I think I’m goin’ back
To the things I learnt so well in my youth
I think I’m returning to
Those days when I was young enough to know the truth
Within one lifetime, we live many lives. We become many different people. Our egos die a number of times before the final breath. We are fluid beings. One decade ago, when I was planning my 16th birthday party around the theme of childhood nostalgia, the physical components of my person were composed of an entirely different generation of cells than those living in the present. The whole of the sum of those ancestral cells were permeated with the consciousness produced by neurons living in a more primal cognitive landscape. That primal cognitive landscape was a dark, twisting maze with existential horrors lurking in every shadow. Monsters, injustice, suffering, loneliness, failing, aging, death. I wrapped those horrors in a whimsical bow and threw a celebration that I hoped would reverse the clock.
Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more colouring books
No Christmas bells to chime
I committed to never losing my youth. It was what I called a Peter Pan Complex. My future was so unstable and unimaginable that it was difficult to accept I even had one. I wanted my future to be the present forever. I wanted the moon-bounces and sleepovers. I wanted to hold on to the exhilarating recklessness of young love. I wanted to sustain the predictable annual cycle of school, summer, school, Christmas, and the daily cycle of class to class to class to home to bed. I couldn’t imagine a future in which three half-assed jumps on a moon-bounce would wear me out, and maintaining close enough friendships for platonic sleepovers was a distant memory. I didn’t want to imagine getting to a point where I was too emotionally wary to dive into love head-over-heels. I didn’t think I would ever be capable of making adult decisions for myself, or of withstanding the many inevitable major changes of adulthood: going to college, moving out, getting a job, making my own doctor appointments. I might have preferred to die than endure it all, and in a sense that person did.
But thinking young and growing older is no sin
And I can play the game of life to win
And from the ashes of ten years of hellfire emerges the person I am to the core. This person is familiar, reminding me of a more authentic self, many selves ago, before being molded and contorted by shame. This person can be comfortable in the present while planning for the future. This person can dream big while living simply. This person is open to connecting to people, and not being afraid of seeing my own reflection in others. This is a person I am content with being. But I also accept that this person will not exist after another ten years of experiences. These cells will wither and die, making way for a new generation, a new way of life, a new perspective.
I can recall a time when I wasn’t ashamed
To reach out to a friend
And now I think I’ve got a lot more
Than just my toys to lend
I’ve begun removing the masks that once substituted vulnerability with normalcy. I had swallowed my heart that I once wore on my sleeve and it got stuck as a lump in my throat. Now, through a series of social Heimlich maneuvers, I’ve managed to dislodge some of the fear that has suppressed authenticity, and at a time when authenticity is needed most. I have things other people need: my compassion, my skills, my resources. A lot more is at stake than just my ego. Self-doubt, self-restraint, self-righteousness, self: pulling off the layers for the sake of our shared humanity. I am more than an I. I am part of a we.
Now there’s more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
And every day can be
My magic carpet ride
Life is hopping from one stepping stone to the next from the day I was born, and the harrowing future promises sharper stones across turbulent waters. The weight of the world does not rest squarely on my own shoulders, but the responsibility is nevertheless enormous. At the same time, there is little use worrying myself sick. I have a job to do, and that is to balance on the stone I stand on today. And when I’ve found my balance, I can reach out my hand to another’s and help them cross to safety, knowing that someone would reach out their hand to me.
And I can play hide-and-seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years
My mother sees a silver hair on my head glistening in the sunlight. For a moment, the lingering existential horrors threaten to unravel. Yet my mind is now less like a maze and more like a storage cabinet. Rather than lose myself in a series of hypothetical dead ends, I can unpack. Here’s a box overflowing with medical knowledge. There’s a box jam-packed with coping mechanisms. I compare this information against the silver hair, and oh look, it’s really not a big deal. My body is keeping track of time so I don’t have to. I am here, now, content in my mortality.
Then every one debates
The true reality
I’d rather see the world
The way it used to be
Navigating relationships is complicated in this culture of manufactured isolation. Gone are the days of communal togetherness and extended families. Gone are the days of villages working as one for common goals. Our neighbors want to cut our throats. Our leaders would leave us to die. The dogged individualism of my adolescence was untenable. In a sense, making human connections has become a moral imperative. I can no longer gleefully attempt to corrupt people; they must be uplifted, validated, loved. I cannot write off personal ethics as something for sticks-in-the-mud. I need to reach back, back to a time before nothing seemed to matter, when everything mattered. Because it actually does.
A little bit of freedom’s all we lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back.
My passion comes from my strength; my strength comes from my relationships. My being is inextricably tied to other beings. We can dream of more peaceful days enjoyed by our ancestors and work for more peaceful days to be enjoyed by our descendants. All that’s needed is keeping in touch: with each other, with our own authentic selves, with our nature. If I can reach deep within myself, I am reaching out to all. And one decade from now, when my hair is flecked with silver, I’ll think to today as the day when I finally made peace with my own humanity.