COLUMN: Age may be inevitable, but the future is ageless

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, July 11, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Age may be inevitable, but the future is ageless
By Aaron J. Brown

I’ve been a parent for just over five years but I’ve finally reached the parent stage where you’re expected to sit some place with the other parents and watch our respective offspring do something organized. The something isn’t important right here, for it’s different for everyone. The thing is, nevertheless, largely the same day to day, so you have time to look around at the other parents, your colleagues, and consider their faces. I’ve been noticing how those faces become even more familiar each month, not necessarily that I know the people but because they remind me of myself. Of course, that’s why I’m so unsettled by how old, or specifically non-young, these faces keep getting. To accept these two observations as true is to acknowledge that I am not a young parent but rather a regular one and that this is roughly how it’s going to be for a very long time.

You often hear people talk about “young” and “old” as separate things, as though you are one until you become the other. In such stark terms, however, it seems to me that most people are only truly old or young for a very short part of their lives, the part involving diapers and high car insurance, mostly. Others may consider themselves young or old, chronologically or in health, but are in fact something else, something for lack of a better term I’m going to call “in the stuff.” On a bad day, feel free to substitute “stuff” for a word of your choosing. I don’t know exactly how many people are in the stuff, but most people are (particularly, though not exclusively, the ones watching kids do whatever), and the rest either were recently or will be soon enough.

Someone in the stuff might be wrinkling early, watching gray hairs spring up like parking tickets, unexpected expenses or the plight of a child doing only somewhat well in college, and by that you mean not that well at all. Or you might yet know patches of tight skin on your body, skin as tight as it was in high school, but your face is now different, your face now carries the weight of children, or of deployment, layoff, death or heartbreak. Or maybe your skin never was tight, not anywhere, or never felt that way. You have been in the stuff for a long time.

No, the old and young hum and glow with the confidence of knowing they’ll conquer the young or old tomorrow or next week. Everyone else, though of different status, position, stage or opinion, is in the middle, be they 19 or 90. We don’t know this, though, because we are so often caught thinking we are old or young when we are not.

I bring this up because it is both popular and statistically accurate to describe our communities here in northern Minnesota as aging. Our retiree population grows while our young people, or at least plenty of them, go someplace else. It’s tempting, sometimes, to call the place “old,” but not true, just as the region was not truly young when all the immigrants arrived 100 years ago. I see this when I do parent things with my kids. I am not alone, and neither are you. Even those who are done raising kids, you’re not out of the stuff yet either, and that becomes increasingly true as we watch the news and retirement statements. No kids? Well, you’ve still got problems too. Youngish or oldish, you’ve got hopes and dreams that count. We all have different problems, and yet one simple, shared problem. The only communities that grow are those that do what those kids do wherever they congregate in an organized fashion: something. Something good (or evil, but preferably good) they all want to do. They can’t do it by themselves and they can’t do it without their parents or teachers or coaches at first, but eventually they will be parents and teachers and coaches and more, and they will build upon this foundation. So must we.

The future will come regardless. People’s choices may influence an event’s outcome, but not the coming of events. Those will keep coming. We should be more than ready for events. We should cause them. Take a lesson from those kids out there. They know something we might have forgotten, and not because of our age.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Andrew Miller says

    I think I can relate to the unsettling feeling you get looking at the other parents. I get that feeling when I look across the table on a date.
    I have yet to write a column about this, though.

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