I spent last weekend at Topsail Island with Adam and Zachary. My sons are thirty-one and twenty-six years old. I’m, well, uh... considerably past that. Anyway, on Sunday afternoon we drove to a place a few miles for our cottage and rented jet skis. It was a blast. There were seven of us who had the 3:00-4:00 hour reserved. Two were my sons (as noted, ages 31 and 26), two were Marines from nearby Camp Lejeune (both appeared to be in their early twenties), two were the girlfriends of those Marines (about the same ages as their boyfriends), and then there was me. I was the senior member of the group. I was “the old guy.” I was the one that a lifeguard led out into the water, slowly driving alongside my jet ski, telling me not to be alarmed because he would be watching out for me, and saying I was doing really well when I got the speed up to 25 mph. Yep, I was his geriatric project.
Before setting us loose on the Intracoastal Waterway, the lifeguards warned us to stay at least one hundred feet away from one another and also to maintaining a safe speed (nothing over 60 mph). He advised that if anyone went wild or challenged the rules, they would receive one warning. The second would result in being taken back to the landing and no longer allowed to ride. He smiled courteously at me as he explained those rules, as if to say, “Sorry you’re having to endure this, Pops, but you know how irresponsible these young folks can be.” Alerting the whole group to the fact that there would be two lifeguards (a.k.a, water police) at either end of the waterway, he told us to get started, to have fun, and to behave. Off went the other jet skis, firing into the deep blue waters. Off I went, slowly puttering behind them, trying to make certain I didn’t turn the thing over. It was like watching someone on a moped try to ride with others on Harley Davidsons. After a bit, however, I got the hang of it. My speed crept up. I learned to jump the waves. The wind, water, and increasing speed made me feel invigorated and refreshed... even (dare I say it?) youthful.
How did we do, all those young people and the one old guy? Did we behave well? Did we stay under 60 mph and act responsibly? I mean, you know how those young folks are. Well, there was only one infraction – only one person who got reprimanded for being too wild on the jet ski – only one person who was given one more chance to behave or else. You’re ahead of me here, right? Yep – I was the one. Those six young persons had a great time and did so in ways both safe and smart. At one point, apparently I decided that I was Evil Kneivel on water … and was properly warned to pull it back a few levels or my time on the jet ski would be concluded. Yeah, you know how those old folks are.
Whereas I do not in any way condone or encourage actions that are less than safe, I share this story with you simply to say that within us all is an inner child that longs to emerge. Mine came crashing through the boundaries I place around it when I was on those jet skis. Maybe, as so many poets and philosophers have suggested, we really are as old (or young) as we choose to think. Maybe age is, to a great extent at least, as much a state of mind as it is a state of existence. I was reading a Ed McBain’s book “The Big, Bad City” during vacation. In it was a wonderful line. McBain wrote of his lead character: “He sometimes watched old ladies plodding heavily across streets where buses threatened, and knew for certain that inside their aging bodies were the shining faces of fourteen-year-olds.” Yes! There is that inner child within us whom we should never forget nor neglect … that essential part of us, no matter our age or level of sophistication, which desires fun and laughter and freedom and occasional foolishness and dreams and hopes and joy. And if we nurture that part of our soul, we will remain young despite the years. And if we ignore that part, we will age, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. Remember the advice of Jesus: “Unless you become as a child, you have no part in the Kingdom of God.”
So, here’s my advice: From time to time unlock the cage the years has built and let your inner child have a chance to come out and play. Do not neglect joy. And do not surrender to the myth that the words “old” or “young” are determined by calendars.