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Youth

Time is a child at play; the kingdom belongs to the child.
HERACLITUS



It's not that I was never young.

Actually, I consider myself as having the eagerness of a high schooler, with the intellect of an undergraduate junior who just finds out where his interests really lay, and the humor of a grade school pupil in khaki shorts playing squirt guns with his equally foolish classmates. So I understand what it means to be young--not only out of my ability to remember my own youth's emotions and problems, but more so because I am able to understand what I myself have experienced. If anything, that is my sole problem: while most of me is still a child, my understanding of things is that of an old and sick woman nearing her death. That is why I believe I shall die in less than a decade, say by thirty-five.

But recently, the temporal distance I have with youth has been showing and rearing its ugly head, making me realize not only that I am getting old (which is natural and welcome) but that I am also no longer young (difficult and tragic).

Just recently in a lecture I gave to freshmen students, as part of my usual spiel about the strict contingency of life, i.e., that you did not have to be born but you were born, I asked a student what year he was born. He answered, "1989," which, unintentionally, made me remark, "Oh my god, am I that old?" The class laughed even though I was serious.

At that year when the unsuspecting student was welcomed by the world, I had my first fight with a classmate (I think it was about a sandwich he thought I stole); I was frightful about the required shift from writing in pencil into writing in ink; I lost my wallet for the first time in the school fair which ruined my day; the family was moving from the small apartment we rented into our own house (which meant parting with my best friend who lived next door); and I learned how human beings reproduced.

How do I talk to these children? How do I tell them about Leibniz's principium rationis and Angelus Sileius' poetic interpretation of Meister Eckhart's ohne warum? Had I presumed too much--that either they were as old as me or that I was as young as them? Either way, there must be a mistake on my part; a mistake that has to be corrected soon lest I become that old philosopher who either talks to the black board which acts as his own mirror for his monologue or who converses to the ceiling fan which answers with its whirs that can only be heard against the silence that the boredom of students speak.

As I was also a student not so long ago, I was terrified with the thought that I had become that teacher who has become anachronistic not only with his fashion preferences but more importantly with his teaching and examples. Simply put, I was getting older by the year, the students I would teach are like vampires who will always be 18 or 19 until forever.

Let us reverse roles for another example.

When I was attending classes as an MA student four years ago, I mostly had seminarians as classmates, most of which were the kind who, in "the middle of life's journey," found themselves in a Rundweg or the middle life crises (as it is more popularly known), made a leap, and began again but now with the halo of blessedness as servants of God. Put simply, they were already in their thirties if not forties.

I no longer remember why, but our brilliant professor, who had a cheerful inclination on "picking at me" and my Italian shoes, asked what my age was in front of the class on a rainy Friday night, a time when the youth were out partying and drinking while I was there studying Gadamer's hermeneutics. Neither proud nor embarrassed, I said that I was twenty-three. I heard gasps across the suddenly silent room and did not understand why.

Was it because I looked old?--I certainly hope not lest my tired small eyes did betray the rest of my face which I would consider "normal" for my age. Or perhaps--and this I prefer better even if it might not be true--it was because I was acing the classes where we all have been classmates for more than a year already. Modesty aside (this is my room after all), maybe they were surprised that someone much younger than them could also be in step with them, follow the lessons like them, and even get better grades than them every once in a while. If philosophy, at the bottom of it, was a guide to living, it logically followed that he who has lived more, seen more, and done more would better understand it if not follow it.

I was no bookworm or nerd; my closest classmates--a female Ph.D. student who has taught a number of years in a different university and an earnest married man who was a father of two sweet kids--never saw me read or study; but I was always willing to discuss the required readings with them or review the past lesson. Really, I looked like a kid in a playground who was just there for the fun of it, who did not take an MA as an ecclesiastical requirement--as the Teacher would say--or as a prerequisite for a higher position and thus higher pay. I was just playing while I could, a child who did not care about the grades or the money, an idealist who had only seen the world through the lenses of ideas, a student who liked the idea of staying in the confines of the four walls of the classroom, an adolescent who had staked nothing but had everything to gain.

It was, and still is, a play for me. But let me make it clear for those who can easily find fault in such "innocence" and consequently "immaturity": it is to this childish play that I have offered my youth. Till now, neither young anymore nor still not old, nothing is more serious for me.

I digressed. Well I guess that's what you get for playing too much. My point was that I probably surprised my brothers then with my youth. And you see, that can go either way: perhaps they realized that this child--who they talked to about Heidegger and would invite to their gatherings and Masses--was either too young for them or they were themselves too old for him.

But what I learned, with my continued friendship not only with my brothers but more so with my mentors and friends way older than me, was that youth need not be an unbridgeable abyss between two friends whose relationship is no longer based on fun activities like watching movies or playing pool, but already have realized that coffee is better than beer and you may not see each other for a year and still pick up from where they left off like nothing happened. In other words, age and its absolute--because numerical--difference are canceled by two minds that meet.

Another clear example of an experience I had of difference and distance I had acquired against youth was a broken love with someone a few years younger than myself.

But going back to the lecture I referred to earlier, around three to four students, those "kids" who were born a decade after me, had those eyes which told me they not only understood me--my apparent because pedagogical goal--but apparently were also struck with my point which seemed to hit them, and perhaps was able to shed light on the questions they carried in their heart of hearts--my real because ultimate goal. And that will do for this child who only wants to play.

Age, you see, is of the body. And youth is of the mind.

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