BY VICKY NGUYEN
One of the most unpleasant, disturbing things a young girl can feel is her own aging – to feel the indestructibility of youth falter ever so gradually, to feel the carefree days of physical vitality wane. Most disturbing is the knowledge that once we lose this unnamed force, we lose it forever.
Age creeps up on us, first as shadows under our eyes, then in the sagging skin of once-defined cheeks. Our physiques slowly bow toward the ground until we become masses of sags, wrinkles, ripples, and lumps. But we don’t wake up one day, look into the mirror, and find we have become old – old, that terrible word – but instead, one unremarkable day after another, we come to dress to match our bodies, altering our makeup to suit these aged faces, changing even how we move. We don’t bound out of cars when the doors are opened for us but step out slowly, marking each limb and making sure not to overstretch that weak ankle. Instead of spontaneity and adventure, we crave peace and comfort.
How can I describe this dread of slowing down and losing my youth? This is my third year at Cal, and after three years of enjoying Berkeley’s embrace of originality and adventure, I am slightly disturbed that I have started to feel that no, I do not want to wear this ridiculous outfit today, I’d rather dress comfortably. And what is this absurd exasperation that only old people are supposed to feel about the flightiness, the naivety of teenagers, this annoyance? How old must I seem to them, and how young they seem to me, particularly when I listen to them talk about their religious experiences. I see in their testimonies a dissatisfaction with themselves or the world, even as in their eyes there dances the idealistic hope that there is a solution to all their problems. But in my own mirror, I see eyes with weariness etched in the folds, and behind them, I can see disappointment in Christianity and its ambitious promises, calculated hope, and months and months of waiting on Him.
I can hear the older women clicking their tongues already, telling me I’m still young, not even twenty-one. That somehow, feeling our bodies age comes with all sorts of benefits, like maturity, wisdom, husbands, relaxing walks in the park. Perhaps they will think, dismissively, that young people are not to write about age, that they know nothing about age. But young people do feel the slowing force of youth fading. Gradually.
I too am aging, but can I deny that the years past have yielded gifts of the most precious, lovely kind? Do I dare to denounce the fulfillment of long-awaited promises, true sorrow, true joy? Everyday I rejoice inwardly that I better understand what love is, or at least better recognize its complexity and depth. A passage comes to me often, providing strange consolation: “When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Cor 13: 11-12, NIV). Our bodies age, and our spirits age along with them. And, gradually, we come step by step closer to becoming “fully known.” I realize I am still young and still enjoy the energy of youth. I also recognize that I am getting older and growing into the person that, three years ago, I wished I would become. I hold in my age precious gifts that could only be refined by years. My love of life is different from when I was seventeen, but I still love to live, and truly, part of living is this strange sensation of age.