Only children like getting older. When you are very young you still see a future of endless opportunity. This is the time when you are able to believe in your dreams, imagining every possible glory as another daily triumph. You can see beauty, riches, fame, the complete idealization of perfection waiting to swoon and consume you. You are super-talented and beloved by all. There is no such thing as struggle, stress or strife. You are the luckiest person alive.
Of course by the time we reach our teenage years (if not earlier), the world has a way of getting the better of us. You have an accident, or find yourself unprepared for a difficult challenge. You realize that your parents are human, and are frequently wrong. It is not possible for them never to disappoint you. Sometimes you are forced to come to terms with not being good enough. There are even moments when we must acknowledge that not everyone loves us in such a cold, competitive, and over-crowded world.
As we grow older, still young men and women, many of us set about attempting to make our dreams come true, while others remain forever yearning, trapped in their increasingly complicated and difficult lives, where the only excuse you can offer yourself is that there are responsibilities (not the least of which is simply working to survive) in life and that it is time “to put away children things.” It is there that we consider ourselves “grown-ups,” reaching the age when most people wind up discontented, bitter and filled with envy, doubting the abilities of one of those handful of people who successfully follow their dreams.
There is a virus called ‘cynicism’ that consumes many people as they settle into mediocre lives (previously I wrote a piece entitled “The Sociology of Cynicism,” on 10/26/2018, which attempts to study the impact of this disease.) A certain joy momentarily overtakes them as they watch other people fail, or fall from grace. There is a vast industry in tearing people down. Scandals become forms of entertainment instead of the very real problem in other people’s lives. And there is barely even a snort of sympathy as someone successful has their lives destroyed forever. We cynically say things like, “I never thought they were any good,” or “I always knew they were a scumbag.”
But what about the rest of us? When was the moment when we finally gave up? When we got married? Had children? Was it our very first full-time job that wore us down? The death of a loved one? Time itself?
Of course there are still those with a shred of hope, lingering in their past with the same dreams, focused on the ones yet to be abandoned in the glare of reality, and it is possible to lead a very happy life. Maybe the dream was meeting someone to love, and raising children you care for, and having a quiet life with close friends while living in a house you feel proud of. This is not an unambitious dream. In fact, this should be considered one of the most hopeful measures a child may see when seeking their future. And it is also less common than becoming a sports icon or a movie star. There isn’t such a thing as a truly quiet life.
Those same irritations and complications are bound to overtake you from time to time. And it is there that the cynicism is born, and brutal superiority complexes. “Well at least I’m not as bad off as them.” It is where cruelty comes from, this selfish indifference to the world outside yourself when forced to face any sort of problem. It is little more than a panicked reaction in the face of uncertainty.
When we think of a person being “past their prime” those most easy to picture are celebrities. Take a great baseball player–Albert Pujols–and compare his Ted Williams-like emergence earlier in his career to the solid slugger status he has maintained as he winds down towards his hall-of-fame destiny. People say that he isn’t what he used to be. They say that he is past his prime. But this is not an accurate statement, not for someone who has watched so many of his greatest dreams come true. This man has been a major success in his life’s goals, and the fact that age has effected his speed and timing (and possibly his eyesight) will not undermine the greatness of his professional life. Here is a person who lived in their prime, and will always be remembered as one of the all time greats. The prime of a person’s life does not have to be their youth. The personal struggles every person suffers through do not have to define your character.
Sometimes people wait their whole lives to seek out their dreams. They have lived a life of patience and frequent disappointment, no doubt. But they are also the same people who have held onto their youth, and can live cheerfully, generously, spreading occasional joy to even the most disaffected. It is these people who maintain the hope of childhood, and whose primes might just be their entire lives.
There is a lot to be angry about, and sometimes our disappointment in ourselves plunges us into madness. But the prime of life–that peak moment when you are at your absolute best, does not discriminate with age, nor beauty, or even talent. Dreams are our vision of ourselves, giving us both piece of mind, and anxiety over forgetting who it is that we are. Those movies while sleeping that we have are usually symbolic metaphors, incomprehensible images of surrealism that are generally forgotten, and which can tell us little more than something we already know. But a dream come true . . . ambition fulfilled, all it takes is the will to remain young, to renounce all notions of truly ever growing up (and I am not talking about the lazy cynicism of hipsterism, a bar stool lament over how worthless something you once admired has become. This selfish sub-class of humanity sits there watching the rest of the world, never seeing themselves as contributors to the world outside their craft beer restaurant, their goofy beards and ski caps in the summer). If we can only rouse ourselves to make the effort–to try something new–and even if we fail, you can never truly say that you have not lived within the prime of your life.