Words by Jennifer Kresina
header photo by www.instagram.com/sirius.film
I was sitting outside a café, waiting for a friend with a cool glass of rosé for company, when I first heard the words that would etch themselves into my brain like a fresh tattoo. “Well, you know what they say: youth is wasted on the young.” I looked in the direction of the voices and saw two women, not much older than myself, deep in conversation. I paid no more attention to their conversation and instead pulled out a small notebook from my backpack. I jotted down the quote just as my friend appeared, knowing that those wise words by George Bernard Shaw held a secret and I was going to unlock it.
Over the next weeks, my life was busy, stressful and full of the tedious responsibilities of being an adult. I didn’t open my notebook back to that page where I had quickly scribbled “youth is wasted on the young”, but more often than not, the quote would appear when I closed my eyes, as I drifted off to sleep. My dreams would be filled with memories of my childhood: jumping off the second story of our barn with my sisters, without the slightest concern of breaking a leg or getting hurt; giving myself a mud bath in a dirty pond, only to discover my body covered in leeches when the mud was rinsed off; running back into the ocean after a wave had pushed me under and pounded me against the ocean floor; sharing my ice cream with my sister when only minutes before I had been so mad I pulled her hair. I was, like all children, fearless, forgiving, loving and carefree.
“When did I become so jaded? Was this “wisdom”? Had I lived too much or not enough?”
In the morning after a dream-filled night, I would wake with a feeling of nostalgia so heavy it would be hard to get out of bed. I would lay there, reflecting on my life, on myself. Unlike my childhood self, I no longer loved with abandon. I still loved, but after getting hurt in relationships, I now loved with conditions, holding pieces of myself back in a small fortress I had built around my heart. I no longer dove head first into powerful waves that would have left me undaunted as a child. I was too afraid of getting knocked down. I would think of all the things I no longer do, too afraid of getting hurt, heartbroken or sick. When did I become so jaded? Was this “wisdom”? Had I lived too much or not enough?
George Bernard Shaw’s words rolled around in my head like an itch I couldn’t scratch. Behind his words, the message was clear: we don’t appreciate what we have when we have it. I had the uneasy feeling that I had lived the best years of my life and had wasted them. Adult life had so many obligations and many of them were not fun: paying taxes, going to the doctor, buying groceries, paying bills, etc. I felt tired and had lost that childhood, unfaltering faith that everything would be ok.
“I needed to look at life more simply, like a child, knowing that even if things don’t work out the way I want, everything is going to be ok.”
My life went on and the secret remained a mystery. I had drinks with friends and we would talk about life: the baggage we carried from our pasts into our present, our worries about the future in the increasingly uncertain world that was our new reality. Sometimes we danced. Sometimes we drank too much. For a tiny moment in time, it would seem like everything was going to be ok, but these moments were only small band-aids over a gaping wound.
One afternoon, outside another café, with iced coffees instead of cool glasses of rosé, I was discussing my most recent relationship disaster. In a moment of attempted self-reflection, I told my friend that we can’t change other people, only ourselves. As suddenly as the words left my mouth, the secret to George Bernard Shaw’s words dawned on me. We can only change ourselves. What if we stopped bringing our past baggage, what we often mislabel as “wisdom”, into the present? What if we stopped worrying tirelessly about a future that is yet to come? My best years weren’t behind me-they were right here and right now. I was making life too complicated-the weight of my past and my future was pushing me down and keeping me from enjoying the present. I needed to look at life more simply, like a child, knowing that even if things don’t work out the way I want, everything is going to be ok. If I can do that, if I can change myself, then I can once again live and love with abandon. If I can be fearless again, even in the face of the knowledge that tomorrow isn’t promised, then maybe, next time, I can dive headfirst into that wave that might knock me down and pound me against the ocean floor.