Typically, when writing posts in this series, I begin with a quote and then speculate about its meaning. But today I’ll present both of these aspects differently. Having reached that exalted threshold of senior citizenship, I must admit to experiencing many more aches, pains, and physical restrictions than I did even ten years ago. As a kid, I often wondered why older people always seemed cranky and had frowns or scowls on their faces. Now I understand – getting older means a lot of physical discomforts, so what’s to smile about?
This begs the question of whether or not my youth is gone forever. Although I feel the physical manifestations of my age, my inner eye sees a much younger man – so I’m often startled when I pass a mirror. How do we best define this term “youth”? Recently, I listened to the podcast “Aspire To Inspire” hosted by author Gwen Plano who had selected the following poem as their subject of discussion. It is called YOUTH and was written by Samuel Ullman. What follows is an excerpt from that poem:
~ Samuel Ullmann
Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind;
it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees;
it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions;
it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.
Youth means a temperamental predominance
of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease.
This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty.
Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.
We grow old by deserting our ideals.
Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.
Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.
Ullmann’s words struck a chord within me, and as I listened to the discussion by Gwen Plano, John Howell and Jan Sikes on this podcast (linked to the title above), I remembered another post I had written about the human spirit. That post, “Bitter Or Better?” echoed the last few lines quoted above from Ullmann’s poem.
Ullmann asserts that youth is an idea upon which we may choose to base an attitude, and this attitude will allow us to continue to grow and to thrive. Living in this way, according to the poet, is an act of the will rather than the natural dictate of the years lived. Youth, therefore, is not a state of physical immaturity, but it is an essence we all carry within.
The poem speaks of imagination, vigor, freshness, courage, and adventure – ideas that seem to fit best in a person who is young in years. We associate these things with being a young person because we identify them with our own early years in recollections of our childhood or early adulthood. At that earlier stage of early adulthood, our life as independent beings was just dawning. Our dreams were fresh, and our energy was peaking as we envisioned our future with excitement – ready to embark upon this great adventure.
I felt all of these things as a young man, and I felt something more. I was wrestling with the demons of fear and self-doubt. They threatened to rob me of my dreams and to turn my life adventure into a nightmare. I’m afraid that I expended more energy in that struggle than in embracing the great experience of living. Determined to conquer those demons, I threw myself into my teaching career to prove to myself that I belonged in a classroom and that I could bring value to the lives of my students. I did that as a distraction because the fear was eating me alive. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the energies I invested into teaching were my greatest allies.
As a writer in my sixth decade, I discovered that the twin demons weren’t done with me yet. I also realized that while my body was betraying me, I had not lost sight of the youthful me. The wonder of youth is to be found within as the poet eloquently points out. First and foremost, being young is an act of the will. Today, I am a wiser young man borrowing from the wisdom of six decades of experience in living and loving. These experiences and the energy that emanates from my excitement when storytelling, I bring to my writing career. The demons are still with me, but they walk softly because they know… I’m no pushover.
The most precious gift of youth that is still mine to enjoy and pursue is the thirst for learning and understanding. It has always been the key to personal growth, and I need it. I need it to grow as a loving and empathetic person and to be a more effective storyteller. I cannot afford to relinquish my enthusiasm or turn my spirit into dust because you see, I am a work in progress.