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"There Is No Young and There Is No Old," short story excerpt

Monday 12/20/21

There is no young and there is no old. There’s always someone younger than you, and there’s always someone older. There’s younger people who might as well be old, and older people who are young. There’s what you are doing now, how well you are doing it, and what you will do next. There’s what you are at the moment, and the person you will be later on. And whether that person is different and better. Or the same. Or worse.


In the last two weeks of your life, or in any two weeks of your life, you can live a lifetime. A single day thoroughly-lived can be worth the full range of a life. You can maximize the day down to the minute. You can make the last hour count. You make it count because you take it to the final second of the end, or a start, and you are still trying. You are still becoming. You are still changing.


There is no young and there is no old. There is only what you are now, what you are doing, how well you are trying to do it. When you die, you’re not young or old either. You’re young or old to those who know you, largely on account of how your dying makes them feel. If you die at eighteen or eighty-eight. But when you die you are living, if you are truly living. There’s no end. There aren’t installments. Parts of the journey aren’t prioritized. Exit 16B may matter as much as Route 1.


It’s like on the last day of your life, if you knew it was the last day of your life, but it was also a day, and you don’t let its breadth and the specificity of its parts be lost upon you. You can experience nature. You can experience art. You can look to see who you can help, and help them. You can be strong. You can lend your strength to someone else. There’s always something you don’t know. You can learn a few of those things. You can see a plant the way you’ve never seen one. Hear notes of music that hit your ears as none ever have. You can say something you’ve never said. Write something you’ve never put down on paper. You can look and reach beyond yourself. You can tell someone you’re scared. You can be brave. You can comfort a child. You can tell someone again that you love them. You can tell someone for the first time that you love them, too. You can apologize. Memorize a verse of Shakespeare. Listen to a Billie Holiday song you never knew existed. You can read what Thoreau said about being tired and hungry and how that was good for him because it made him feel like he had tried hard to live the best that he could. To feel sleepy, but strong and awake, because he did just that. Each day. So that if he wanted to, he could beat his own breast and say, “Do you know who is here? I am here!”


You can phone an old friend. You can pray. Even if you might not believe in praying. You can try. You can offer something up in your thoughts for the greater good of the universe. What is the harm and what might be the help? You can have good energy. In spirit, in words, if not in body. Or in body. What is a body? It’s just something that helps us move around better so that we can get closer to other forms of meaning. But there are all kinds of ways to get close to meaning. To make meaning. It’s as true for the person of limited physical mobility as it is for the able-bodied college student. Is she not young? Maybe she doesn’t treat herself as she deserves to be treated. And others as well. Maybe she’s scared. Not honest. Waits to see what others do before doing anything, let alone what is right. Maybe she is bunched in and limited. Cut off. There are all kinds of ways to be cut off. Is that young? Is that old? But she’s twenty-two. What is that? I’m not sure it’s much of anything, in terms of what does it signify? Something weighs 100 pounds, and something else weighs 1000, but they can both be stacks of bricks.


So what does signify? I think it’s always the same, but hopefully different. There is right now, and what one is doing right now so that one can continue, or start, to become something, someone, else. Someone better. Someone truer to what is inside of them. Someone who takes what is inside of them and extends that into the world, into new worlds. A museum is a new world. A Mozart symphony. A ballgame on a hazy day in August on one’s first trip out alone with the niece and nephew and slathered hot dogs that make them smile because you put so much of the stuff on yours and they think you’re crazy and fun and cool. Telling your sister when you bring them home later, all slouchy and tired, that everyone had a great day, and the kids smile and nod, but they’re also glad to be back.


There is no young and there is no old. How old are you on that day? How old are they? How old are you the first time Sgt. Pepper blows your mind? How old are you the first time it blows your mind a new way because you heard something you never did before and the year isn’t what it was that other time but the reaction hits just as hard, only different?


How old do you have to be to sacrifice what you want or what is easier for you to help someone? How old do you have to be to realize that that should be your first thought, with everyone? You can’t initially understand that at seventeen? Of course you can. You can’t first realize it at ninety-seven? Of course you can. And if I realize it at ninety-seven, and that is how I live, is that not enough? Is that not everything? And everything is everything. No one asks, “Well, how long has everything been everything?” It’s just everything. It’s just the point.