We heard them before we saw them.
Some background first. My wife and I were in downtown Boston celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. It was a blissful and rare occasion where all three kids were taken care of by relatives, the dog was temporarily re-homed for the night, and we were free to dine like royalty and use the city as our playground.
We ate a delicious meal at a small Italian restaurant in the North End. We had a few cocktails. We went back to the hotel lobby bar and had a few more. But soon we grew weary and decided to return to our hotel room.
The elevator doors were closing when a group of kids in their 20s yelled at us to hold the door, and then piled in. They were cocked. So happy, so giggly, so loud, and so carefree. Celebrating their friend’s 21st birthday in Boston, they had just finished pre-gaming and were getting ready to head out to the bars and really kick things into gear. Their night was just beginning as ours was winding down.
It was 10:07 pm.
One of the guys apologized to us for the raucous behavior. “Sorry sir, ma’am…we’re a little drunk.” Sir? Ma’am? Ouch. MJ and I smiled and told him not to worry about it, as we remember those days well. Those days — somehow simultaneously yesterday yet a million years ago. Fun to think about and even replicate once or twice a year, but now no longer wanted. The comforts of Netflix and a warm bed being the preferred option of Sirs and Ma’ams everywhere.
We looked at them and saw youthful exuberance. The ability to push yourself without sleep and somehow feel like a million bucks in the morning. The gleam of adventure in their eyes, never really knowing what excitement the night holds but eagerly anticipating whatever’s in store.
We were once like that. But unlike many 30-somethings who enjoy looking down their noses and lecturing young people about TRUE happiness and REAL satisfaction that can only come from marriage and REAL love that “can only be had between a parent and child,” I don’t think that way.
I think they’re plenty happy. I know I was. Those years were some of the best of my life, and without them I wouldn’t be who I am today. Even though some of them might one day choose a different path, I know marriage and kids is far from the only way to be happy. Satisfied. So I refuse to look at them with condescending pity like I know better.
I also see them look at us with a mixture of emotions.
They laugh at the thought of going to bed when they’re used to going out for the night. They tell themselves they’ll never be that old, and maybe they’re right. Or maybe not. Either way, they can’t fathom the idea of marriage, kids, and 10 pm bedtimes because why should they? Being in your early 20s is exactly the time to feel invincible and crazy and awesomely impervious.
And yet there’s a tiny glimmer of curiosity there. Could it really be possible to find one person and be happy? What’s that like? Maybe it’s not so bad.
And so it was — an emotional crossroads in a Boston elevator as the wild and careening trajectory of youth briefly touched the more measured plodding of the near middle-aged.
I think both sides enjoyed the interaction, but were glad we weren’t the other. As it should be.