Work at a college around a bunch of teens and twenty-somethings long enough, and you will begin to ask yourself some questions. “How can anyone wear flip-flops in December?” is one. “They actually call that music?” is another. And then there is the biggie:
“Was I really that stupid when I was their age?”
The answer, of course, is yes. Absolutely.
For instance. When I was twenty, I believed:
That life was simple.
That the future was set in stone.
That love was all I needed.
That there is good and there is bad and there is nothing else.
That faith would make everything better.
That the young had more to offer than the old.
That the new held more promise than the tried and true.
Twenty-two years have passed since then. Twenty-two very long, very frantic, and at times very painful years. Whichever of the above beliefs were not proven ill-conceived through marriage and children have certainly been proven so through experience. I know better now. Much, much better.
I know that life is not simple. It is hard and scary and tiresome, but it is not simple. If you think it is, then you’re not really living it.
I know that the future may well be set in God’s eyes, but it certainly isn’t in mine. What happens tomorrow is most often a direct result of what I do today, which is most often a direct result of what I did yesterday. The choices I make this day, this second, reach further and deeper than I can possibly realize. Every moment is a defining moment. Every moment is a moment of truth.
I know that love is not all I need. I know that without such things as grace and forgiveness and effort love will crumble upon itself. Love is not the all-powerful cure that poets and dreamers have crafted it to be. It must be nurtured and fed and tended to. Love is not a firm rock that can withstand anything. It is a delicate rose that can wither without attention.
I know that there is good and bad. But I also know that there is more, and I need to look no further than my own heart for proof. For there resides the good man I could be, the flawed man that I am, and the man who must choose daily which he will become.
I know that faith alone is feeble, that only when it is polished with action does it truly shine. Too many times I have prayed for things to get better but did nothing to make them so. God may move mountains, but that’s because mountains can’t move themselves.
I know that the vigor and strength of youth may power society, but it’s experience that drives it. Life has rules, and unfortunately they are not given all at once, but bit by bit as we go. That’s why parents and grandparents are so important. They’ve been there. And because they have, they know a lot more than we do. Time changes. The times do not.
And lastly, I know the new may be exciting, may be revolutionary, may even be promising, but I also know they may not be that way for long. The very things that have sustained us in the past are the things that guarantee us a bright future, things like the importance of family and God, things like the virtues of kindness and loyalty and forgiveness. Such things are woven into us. They are the foundation of who we are and who we will become.
That’s what I know now. Will those beliefs change? Maybe. Check back in twenty years and I’ll let you know.