I came across an old photograph recently. It was a group photo of myself and nine of my friends; some of us standing, others squatting, all of us smiling. We were huddled so we could fit into the picture.
It was a very old photograph. I won’t say how old exactly, but I will say we were about 10 years old. So yeah, a very, very old picture.
Looking at that picture, at the 10-year-old me, it felt like I was staring at a stranger. That smiling boy in the picture may have looked like me, but that grin, the mischievous glint in his eye, it felt like I was looking at someone I once knew, whose thoughts and how he lived I could remember, but someone I had lost with the passing of years. That was me in the picture, but at the same time, it was someone entirely different from me.
I remember, for instance, that boy that was me looked forward to growing up. I also remember that in the years, and even months, leading up to that picture, the boy had been to hospital six times to get stitches on cuts he had sustained while engaging in adventurous, some would say reckless, fun activities.
In fact, soon after the photo was taken, I recall the boy breaking every one of his fingers in his left hand, except for the thumb.
There wasn’t much that crossed that boy’s mind that he didn’t try. He didn’t always wind up in need of medical attention, but even when he did, and as soon as the painkillers kicked in, the smile returned and more thoughts of what he’d try next zipped back and forth inside his little head.
Nothing put that boy down for long. Every day of the year the sun came out shining, even when it was raining.
With a rueful smile on my face, I put aside the picture. I then sat back and wondered what happened to that boy.
I grew up, is what happened. And I lost the boy while I was at it.
It happens to all of us; we grow up and forget that imaginative, effortlessly relentless, resourceful, hopeful, “full of fire in the belly” kid we used to be. It’s one of things we wish for when we’re small, growing up, but growing up is possibly the worst thing that happens to us.
I am drawing a distinction between growing up and maturity. Becoming mature is inevitable and desirable. It’s what happens when you stop being afraid that the coat hung in your room will come to life at night and murder you in your sleep.
Growing up, on the other hand, means becoming serious, humourless, thoughtful and careful. You grow up and suddenly you can’t burst into song for no apparent reason.
As a grown-up, you’re now assessing what you can and can’t, based on how clever you are, or tall, or rich. But as a kid, the thought never occurred to you that there was anything you couldn’t do. It didn’t matter the limitations, you tried it anyway.
You broke a bone here, you broke a bone there, but bones heal.
People say kids are peppy and intrepid because they don’t know any better.
I wish I still didn’t know any better.