In the introduction to her book ” Life Gets Better”, Wendy Lustbader tells us about an incident during a bus excursion in New Zealand. It was during a Kiwi Experience and most of the other tourists were young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four and they were from all over the world. To break up the monotony of the sheep filled landscape , the bus driver asked each of the tourists to use his tour mike and say a few words.
When it was her turn to speak , Lustbader said ” Don’t worry . These are the worst years of your lives”. She went on to explain ” Everything gets better –you just have to get through your twenties.”
Startling advice , but what followed was even more amazing. At the next rest stop , Lustbader was swarmed by her fellow passengers all of whom thanked her for her words.One after another , they declared their gratitude to her for saying something that they had never heard before. They had constantly been told how wonderful youth was but that , they said, did not reflect their own experience . A 19-year-old British blonde said that she had been depressed ever since she had left home on the trip . These remarks , she said ,made her realize that it would take time to find the answers to the questions that were nagging her. Another youngster was so unhappy that he had been thinking of killing himself. A 20 year old from Denmark said ” If this is really the best , I don’t even want the rest of it .”
In today’s youth oriented culture , the young are extolled ad nauseam and TV focuses on the lives of the young and the beautiful . No doubt , because they are perceived as having more disposable income and because they are more vulnerable to advertisements , young adults are fawned upon and catered to . Some years ago , my wife and I attended a taping of ” Who Wants to be a Millionaire ?” and I noticed that all the older people were shepherded to the rear of the studio; the young and good-looking were escorted to the front rows where they would be more visible when the TV cameras were trained on the audience. This is just a small example of how our society worships youth but it has been prevalent for some time .I don’t know who it was that said ” The first thirty years are worth all the rest ” but that quote has been around for a while.
Perhaps we need to re-think the common wisdom that youth is the Golden Age . No doubt , that is when we are at the peak of our physical powers but in other respects it is a time of uncertainty and tension . It is the time youngsters leave the safe haven of their families and strike out on their own . It is an exciting period but it is also fraught with worry , particularly now as it gets more and more difficult to find a well-paying job and make a career. Young people struggle to find themselves , to discover who they are , what it is they really want, to find their life partner. Meanwhile , we who are looking at them see only their youth , their ” freedom ” to do what they want and we think it the pinnacle of happiness.
In the introduction to her book , Lustbader goes on to say ” The myth of youth as the best time of life burdens the young and makes us all dread getting older, as though there is only diminishment of life’s bounty as the decades pass…. Life gets better as we get older , on all levels except the physical.” When I first read Lustbader’s words , I was skeptical but , upon reflection , I have to agree with her.We are entranced by external appearances and know nothing of the internal traumas that beset our youth.
P.S. Wendy Lustbader’s book is not about youth . The sub-title of ” Life Gets Better” is ” The Unexpected Pleasures of Getting Older” and I highly recommend it . Author Lustbader is a social worker and professor who works with older people and their families and writes and lectures nationally on the subject of aging. The book is wonderfully written and is a must read for people in all stages of life , whether they young , middle-aged or elderly.