I guess this is the year I'll have to admit to being 28, instead of 18.
After all, I have been turning 18 every year for the last 10 years. Then, one day, about a month ago, the inevitable happened. I found my very first strand of *gasp* white hair. Sshhh! Don't tell a soul! I'm just only 28 -- way too young to be graying. Fortunately, there hasn't been a repeat of that unfortunate discovery since. Maybe, that was just a stray strand leftover from when I was 18 and had platinum blond streaks.
So, as I contemplate finally turning 28 (what's 10 years, give or take?), I'm hit with the usual "what-have-I-done-with-my-life" question. The truth is: a helluva lot. But somewhere along the line, I had lost sight of that.
The last few years of being 18 had been tough on many fronts, the hardest of which had been trying to re-build career, identity and a sense of self worth after letting it all go when the kids came along. In mothering my babies, I had forgotten how to take care of myself. Finding my way back took a lot of baby steps and mis-steps. I started with getting my body back into clothes meant for my age again. It does wonders for the ego to be able to fit into clothes meant for 14-year-old girls. But that was the easy part. Reviving the soul and spirit proved a lot harder. It had to start with jump-starting the brain, and deciding to enroll for graduate studies in Georgetown was the best thing I had ever done for myself.
So maybe, now is a good time to start recapturing some of that spirit and fire of the past. I had been afraid of looking back, and was content to see my current state as a list of what I have not achieved, instead of acknowledging what I already have achieved. Well, like they say, better late than never (give or take 10 years).
I've been places, met people, and had once-in-a-lifetime kind of experiences. Like, hanging out with a barefoot, tank-top-and-shorts clad Lars Ulrich in the Metallica studio in Sausalito. Or, hunting for evidence of extra-terrestrial life forms with a UFO-logist (I kid you not) in Roswell. How about getting up close backstage with Sheryl Crow, Suede and Tom Jones (no panties involved), among others? I'll never forget the day that Jon Bon Jovi got off his chair and sat on the ground next to my very wobbly legs (unfortunately, no panties involved too, but he did take a very keen interest in my voice recorder). And when Madonna told me I had asked her a good question.
So, maybe those were all stargazing stuff that the 18-year-old me found inspiring. But before turning 28 this year, I had also done time at an online startup, strutted the suit-and-heels gig in the financial scene, taught yoga and English to kids in the Third World streets, done presentations for ministers, and looked death in the eye.
So, now that I'm all grown up, I'm ready to do more...much more, before I get old.
When Pete Townshend immortalized the line "I hope I die before I get old" back in 1965, way, way, way before I was born, he may have been talking about his generation and the fire of youth. But that note has resonated with many generations of youths since (although they may never have heard of him...duh Who?).
Later generations of psychologists have also been fond of quoting the line as a mistaken viewpoint that people are happiest when they are young. These very well-meaning researchers have done studies to show that people are in fact, happier when older, more mature, and fulfilled in life. While I don't disagree with the scientists, I think they have completely missed ol' Pete's point. I am of the opinion that "I hope I die before I get too old" has got nothing whatsoever to do with physical age.
It has to do with that fire that burns brightest in us when we are all 18, and somehow diminishes as we grow physically older. That is the fire that gives spark to dreams, to adventure, to courage to take on the unknown, and to really living...versus simply being alive. The day that flame burns out, is the day we get too old. Hence, I do hope I die before I get old, because I'm not letting my fire burn out anytime soon.
Perhaps, a later day band has re-interpreted the line in a better way, for the post-MTV generations who may be prone to taking things too literally. (Yes, this is where I finally get to the stuff us younglings recognize...Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars.)
"Forget what we're told.
Before we get too old,
Show me a garden that's bursting into life.
Let's waste time, chasing cars around our heads.
I need your grace to remind me to find my own.
If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me, and just forget the world?"
So, that's languid and kind of not fiery. But it's really about the same thing -- taking chances, and living in the moment (versus being stuck in the past or always anticipating the future). Or, just a very angst-ridden, 'now' way of saying what Marilyn Monroe had put very simply: "We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets."
Either way, I'm buying it. So I have a lot to do in the next ten years. Like, seeing Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat, riding the highest railway in the world into Lhasa, a horse across the Mongolian plains, and the Orient Express. I would like to spend time in an ashram in India, work with kids in Third World streets again, and produce my definitive piece of writing. Most importantly, I will re-build my professional life, doing something that I love doing. I also have a lofty ambition of becoming a walking Rosetta Stone. Well, I'm already proficient in two languages. Maybe, if I spend the next couple of years polishing the other two I already know, and then master a new one every two years after, I would have eight languages in ten years' time. Okay, maybe that's stretching it. But, definitely before I get old.
So anyway, I do hope I die before I get old. There's nothing worse than losing the fire for life. I know, for a fact, because I've lost it once, and had been given a chance to find it again. There's nothing worse than being told you're too old, too this or too that to do something; to lose the faith that you can do anything you want and be the person you are; to contort yourself to look, think, feel, dress, talk in a certain way because the rest of the world expects you to. That, in my book, is truly old. I will never let that happen to me again.
By the way, please remember that I'll be turning 28 for the next ten years, so you don't have to ask me about my age.