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Thursday, 11.10.05:  Youthful Angst

I could lie down like a tired child
And weep away the life of care
That I have borne
And yet must bear.*

I pasted that quote on the inside of my locker door when I was 15 and a high school sophomore. It makes me laugh now to think of it. What exactly was my "life of care"? Getting my homework done? Living in a household with people who couldn't possibly understand what a learned cosmopolitan I truly was (even if that was only in my imagination)?

Somehow the transition between childhood and adulthood brings out the melodrama in us. Life is unfair! Grown-ups are stupid! No one understands me! Everyone is conspiring to make me miserable!

It can't just be hormones. It's got to be a kind of spiritual crisis that seizes us when we get our first taste of personal responsibility. When we realize we have too many choices to make and no matter what choice we make someone will bitch at us for it. It comes in waves -- every year it's something else and doesn't end till we get our first jobs and have to snap out of it (or proceed to our young adult agony).

Some of us preferred to shield our parents from the agony -- what did they possibly have to contribute, anyway? For the independent, rebellious spirit, having your parents watch, worry, and advise was the last thing you needed. But others drag their parents along for the ride, not minding (or not able to avoid) being the center of a family spectacle. Parents have to worry because there are real dangers and genuinely disastrous choices.

And yet... where would the world be without the coming-of-age drama?

A story my father told me:

He was a GI in World War II. Early on he got pneumonia and the hospitalization separated him from the buddies he enlisted with and he was going to be assigned to a different group where he didn't know anyone. A fate worse than death. To make it worse he was in Wisconsin and it was winter.

He decided that his life in the military was unbearable. He dragged himself out of bed, packed up his bag, and headed for the railway station. He was going AWOL. To hell with everything.

But, as he stood on the track, the bitter cold nipping at his face, he realized something: When he showed up on the doorstep back in St. Louis, his mother was going to kill him.

He turned around and headed back to the barracks.

You can argue that he wasn't motivated by patriotism or a noble concept of honor and duty and he never did learn to like the military. But, at that moment in the station, he became a man.

 

 

 

 

*It's either Shelley or Byron, I can't remember.

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