When you are young, you have plenty of time for dreams. You can afford to imagine a million scenarios in the moment before sleep-falling. You are several different people before breakfast. You can change and grow. When you are young, you have an appetite for learning. You are curious about the details of this world. You want to know everything. This means you are less afraid of your own velocity. This means you have the audacity to think that things could belong to you. When you are young, anything could become something.
It’s the perfect time to make mistakes; the kind you know you might need more than a bandage and soft words to recover from. It’s the time to find things that will water you all the way down to your roots, so you are soaking in the experience of taking part. Why couldn’t it be you? Why not that girl or boy? Of course you can finish the entire trilogy in one sitting. No, thank you, I’ll be fine without the training wheels on my bicycle today.
There are myths they tell you about growing up. It’s a fantastic picture because it’s unknowable and distant. It’s beautiful because it is not yet real. When I grow up, you say, I will be an astronaut and a fire fighter and a dancer and a vet. And that’s only in February. When I grow up, nobody will tell me to mind my own business. When I grow up my life can really begin.
When you are older, you realize you need perfect health to be an astronaut. There’s no place for anybody with asthma, or myopia, or a congenital bicuspid aortic valve. Dancers train six days a week, sometimes seven. You’re allergic to cats. It’s okay! All you have to do is readjust! This is only a temporary setback. You’ll take some core courses while you’re figuring out your dream. You’re still dreaming.
When you’re older, people start saying no. It’s not some cute thing anymore when you start talking about your aspirations. Suddenly, everyone wants to know about job stability and market saturation. Everyone is getting into discussions about your uterus and biological clock. There are milestones you never knew you were expected to hit. Your dreams are not going to start your retirement fund. Quick! You’re pushing thirty now, and there’s no time, no time, no time at all.
When you’re older, the dreaming decelerates. There’s no point starting something at your age. You mark days with waiting: end of shifts, weekends, and public holidays. Nothing will become anything anymore. Your annual rotation looks like taxes and health insurance. There are no more “when I grow up” posters carefully colored in with your best crayons. You have grown up and nobody told you this would be your life.
When you are older, you don’t feel brave anymore. You don’t have the time or energy to have faith. Time has sucked you bitter and cynical. You stop yourself from making faces at teenagers walking hand in hand on the street. Just you wait, you think. Rien n’est éternel. You watch gritty war movies instead of romantic comedies. You always shower in record time and never take a bath anymore.
What you’ve forgotten is that the compromise for your time used is experience. Even when you are drowning in disappointment in yourself— even when you have not lived the life you deem exciting or adequately adventurous, you have still lived something. It is impossible to have learned nothing. It is impossible to be nothing.
You never got to be the astronaut or the dancer. And some dreams will be lost to you now, but you got to be smaller things you didn’t dream about when you were dreaming big. You got to be compassion, waking up on time, calling your friend in another country, remembering to buy the milk, finally finishing War and Peace, and doing something special for your mother’s birthday.
It’s not a fantastic picture anymore. It can be too close and sometimes less than pretty, but this time it is happening and it is no longer a hypothetical. It’s not a lesser way to live. It’s just living.