The Chronology of Youth

Youth is a quality, not a matter of circumstance.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

An interesting thing, this youth business. It never seems to matter until you are passed it, submerged in middle age or beyond. But then, the oddest, vaguest expression is that of middle age, isn’t it?

Although we all understand middle age as referring to one’s late 30’s, 40’s or 50’s, life’s prime — who said that, I wonder? — you can never know that age until it’s all over, and you’re taking that last elevator ride from the ground floor, upward or down.

As you ride the express, you slouch against the back wall of the cage and sigh and smile and nod at all the other passengers. Then you say, ‘I know mine now… it was 38. Yours?’

Someone says, ‘40,’ another, ‘36,’ a third, ‘52.’ You seek out that one with admiration. Wow. Old enough, you think to yourself, to be your father, your grandfather.

Then a small voice to your left says, ‘four.’

Everyone looks away from that pain, the unfairness. The middle-age-ness of that voice renders any defining time of life as meaningless.

You study your fingernails. You shrug. You smile, weakly this time. ‘It’s an arbitrary chronology, like counting in order,’ you say. ‘My middle age might have been 38, but I didn’t get to my youth until my 60’s.’

‘Yeah,’ the man in the corner says amid the nods of understanding, all except Small Voice to your left.

She is silent.

I might add to F.L.W.’s quote: You have to live a long time — decades — before reaching your youth.


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