It’s almost a cliché that older people lose their enthusiasm. We are told that they are beaten down by their many responsibilities and powerless in the face of a fate that they can see, if they squint just right, riding towards them from the distance. Much of this hand wringing over their stress is perpetuated by themselves, however, for the truth is much grimmer.
The corollary of the truism about jaded age is that youth is nearly always turning a fresh face toward the new adventure. Age would claim this is due to their lack of experience, or their lack of understanding of some situations they encounter. That may be true, and might even affect how the young person confronts their life, but like many explanations of another’s behaviour, the statements say more about the speaker than the spoken.
Perhaps because I have always lived slightly sideways to the aging population around me, and because of my profession I am surrounded by young adults, I have noticed a tendency amongst both populations to cover their enthusiasm with care, cover their joy with indifference, and in other ways suggest their world-weary understanding. Even in my first year courses I have students who are never shocked by anything, never excited about the sometimes bizarre stories, novels, and films, but instead, having learned the behaviour at their parent’s knee, practice the loose jowled face of their elders. I have seen all of this before, their face proclaims, I am untouched.
When children are young, such a serious demeanour is praised, as it is read as a mark of maturity. Such a mature young man or woman, the elderly relatives crow, their hands flapping like wings. This affected jadedness, this presentation of sombre invulnerability, is learned, and once praised, becomes set like cement. The thudding of the youthful heart is walled in, and where a face as mobile as monkey could have looked outward, dribbles of aggregate and mortar wall away the possibility of interaction.
I recently took a road trip with a young friend, and I was reminded once again how unapologetic jouissance is not only a more honest way of interacting with the world but enlivens the world around you as well. She marveled at the hills in Halifax, the harbour and its ships, delighted in the waves on the shore in Prince Edward Island, was delighted to shoot a gun, shoot a bow, use a chainsaw, and go through the woods on a dark night. The endless hours of driving were opportunity for banter and fresh views from the windows, stopping a chance for discovery.
Montreal was a feast for the eyes as she found street food, people watching, the Metro, flags and stalls, and our friends endlessly diverting. Ottawa was a family visit, and she bonded with the children, laughed with her new friends, picked blackberries in the woods, and finally when we loaded the car and drove away, said her heartfelt goodbye. The massive rocks around Lake Superior, and constant waves and clear water, combined with sleeping in a tent to make the trip more than memorable.
The older person would likely have felt this same joy, but ashamed to exhibit such naivety, they would hide it behind dulled platitudes. Enthusiasm shows ignorance, to them at least, and for them it is better to appear knowledgeable and experienced than excited. Many of my students are trapped in that same circle. Encountering a new idea can be exciting, but showing that to their peers might expose to that jaded group that they didn’t know. They avoid that risk by closing their mouth, stilling their eyes, fixing their face into a mask, and in other ways assuming the worst attributes of age and losing the best of youth.