One week from today I turn 27, and it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around. I don’t consider myself old by any means, but I certainly don’t feel my age, or at least fit within the construct of how society views a 27 year old.
I never truly felt like I grew up, and I mean that in the best way possible. If I see an open swing set, I’ll still jump on it. While that may seem childish and immature, I view it as still having that sense of adventure and thrill. I’m not saying every twenty-something should be jumping on the next swing set they see, but the mentality shifts to other areas of life.
While that childhood sense of wonder never really left even past my adolescent years, I’ve come to notice that I’ve certainly grown up in other areas. My mom called me a few weeks back and asked me what I wanted for my birthday. 10 year old me would have had a never-ending list already prepared, probably revolving around whatever the newest gaming system was at the time. However, it’s a difficult question for me to answer now. To which, I still haven’t told her anything, since you can’t exactly pick up “more vacation time at work” or “spending more time with the people I care about” on Amazon. I’ve come to learn that the things that have brought me the most happiness in life didn’t come in a box.
Since I love to speak in parables, I can’t help but think of an eye-opening experience I had hiking in Zion National Park in Utah two years ago. I didn’t know too much about the park’s sights and attractions going into it, but I was still excited to take it all in. It was part of my brother Joel’s best friend Andy’s bachelor party. Andy wanted to hike Angel’s Landing. I didn’t know too much about it, but I was up for the adventure.
On the shuttle ride over to the trail, I remember the bus driver labeling Angel’s Landing as being for “experienced hikers only” after mentioning the elevation change and number of fatalities. I looked down at my Brooks Ravenna 4 running shoes that were a little past their prime, since I didn’t even own hiking shoes for this hike that was meant for the veterans. I’ll be honest, I questioned going through with it, but decided to tackle it anyway.
After the seemingly endless amount of cutbacks on the trail upwards, there reaches a point where the only thing separating hikers from falling off of the massive rock formations are chain links for helping ascend higher. I took one look at the chains and wanted to turn back. Moments later, I saw a woman who I would judge to be at least in her 60’s with hiking poles in each hand. She was coming toward us, meaning she was headed back from the top of Angel’s Landing. Hikers stared at her in amazement, and with a smile, she said “if I can do it, so can you.”
It gave me the motivation to conquer the chains, and I’m so glad I did. The sights from the top of Angel’s Landing were some of the most awe-inspiring images I’ve ever witnessed. While the numerical value of our age is fact, the way it makes us feel is a construct of our own imagination. It was a very valuable lesson I learned from that pleasant passerby that day.
Benjamin Franklin is famous for the quote “many people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five,” and it’s something I think about constantly. No one is every truly old unless they define themselves as such, whether with their words or actions. Taoists also have a metaphor for age in relation to a tree. A tree is not old because of its age, what makes it old is when it becomes deeply rooted and stiff. It’s instead wise to live life like that of bamboo, flexible in nature yet resilient to harsh weather.
These are concepts Taoists have realized for hundreds of years. Even today, recent studies have proven that learning new skills and keeping the mind sharp significantly reduces the chances of getting dementia later in life. The fountain of youth has existed all along, it’s just up to us on if we want to bask in the waters of new adventures and exploration.