Age. At face value, this is a rather simple concept- the length of time that something has existed. As a 21-year-old, I have existed for 21 years, and that is fact. Yet society often complicates this construct, extending its meaning, applying assumptions, and broadening its implications. For instance, in upper-middle class America, we expect individuals of my age to be in college, working hard and, perhaps, partying harder. We expect them to be at a certain developmental stage, hanging out with peers of the same age, and doing things that college kids do. Perhaps this schema of age is logical to an extent, but I am an outlier- an old soul trapped in the body of a 12-year-old.
I cannot recall a week in the past year where I have not gotten mistaken for a 12-year-old (read UNACCOMPANIED MINOR! for some examples!) At the same time, I am often told I have an old soul. I am the youngest person in the Cognitively-Based Compassion Training program I am enrolled in at Emory by at least twenty years. If you look at my most recent text messages and missed FaceTimes, you’ll find that many are from my former campers. My bulletin board sums it up well- photos with my favorite professor, girls I babysit, younger cousins, famous runners, and 40-year-old Tibetan monks. So how old am I?
I was home for fall break last week, and, aside from my family, my most meaningful social interactions were with Emma, my 9-year-old former camper turned friend, and Sam, my 35-year-old yoga teacher. When discussing fall break with my peers back at Emory, they naturally asked if I saw my friends from home. This caught me off guard. Did I go out with for drinks with a group of girlfriends from high school? No. But did I spend time with friends? Absolutely- I babysat for a young girl that I’ve known since she was 5 and chatted in the yoga studio with a teacher I just met this summer. Is this the traditional sense of friendship? Probably not, but think about all those moving stories about unusual animal friends!
“Surround yourself with people who make you hungry for life, touch your heart, and nourish your soul”
I came across this quote on the airplane, and it prompted a number of questions. Namely, is there a distinction between our physical age and the age of our soul, and what makes our souls connect? I realize this is quite abstract- after all, how do we define the soul? To me, the soul is the human spirit, the energy within each of us that brings meaning to our lives. Every now and then, we find a like-minded soul- someone whose energy we are mutually attracted to, and a meaningful social relationship blossoms. In my opinion, the soul is ageless, and thus a like-minded soul can be found in an individual of any given age.
Emma and Sam are 26 years apart, but if I described what I value in them using the statements below, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell who is who:
- Finishes my sentences because I seem to have told her all of my funny stories and she remembers every detail, indicating what an incredible listener she is
- Assumes that I am clearly not fasting on Yom Kippur because of my type 1 diabetes, demonstrating that she understands and respects my medical condition, no explanation needed
- Greets me with a hug and warm smile and asks “how are you?” with sincerity
Answers: 1. Emma, 2. Sam, 3. Both
Perhaps verbalizing these feelings dilutes their meaning, but both Emma and Sam constantly display qualities that I aspire to embody. While age might bring wisdom, I strongly believe that wisdom can come at any age.
I do not have a tight group of same-age peers. I sometimes struggle with this, yet I cannot control who my soul connects with. In learning from friends of a wide variety of ages, I have realized that age is perhaps one of many artificial barriers our society constructs. Once we can accept this, we see that perhaps we are all ageless souls- a beautiful realization.