Thursday, April 25, 2013

youth, age and George Bernard Shaw

It was George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and determined socialist, who once observed, "Youth is wasted on the young." Given his intelligence and wit, it is hard to know if Shaw intended with his bon
mot to skewer the inattentive galloping of youth or mock the knee-jerk, ache-plagued whining of the aged. Either way, I figure GBS was smarter than your average kumquat.

Taking the most obvious point of entry, youth stands accused of frittering away its time in idle pleasure and uninformed delight. Put bluntly, youth is after a good time and sometimes achieves its goals. Youth is the puppy that races unheeding around the house, hits the linoleum floor in the kitchen, finds no purchase, skids and slips and goes ass over appetite ... and then gets up and does it all again. It may have bumps and bruises, but goddamn! it's fun.

The eye seasoned by experience observes all this and then, perhaps, retreats into Shaw's wit. It is a place leavened by truth, but it is also -- secretly and not so secretly -- a bit jaundiced:

If youth is wasted on the young, maybe it's worth asking if age is not likewise wasted on the elderly. Is there some reason that the wide-eyed joy of youth should not be found in less rambunctious times? Life is spendthrift and profligate in its gifts (look at the grass in summer, the fallen leaves in autumn, the snowflakes in winter), so what makes those slowed by age or infirmity imagine that the joy goes missing when they can no longer lift potato sacks or party until dawn?

Youth is sometimes accused of a wanton, if energetic, stupidity. But I wonder if the same accusation might not be laid at the doorstep of those less agile: When has joy ever been limited by agility ... or the lack thereof? Doesn't anyone use what they've got in order to get what they deserve? If you don't know what you've got, whose wasteful problem is that?

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