We're just outside Ingraham High, on Aurora. This boy's fumbling in his wallet, searching for the right combination of bills and coins. A flat-billed hat sits precariously atop his rich, full head of frizzy hair. Elsewhere he's clad in basketball shoes and an unbuttoned down vest- not for warmth, you understand, but for fashion.
Certain youngsters that age really excel at being glum. You know the type. It's a studied look, and it's hard work, this sullen hipness. You're in your prime, lithe, attractive, likely much more intelligent then you let on, filled with possiblities, and yet you have to pretend to be having a terrible day. You're doing your level best to convince everyone around you that you don't care about anything. Those poor cool kids. What a tough task they have.
Speaking for myself, I'm not into it.
I glance in his wallet and quip, "oh, you can jus' gimme that twenty."
He's silent for a moment. I can see his brain ticking; he comprehended my words, of course, but the idea of making light of anything needed an extra moment to seep in. Clearly not what he was expecting.
Then he chuckles.
He retreats from sight, and after a while comes forward, putting a bill in the slot.
"We'll call it good at one," I say, referring to the number of dollars. "It's cool." Sometimes you work off of instinct. There are instances where you can sense that cutting someone a break is going to send a bigger message than extorting all their change.
"Hey, thank you," he responds in his mellow voice, but with emphasis, and eye contact.
I speak in jest regarding the perfected science of teenage sullenness, but not with respect to how hard they have it. We don't know what it's like to grow up in a world overrun with technology and information, and instant returns. In literal terms the youth of any generation always seems to have it easier than those generations preceding them, but we mustn't forget that youngsters today are pummeled with challenges still too nebulous to define.
There was a time, very recently, before computers, when the world was still tactile. Cause and effect relationships were easy to see. You worked for something in order to get it. There was time to think. None of these aspects are the case anymore. Now, there is simply The Overload- of information, misinformation, choices good and bad, with nary a moment to consider it all.
To quote Tony Kaye, how are you to imagine anything, when the imagery is always provided for you?
It is all happening much too fast, and because we, today's adults, did not experience the same accelerating whirlwind in our formative years, we don't know how to address the issue. All we have are suppositions. It is so vital to relay the value of what we do know, and what no one is telling them:
An easier life does not mean a better life. Speeding things up makes life more complicated, not simpler. Actions in the real world have consequences that cannot be undone. Direct contact with life, without the distancing intermediator of technology, matters.
We remember these precepts from when they were more obviously true, but they are no less vital now. The surfaces keep shifting, but the core fundamentals remain the same. I find this comforting. People still respond to the personal touch. We smile, we know reciprocity, we fear and love. Human life may have ramped up, but the pace of nature is ever constant. Actions continue to have ramifications. The truisms listed above, though they may be hazier now in today's complex world, are still undeniable to the discerning eyes of anyone, young or old. In the end, there is perhaps no one better equipped to negotiate the current world then the youngsters of today. Who are we, in our arrogance, to think we know better, when we are not them?
All of us possess vulnerabilities and insecurities. We develop certain strategies of dealing with them- confronting them, hiding them, acting out, masking them with facades and barriers. This young boy's strategy right now is to hide behind a wall. Each of us has done a variation of that. I hope this moment is a nudge in the right direction, one of a hundred, or a thousand, or a dozen moments suggesting to him there is more. It was a pleasure to see the awakening spark in his eyes as he thanked me.
There are untold joys to be had when you let your guard down.
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