The Ageing of Enlightenment


Back in the day, in the dim and distant time of my youth, I never thought I would get old. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think I would live fast and die young, but when I pictured the future I imagined a somewhat leaner version of myself with a fulfilling career in the arts and the full support of my strong and silent husband, serenely creating masterpieces while stirring pots of spaghetti sauce for our brood of bright, well-adjusted kids. And before you get all judge-y on me, allow me to point out that an adolescence of ‘80s film and TV exposure did not exactly lend itself to a realistic world-view. At least I didn’t picture a laugh track.

But one thing I knew for sure: I would never forget and would therefore never utter any of the cringe-worthy platitudes I heard from the grown-ups who surrounded me.

So now that I find myself on what is kidding-not-kiddingly referred to as “the wrong side” of my forties, employed in the field of education, I recently heard myself exclaim to a colleague: “Kids today!”

And I wasn’t being ironic.

Allow me to give you a bit of context in my defense before I get slammed with the inevitable wave of “Get off my lawn!” jokes. Two students had approached me in my capacity as administrator to report a violation of their human rights. Immediately, my heart leaped into my throat. After all, these were girls, foreign girls of a different religion than the norm in a city whose police force has frequently been listed among the top ten violators of civil rights against minorities. I braced myself, made sure we were alone in the office in case they were uncomfortable discussing the issue with a male colleague within earshot, and asked them what had occurred.

Their indignant reply: “The student copier is broken.” I waited.

One beat. Two beats. Three. And realized that was it.

I took several highly necessary calming breaths and asked them to step outside and return in five minutes. Having banged my head on my desk often enough to induce a rage-distracting pain, I proceeded to print out the Declaration of Human Rights. Upon their return, I handed it to them and asked the girls to kindly direct my attention to the paragraph dealing with their copier. When they sheepishly admitted it wasn’t there, I told them to wait at the machine and I would call the IT guy to help them.

So, yeah, kids today, amirite?

But then I paused. I remembered my own confusion when first faced with a college registrar. How I’d almost missed the deadline for getting my ID picture taken. How I had my first meeting with my advisor and listed all the classes I wanted to register for in the next term (I believe they included acting as well as stage fighting and several other fun things I wanted to explore) only to have him gently explain to me how college credits work towards getting a degree in a reasonable amount of time. How I thought personal cheques were to be used when you didn’t have any money in your account at the moment of purchase but would at a later date, and how the bank manager looked at me when my first cheques inevitably bounced. How I loaded the dishwasher with washing-up liquid in my first shared apartment, and the hip-high bubbles I subsequently found in the kitchen.

So the upside is, no, I haven’t forgotten.

But the downside is, I’m older and everything takes me a while longer. Even remembering.

And if you stand up to offer me a seat on the subway, no matter how courteously, I will slaughter you kiddo.

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