Dr. Kenneth Snyder, who served as my primary instructor in Church History while I studied theology, wrote on my Facebook wall on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, "I hope you took some time today to say farewell to your youth."
I read that comment just before turning off the lights and closing my eyes on the last day of my twenties. I appreciated his humor and his good wishes, but I tossed and turned considering the fact that his comment had crystallized what I had been feeling in the days before my birthday. Thirty is not old; I don't pretend to be aged and wise. Yet, while young, thirty is really no longer youth. That thought brought me to the verge of tears as a drifted off toward sleep.
I spent the days leading up to January 21 considering the manifold ways in which I had wasted my youth and had failed to accomplish so many things. For instance, because I was afraid I couldn't do it or that I would not be good enough, I never really tried to be an athlete. These days, I wish I would have. I wish I could have overcome my insecurities, and just had the good sense to know that I would have had fun, but I was too worried that I might fail. I wish I would have been less judgmental of my peers, and I wish I would have recognized then that the contempt I felt for them was just a mask for jealousy because they were doing things that I wanted to do, but that I knew were wrong. I wish I would not have been jealous, held back as I was, by a noble but misguided ironclad moral code; I wish I would have recognized that a moral life made me truly free, and in that freedom, able to see in my peers the goodness with which and for which God had made them. I wish I would have made them my friends as opposed to enemies to be defeated.
I wish I would not have been so proud. I wish I would have been more willing to admit my ignorance and to seek help and advice. Perhaps I would have learned to lift weights, or to use gym equipment. I didn't want to look a fool. Had I any humility then, perhaps I would have only appeared a fool whereas now, I find that I proved myself one.
I wish I would have learned more, and applied myself more. School came easily, and all too often I coasted.
I wish that then I would have been willing to shoot, to hike, to fish, and to play. These things seemed beneath me for some reason, the pastimes of rubes. I wish I would have learned about cars and motors. I wish I would have talked more about football and cheerleaders. My pride insisted that because these were the interests of base men, they were beneath my dignity. I wish I would not, for so long, have underestimated the dignity of manhood.
I wish I would have dedicated more time to manual labor and work with my hands.
I wish I would have loved more. I wish I would not have feared rejection. I wish I would not have feared vulnerability. I wish I would not have pretended to have it all together. I wish I would not have wasted so much energy hiding my sins from others when I was really only trying to hide them from myself. I wish I would not have been so afraid to be totally and radically honest.
In a word, I wish that when I was thirteen, eighteen, twenty-five, I had begun to understand the things about myself that only began to become clear in my twenty-ninth year.
So, it was a bitter pill to swallow as I realized that I would be saying farewell to a youth that I had seemingly squandered. Thankfully, God's goodness is without bounds. I can only recognize these things because of the clarity offered by hindsight whose expertise is limited to that which has already passed. In other words, it is only because I have arrived at thirty that I can regret what I failed to do when I was eighteen. Those things I wish I had done then, I realize, I can still do now but without the baggage (nor, of course, the same energy and physical prowess) of youth to accompany it. More importantly, the pride which so hobbled my willingness to try then has been tempered. At thirty (especially as a professed celibate) it is much easier to not give a damn about how foolish one appears.
To not give a damn, I am coming to understand, is one of the richest graces of full-fledged adulthood.