Monday, July 30, 2012

Day #30: Shavian Wisdom

Today's topic:  "Do you agree with George Bernard Shaw that youth is wasted on children?"

Well, when I first saw this question, I was kind of annoyed, because I would have bet something important that the saying is actually "Youth is wasted on the young," which I think is very different than saying it's wasted on children.  Children are not the ones living the life which Shaw considers wasted.

But then I started Googling, and found the alternate version "Youth is a wonderful thing.  What a crime to waste it on children."  Which really doesn't have the same insouciant roll off the tongue, if you ask me.  Nor the same meaning.

Then, further searching revealed that no one is sure when or where he said this--it doesn't seem to be in any of his plays.  The final muddying of the waters made me giggle, which was someone arguing that it wasn't Shaw at all--it was Oscar Wilde (and it does sound rather Wildean, I think.)

So, I will be discontinuing my quest to scoff at the composer of this topic, and reverting to a more traditional response in the actual spirit of the thing.

I think I can begin by returning to my Googling, where someone had posted "I know this saying, but what does it actually mean?" and someone retorted "You must be young."

Which is really the point, I suppose.  That when you're young, you're clueless about why youth is so amazing.  You spend a lot of time wishing you were older, or just kind of reacting to your circumstances and rolling through the days, doing a lot of sleeping, eating and playing and precious little thinking.

On the other hand, this is precisely why this time is such a gift.  It's a time unfettered by the weight of mortality, the heavy hands of regret, guilt, and doubt.  People spend a lot of time telling you to "apply yourself" but you figure there's time to do that tomorrow--today you're going to watch TV, argue about gymnastics vs. ice skating, eat Froot-Loops out of the box, kiss someone inappropriate, and lay on the grass watching a bug.

I'm constantly reflecting NOW on the gift of hair that doesn't change color by the end of the month, staying up all night but then not sounding like a yeti the next day (or looking like one, either), eating chili-cheeseburgers at 4 a.m. and then sleeping like a baby until noon, knowing that all the leading lady parts in the play are open to me, (sigh) getting chatted up by strange men in public places.

Some of the other stuff is too painful to joke about, and almost even to write about:  a time when I didn't know my body didn't make children, a time when I thought I would soon become a famous movie reviewer, a time when I assumed I'd move around the country and the world every few years or so, as it suited me.

But I don't need to be too maudlin about it, because everyone will go through what I have.  It's the one unavoidable experience.  Getting older and realizing that youth wasn't as everlasting as it seemed when I was in the middle of it--working a thankless job in advertising (but the next one I'll have more responsibility and lots more money!) smarting from an unexpected break-up (but the next relationship will be transcendant and lasting!) living in a railroad apartment where you heard gunshots (but it was romantic and historic and only temporary!) drinking and dancing with friends after work most weeknights (because we need to vent and you can sleep when you're dead!) and never really thinking about what exactly would come next because it's a hot night in Boston and the Charles ripples in the moonlight and soaring strings rise up from the glowing Half Shell and grass tickles your bare feet and the people you're with are definitely going to be there always because this is the real thing, the essence, the soul, the center of life.

Being able to access those moments again are why Shaw (or Wilde, or whomever) said what he did, and why it makes everyone ruefully smile.  Unless they are young.  In which case, let them revel in this time when they have no idea what it means because they will, oh.  They will.

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