i was riding the subway to go see some old co-workers last week, when i spotted two girls, probably 17 or 18, sitting across from me, posing for silly self-portraits with one's iphone. they made funny faces, and kissed the camera, and crossed their eyes, and sultrily pouted for the camera. they were the definition of a teenager - yearning to be adults but not yet ready to leave childhood. and i slowly smiled to myself, amused by their theatrics.
then, just like a real new yorker, i teared up on the subway. out of nowhere.
i think part of it was taking heart in seeing teenagers being teenagers - i know, i only saw a glimpse into who these young women were, but that fact that 17-year-old girls still take silly pictures in public, not caring who sees, made me happy.
but i think it mostly came from their presumed innocence. there is much more i know through life experience, and so much more they have yet to discover. each heartache and painful shift in worldview, each success and failure, each pat on the back and disappointment rushed through me. right in that instant, just from watching two strangers. so much you yearn to want to stay the same, to keep your innocence, yet so much you want to grow up and truly feel alive by experiencing all that life has to offer.
i rushed out of the subway at my stop. past the world trade center memorial, past the building where i worked 100-hour week after 100-hour week in my first job in new york, to a waiting glass of white wine. past opportunities and failures and achievements that i never knew at the age of 17 had been waiting for me in downtown manhattan. once at the restaurant i listened to stories of separation and reconciliation in a marriage that had been on the brink, a job that was perfect sullied by a horrible boss, an internal struggle on whether to get married now that gay marriage was legal in new york and an option for a couple. i listened to heartaches, laughs, questions, jokes, sighs of discontent, sighs of content. i nodded, i gave advice where i could. i told my own stories.
the night dwindled and we walked along the twinkling lights of the hudson, heading back to our homes in jersey, long island and, for me, just uptown. and i thought of those girls. how one day they may catch up over a glass of wine, comparing notes on husbands, jobs, life. it doesn't get easier, that's for sure, from when we took silly pictures and worried about getting summer jobs. but we grow up. we learn more than we knew was possible. we accept more and develop compassions we never knew we had. we live more. fuller, richer, deeper. that is how we live. it comes with a price, the process of growing up, but i do think it's worth every bittersweet cent.