I rub that fact into the faces of my young nephews and nieces is testament to that. I keep telling them that being an adult is awesome. I get to do whatever I want. Which is true. If I wake up feeling like I want to eat ice cream for breakfast – I do. If I feel like I’m going to eat only junk food for lunch for the whole week – I can. Never mind that this adult body will rebel and retch an hour later craving ‘healthy’ stuff like whole wheat bread and that the adult body is physically incapable of eating junk for more than 3 days straight without going wonky. Believe me, I tried. The whole point is, I can do it even if I wanted to.
I also notice that as I grow older, I grow more fearful. To paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway, the old are not wiser. They grow careful. When I was a kid, I would be running to the first roller coaster I see. At Hong Kong Disneyland, at one of the big rides, I could feel my heart in my throat. I was fucking terrified. And it occurred to me, somewhat painfully, that if I were to walk away from the roller coaster – it would not bother me. That it’s okay to walk away from things that you are scared of. Because as an adult, you would make plenty of excuses for yourself why you can’t do it. Your back hurts, your body hurts. You’re ill and you’re about to collapse from fever (well, this was actually true but I’m proud to say I managed to do the whole of Disneyland anyway). And you can always go back to Disneyland. When you’re braver. Ish.
Thing is, you’re never braver as you get older. You only get more scared.
It is a tragedy. It is a tragedy to forget your youth, to forget what makes the young so strong and unstoppable. It is a tragedy to become so scared because we have so much to lose. Probably that is the biggest tragedy of growing old.
Although…I can take some evil comfort that knowing that one day, the young that I envy will grow old too. And they too, will one day eventually envy the young.