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February 7, 2014

I Think it Might Matter When I’m Older. ~ Melissa Leblanc

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“I think it might matter when I’m older.”

 

I wrote these eight words and nothing else. No context, no explanation.

I was 15. I read it now and remember the way my body shivered in the cold as I stood naked behind a thin fabric curtain held up by a dainty piece of string. A man twice my age convinced me this was the normal way for models to be fitted. 

“I think it might matter when I’m older.”

I wrote these eight words and nothing else. No context, no explanation.

I was 17. I read it now and remember the dream I had the night before—an echo of an all too familiar memory. I remember looking up at my mom while lying on a stretcher with an oxygen mask strapped to my face.

The experiences of our youth, our first raw moments of exposure to life, play a large role in shaping us as adults.

The way my father kissed my mother goodbye when he left for work every morning changed the way I look at love and at marriage. Where I live will determine where I want to live. The friends who betrayed me in high school will make me more guarded and less able to trust. My little sister’s lung disorder will make me swear to never let a cigarette butt touch my lips.

These significant moments in life imprint us as we move from childhood to adulthood. They shape us and determine the type of lives we end up living. But what else is imprinting when we are not looking? It’s not just the big, obvious moments that shape us, it’s the seemingly trivial ones as well.

The way the bus driver, who drove me to school every day for two years, smiled when he opened the bus door taught me there is always a reason to be happy. The way my mother made toast in the middle of sick nights taught me what it means to be selfless.

Many insignificant details of youth will likely be forgotten—until I walk past someone wearing the same cologne as the bus driver and I’m reminded of his kind smile. Or, I hear the crunch of someone biting into toast and I’m thrown back into those long nights spent with my mother at my side.

These life experiences create imprints as we move from childhood to adulthood.

Some adults tend to belittle the emotions of children and adolescents.

They offer a counter to my mantra, stating didactically:

“It will not matter when you are older.”

As adolescents and young adults we are faced with the paradox of maturity—at this age we are being taught to be independent, but must live within the boundaries adults confine us to. Part of this confinement is being told that our spectrum of emotions cannot possibly be as vast as the array of adult emotions.

This, simply because we have not lived enough—we do not possess the same amount of life experience. It is a matter of mathematics, of logic: we are young, thus we are naïve. We have not spent enough years on this planet to possibly comprehend what life is about. This is true. We are still learning, still being shaped into more complex, intricate versions of ourselves. Our ignorance is inevitable.

However, this does not mean we are not full-fledged human beings. We are.

While I strongly believe one can only know what is meaningful in retrospect, it cannot be assumed that, because young people lack life experience, we cannot comprehend intense emotion.

Love is a perfect example. Terms like “young love” or “puppy love” have been coined as ways to describe a limited love felt by young people. We are to expect less from the relationships of our youth because, we are told, they are not going to be as important as the relationships that will come in the future—older love is considered more real or more secure.

While it’s true that finding the love of your life in high school is unlikely, adults should not dismiss this as “young love” assuming it is not real. Who is to say an adult has a better understanding of love?

Adults can, similarly, belittle sadness. Sadness in adolescence is often downplayed. It is considered teenage angst or a phase that will eventually pass. As with love, adults assume young people do not know what it means to be sad as they lack life experience. But what if sadness is not a phase? The sadness we experience in our youth is not necessarily less painful than the sadness we experience as adults.

The ecstasy of love and sadness are opposite emotions, and it is likely that everything in between is probably belittled as well. Perhaps this is why adolescents form such camaraderie.

It goes beyond them feeling like they are not understood by their parents, it’s that their parents, and adults in general for that matter, do not give them the validation their lives are rightly entitled to. The emotions of young people cannot be belittled, because they are in fact real.

“I think it might matter when I’m older.”

I wrote it the first time when I was 13. It mattered then—it still matters now that I’m older.

 

 

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Assistant Editor: Richard May/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: isla_yelo/Flickr adapted by elephant journal

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Melissa Leblanc