How do I begin to talk about age, and time in general? It's such an abstract concept and it seems almost wrong to even try to touch upon it, let alone at a time when I am still relatively young. Who am I to talk about age? But it is incredible how salient age is: our quotidian lives are completely governed by age differences. We are in this grade at school because we are this age, we can't drive until that age, we can't work until this age, we can't do this or that until we turn a certain age. Kindergarten and elementary school disputes between kids often desperately fell to the glaring differences of age in order to prove some sort of superiority: "I'm older than you!" was always the go-to argument (even if it is a bit too tenuous and pointless to mention). We know our age, we are seven-and-three-quarters years old, we are one month away from getting our driver's license, we are two months away from officially graduating high school, we are one semester away from finishing college. We are, quite simply, constantly aware of our age and the ages of others.
Yet it is so strange to truly think about age, at least in a mildly metacognitive way. We are aging, but what does that really mean? It means you are a minute or two or so older than you were before you started reading this post (depending on your reading speed or any potential distractions that may have arose, of course--I myself took a break to make some guacamole just now). We know we are getting older, and we make joking asides about how we can no longer do the things we could do as children. And we leave it at that--vague platitudes meant to fill empty gaps in conversation, banalities that stir no emotion because we gloss over the emotion that should be inherently rooted in thoughts of the loss of childhood and adolescence and young adulthood and whatever age you have just passed. What are these glossed-over emotions? And what stirs these thoughts of age in the first place?
I just got home from hanging out with some friends. We were at the park all day and then we made s'mores. Like kids. I mean, technically we are still young--"kids" in the eyes of those thrice my age, probably. The smell of browned marshmallows melting on a piece of chocolate, the dusty crunch of graham crackers, the blackening twigs on the flames--they remind you of similar times from the past, from your younger years. And you are flooded with the same carefree, childish sentiments as when you were little and you lied down on the cool summer grass and chased fireflies in the dimming night. But it's not the same, because you are aware of the arrival of that childish carefreeness, that reckless feeling that the moment will last eternally, that summer will be caught in a glass jar like a firefly and will glow forever. That's how it felt as a child, but as a child, you were not aware of that. It felt that way, but you did not know it did. It was merely a part of your mentality at that age.
But at this age, if you are reminded of childhood, and that feeling of youthful freedom returns, it is not the same because you are conscious of its existence and by extension, you are conscious of its ephemerality. We laugh while making s'mores because we feel "just like children," but even a remark like that is governed by an adult mentality, wherein childish nostalgia and happiness are noted in the present only when they are sharply contrasted from the present--in other words, we feel "just like children" only because the present does not otherwise feel "like childhood." Moments are noteworthy because they are different. Making s'mores feels like childhood because the real world is not like making s'mores, and anything that is happy as well as infrequent is linked to some sort of childish joy. In the back of our minds we have the gnawing problems of our daily lives outside of the flames that lick the marshmallows that will soon be gone; on the drive home from hanging out with my friends, my mind instantly reeled with thoughts of how I had a lot of academic and financial things to work out before the fall semester, which is a whole three months away. Worries, concerns, problems. We have other things to think about, and a brief respite is just that--brief, and a respite. It's not eternity, and we know it. We know it. And that's what makes the difference, I suppose.