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Twice sixteen

April 4th, 2004 · No Comments

Last Sunday morning I read Richard at Just a Gwai Lo’s post Sixteen quoting Marty Beckerman

I’m kind of out of it at 20. I’m culturally obsolete. Our whole culture targets the age sixteen now. Twelve-year olds want to be sixteen and fifty-year olds want to be sixteen and I think we’re idealizing a very young age, probably younger than has been in the media before.

Then I went outside for a jog. When I came back inside, my 5 and 3 year old daughters were awake.

Abigail saw my running shirt, one I got in high school. She pointed to the year printed on it: 198*

“Were you alive in that year?” she asked me.

“Yes I was.”

“How old were you?”


“You were a kid!”

A kid! When I think of sixteen, I wonder why anyone would want to be sixteen or even look sixteen.

Richard commented in his post:

I’m going to hate reading Generation S.L.U.T. [Marty Beckerman’s book] because it’s going to remind me of how much I thought I enjoyed high school after I was done and how miserable I really was during.

Who would want to go through high school again? Not me. I was miserable too. I thought my school was to blame. When one of my teachers told me that the popular kids were also unhappy, I didn’t believe him. How could those girls with cute clothes and cute guys feel as miserable as me? Years later, after college, I was sitting around a restaurant table with a group of high school friends when we acknowedged to each other that we would have been unhappy anywhere. It wasn’t the school: it was the season of our lives.

So what is the appeal of sixteen? And why would a fifty year old want to look sixteen? I’m not fifty yet but I have lived more than twice sixteen. I don’t look like I’m sixteen. I don’t run like I’m sixteen. Some things aren’t the same. If I could go back in time, there are opportunities I’d pursue differently and choices I would change.

But when I think about what I do have, I wouldn’t trade it to be sixteen again. Why would I want to go back to being a “kid”? I’ve paid a price for what I’ve got now, but it is worth more than anything I could give. Besides, I was never a paragon of sport or beauty. What I lost wasn’t much. I got a bargain.

I think fifty year olds should be proud to look fifty. We should idolize age. I think there’s nothing more valuable than wisdom that’s been bought with time. Gray hair and wrinkles should be prized – not as another kind of conformity, while our culture ages with the Boomers – but for what they represent. Years spent learning lessons. Life lived. Wisdom that isn’t simply skin-deep.

When I was sixteen I was certain I had figured out what life was. It was bitter. It was painful. It would be all I could do to keep my head above water and survive.

This quote from the Marty Beckerman interview sounded like me:

I think the kids 13 to 22 now are really deeply sad, deeply depressed people….

Mary Beckerman also said:

In high school I really thought I knew everything about the world, I was really self righteous…

Yet now that I’m twice sixteen, I don’t want to make the same mistakes of arrogance and self-righteousness that I did back then: I don’t want to assume that I’m always right. I don’t want to assume I know everything about life.

Tags: journal