Have you ever heard the phrase “Youth is wasted on the young”?
A quick internet search shows the quote is a paraphrasing of a comment by playwright George Bernard Shaw, though further scrolling also attributes it to Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. Or maybe it was The Who or The Rolling Stones. I’m sure that if I dug deep enough, there are a dozen other figures who the internet credits with those words.
Regardless of who said it first, I used to resent that comment. How dare some old guy insinuate that I was wasting my youth? I’m Generation X, but my reaction was something today’s kids express with the phrase, “OK, Boomer.”
However, with all that’s happened in the past two years, that quote is starting to make a lot more sense. Maybe it’s because we’re sending our youngest child off to college. Maybe it’s the fact that my 50th birthday is on the horizon (sure, it’s still two years away, but the years are going by fast). Maybe I’ve just been thinking too much during my mountain bike rides in the woods.
Throughout my life, there have been songs that, for whatever reason, have struck a chord. Sometimes, it doesn’t have anything to do with the song’s meaning – there’s just a lyric that expresses a feeling perfectly. Strung together, all those songs provide a soundtrack for my life.
For example, there’s Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” It was my first album. I have no idea what it was that I wasn’t going to take in those wild days of sixth grade, but I had the right to choose it, and there ain’t no way I was going to lose it.
My high school teams were the Rocketeers, so Elton John’s “Rocketman” was part of every slide show and pep rally. “Hammer To Fall” by Queen was part of my college soccer team’s warm-up tape. When my wife and I first started dating, Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge” was part of the mix as we were figuring out how to do the long-distance relationship thing.
The playlist expanded when the kids came along. Our lullabies were “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor, and “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue. My cell phone ring tone for my daughter is “You Need to Calm Down” by Taylor Swift; my son’s is “Raining Blood” by Slayer.
You get the picture.
Anyway, a couple of months ago, I had fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole, and I came across Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and his daughter Violet covering “When We Were Young” by Adele. The song came out in 2015, and to be honest, I don’t really remember it from then. I think out household was pretty deep into Taylor Swift’s “1989” album at the time.
But as I said, every now and then, a song lyric just hits the perfect chord for whatever is happening in your life. And for me, the chorus of “When We Were Young” did just that: Let me photograph you in this light/In case it is the last time/That we might be exactly like we were before we realized/We were sad of getting old/It made us restless.
I don’t know if anything in my life is “just like a movie,” but I have been feeling nostalgic over the past few months with the realization that many small, incremental changes have been leading up to some big changes. I think of all the opportunities my kids have ahead of them, and look back at the things I might’ve changed in my own life, had I known then what I’ve learned along the way. I have sometimes wondered if I did, in fact, squander my youth.
Then again, all of those choices have led me to where I am now. Nostalgia for my youth aside, it’s a pretty good place. My wife and I are now in a position to make a lot of choices that we haven’t been able to make since, well, when we were young. The kids are off to college, and they’ll be able to cover tuition without too much debt. The mortgage and car loans are paid. In many ways, we have even more opportunities now than we did 22 years ago, when we moved to Alaska.
So maybe I didn’t waste my youth while I was young after all. Which leaves me with one important question: on the soundtrack of my life, what song comes next?
Will Morrow lives in Kenai. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.