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George Bernard Shaw once famously said, “youth is wasted on the young” … which I always thought was a fabulously insightful piece of copy but now I have to disagree.

 

Last week, our 21-year-old son knelt down on one knee, offered a diamond ring, and asked his girl to marry him – in front of their friends, in the middle of campus on an otherwise mundane day of college life. And she accepted!

 

The parent in me immediately wanted to say things like, “you’re too young!” “get your career going first!” “did you get her pregnant?!”

 

And then I realized I’d heard the same things when I announced to the world that I intended to get married to the love of my life. I was 23 years old, a year out of university, and living on my own for the first time in my life, 6000 miles away from mom and dad.

 

That was 25 years ago … and I’m still in love with the same hot babe, still married, and still pondering what I’m supposed to “do” with my life.

 

Assuming the responsibilities of a parent, raising a child into adulthood, creating opportunities for your children to learn the skills, knowledge, and wisdom needed to “succeed” in the “real” world takes a huge amount of energy. 

 

I now believe that “Youth” – in the sense of boundless energy, indefatigable optimism, and no fear – is a magical gift that people are blessed with at every stage in life. Whether they appreciate the gift or not is entirely a different matter.

 

Of course, Shaw was not just being literal … I think he was also pointing out that it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of cynicism in one’s middle age.

 

Middle age is that strange period in life when “young” people suddenly wake up to the fact they are not “young” any more. Those white hairs (or loss of hair), that squishy thing around the waist line, wrinkles, jowls, serious but not-quite-life-threatening illness and disease, reading glasses — and let’s be honest, guys, “erectile dysfunction” — boy, life really starts messing with your ego in your late 40s!

 

Hard-learned lessons about the harshness of life can make one cynical, bitter, and full of regret over lost opportunities, unrealized dreams, and unspoken hopes.

 

And, yet, as I watch my son, my little dude, follow his heart, and grow into the man he is destined to be, nurtured by the love of his life, I realize that “youth” is not wasted on him, it’s actually a gift for me. 

 

Life is teaching me a lesson – if only I can open my heart, un-clog my brain, cast off my attachments, stop believing my own bullshit, and open my eyes to reality.

 

The cycle of karma is not about “re-incarnation,” it’s about “re-birth.” 

 

As my son sets out on his own path in life, I am suddenly free to do anything I want to do with my life. I’m no longer bound by the need to “set a good example” … the need to “act like a responsible parent” … the need to have other people “validate” my life choices.

 

As Grandma Toku used to say to my mom, “nembutsu ga deru ka ne?,” which is hard to translate but it’s something like, “so, have you figured it out yet?” in the buddhist sense of awakening to, realization of, and appreciation for, the true nature of life.

 

The sands of time continue to slip away … my body is showing signs of decay whether I like it or not … as scary as it is, my death is inevitable … I realize the people I love the most won’t be here forever … and, our baby boy is all grown up!

 

I ask myself:

 

    Have I achieved my purpose in life? 

 

    Have I lived my dreams? 

 

    Have I done the things I’ve always wanted to do?

 

    Have I become the person I wanted to be?

 

    Have I shared the joy of my life with other people?

 

This moment in my life is saying: it’s never too late to start anew, to be reborn, to redefine who I am and how I choose to live my life.

 

So, George Bernard Shaw, I love ya but youth is not wasted on the young … “youth” is wasted on people who don’t appreciate the gift, who don’t take advantage of the opportunities life gives us, who desperately pursue unworthy goals, thus corrupting their true purpose in life.

 

You can be as “youthful” as you choose to be – right up to the moment you die.

 

Youth is wasted on those who waste it!

 

(originally published October 20, 2008)

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