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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

3 Superheroes We Were

As it has often been said, youth is indeed wasted on the young. Despite my protestations to the contrary, I know that I’m still a relatively young man - but just when I’m starting to feel particularly youthful I see a few college kids and realize: man, that was a long time ago. There’s no doubt that I believe that the youngest generation may show less promise and hope for the future than any that has preceded it (including the ones that endured plagues) - but that doesn’t mean they are powerless. In fact, as I look back on my own youth, I had no idea what powers or even superpowers I had ... until I lost them. Now, as a regular human going through life with the pedestrian limitations of the rest of the folks populating the 35-54 demographic (boy, does it suck to write that), I find myself not missing the social awkwardness, the hormone-fueled single-mindedness, or the utter lack of impulse control, but missing desperately my relative indestructibility, youthful exuberance, and other powers. So, as we prepare for yet another season of superhero movies and fantasies about flying wizards, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on 3 superpowers we all had - back when were young:

1. Walk It Off. I remember a time when injuries were a nuisance - an unwanted break in the action - which might force me to miss a few minutes of a hotly contested pick-up game, a recess chase or a practice. I remember the boundless optimism I took for granted with which I knew that I’d heal and I’d be back. I remember when after taking a nasty spill, I’d get up and walk it off. And all of those memories seem like a long, long time ago - like in-“Sepia”-tones long time ago. These days, if I stub a toe I’m feeling it a week later, and a real injury is likely going to last through the better part of the year. Now the first thing I think of when someone says “rehab” isn’t the Betty Ford Clinic or the pool party at the Hard Rock Casino, it’s spending humble mornings with a physical therapist lifting colored weights and rolling myself around on hard foam logs. My collection of athletic equipment, which used to consist of gloves, pads, straps and cleats, now has more braces and wraps than anything else. It’s a like a little neoprene shrine to my mid-30’s. Looking back, I’m pretty sure if I had been patient enough, I could have actually watched my body heal (Wolverine-style) in a matter of minutes right before my eyes. Nowadays, the only thing “super” about my healing ability is how fast it appears to have abandoned me.

2. Time Travel. Just like Deana Carter, I still remember when 30 was old. When life seemed long. No matter how hard I wished for it, time seemed to trickle along with all the velocity of a Palm Springs track meet. If memory serves, I’m pretty sure I was sixteen for about four years. School years (which were, in reality, only from late September to early June) seemed to last forever, and summers seem to stretch far beyond their allotted three months. Despite spending much of my youth despising my ability to stretch these days and months into years - there always seemed like plenty of time to do anything; to do everything. No venture or adventure was ever abandoned because of a lack of time to do it. Being “tired” was something I could always just will myself out of, or completely obliterate with a short nap. In short, time was both my friend and my enemy. I’m certain that my fevered desire to grow up as quickly as possible (due to an extraordinarily awkward youth) prevented me from truly enjoying the power to slow time to a crawl. But as my days, weeks, months and years (!!) begin to fly by like so much highway landscaping, I find myself wishing for even a vastly diminished version of it - if only to make the football, barbecue and weather of the fall last just a little bit longer. And though a younger me would kill me for saying it, I’d even be happy to let the intolerably hot, kids-out-of-school, and only-baseball-to-watch summer keep flying right by.

3. Guts of Steel. I’m fairly certain that, should circumstances have every really required it, that my teenage digestive system could have successfully processed a standard-sized bicycle (or similar mechanical device). When I think back on what I considered to be a “meal” back then, it’s a wonder that I wasn’t simply absorbed back into the earth on any number of times where I laid down in some open field. I dumped all manner of junk down my throat, with little if any regard for nutritional value of any sort. And I found it nearly impossible to gain weight. Yes, seriously. I tested the extremes of my ability to tolerate both heat and cold, and distinctly recall letting my ego decide how spicy I ordered my food. This power allowed me an almost carefree experience at any meal or eating establishment, and is all but gone today. Lately I make most of my food choices based on the amount of time in the gym I’ll need to spend working off whatever delicious morsel I’m considering. And when it comes to spicy foods, my GI tract demands that I take into careful account the risk-reward of telling the chinese food cook that where I’d like my Kung Pao chicken the 1-10 hot-scale (i.e. 10 will incite a full-on GI rebellion, and even a 7 will likely result in tears sooner or later). It’s not that I’m not grateful to finally be considering just exactly what I’m eating these days - I just miss the time when antacid was just something in funny commercials.

* * *

Of course as the universe takes away, it also gives, and with the loss of many of the superpowers of our youth comes a wisdom, confidence and presence that I wouldn’t trade to have all those powers back. With the diminishment of our physical abilities comes the savvy to use the ones we retain to even greater resource. There is greater joy in becoming a “wily, old veteran” than my old “rookie” self could have ever imagined. Looking back on these powerful days is, however, a reminder that as we sit and watch our youngest generation slip into an ever more comprehensive and unbelievable self-delusion, apathy, and ignorance, we are not simply dimming our previously bright future, but we may be wasting our most powerful resource - and eliminating all hope of finding the heroes we’ll need, super or otherwise.


Jen and Tonic said...

You know, I'm still kind of able to walk things off. I drink so much milk my bones are probably like STEEL. I also slammed in to a landing plank while zip lining earlier this year, and managed to shred the skin on my knees pretty badly. I just kept on hiking and zip lining like it never happened. In fairness, I grew up with a mother whose solution for any ailment (strep, ear infection, chicken pox) was to drink more water.

Number 2 and number 3 are so damn true. I would kill for a day that seemed like it was 48 hours long, and a time when my birthday seemed like it would never come.

Oh, and I laughed out loud at the antacid comment. I get heartburn SO BADLY after eating pizza.

Amazing piece! Not that I expected any less.

Bill Friday said...

It must be "bring your awkward childhood to work day" or something.

To this day (and I won't say exactly, but I barely still squeeze into the upper reaches of your demographic), my 4'11", 88 pound 9th grade year still drives me to out-perform everyone around me physically, whether at work lifting 70 pound bags of movie film, or playing flag football against ADULTS half my age. Over-compensation is both a blessing and a curse.

And while I can still eat a bagfull of chilidogs from Weinerschnitzel, I can't get through the first half-hour of any day without coffee.

Thanks Glenn, for reminding everybody that it isn't our superpowers that unite us, it's our shared disabilities.

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