Stephen Fahey: How to remain 18 years old

I’m 18 years old. My body isn’t, it’s 37. And some days it feels 97. But I’m 18, me, the person inside this increasingly rugged shell. Every day I look in the mirror and I’m greyer and somehow I seem to be going through a second puberty right now, wherein I’m getting hair in places I’ve never had hair before, namely in and around my ears. It’s mostly only fluff right now, but I did get a legit dark hair sticking out from inside my ear recently. At least it wasn’t grey, eh? Over the last few weeks I’ve also caught myself eyeing motorbikes on a number of occasions. I’m not a motorbike guy, never have been. I have absolutely no intention of ever owning or even renting a motorbike, but for some reason they’re looking more and more interesting lately. I did wonder, of course, if a midlife crisis is on the horizon. Then I remembered that I’m only eighteen. I’m safe.

It isn’t easy to be any age, especially if we’re quite young or quite old. Even the middle bit has its challenges, like sore knees for no reason, surprise ear hair, friend’s kids getting married and making you feel ancient, and a sudden and inexplicable interest in motorbikes. But in the end it all begins with knowing who we are, whoever we are. Of course, knowing this is more difficult the younger you are, but there is always the chance to become what you wish be, or step out, as it were, as who you’ve been all along. Rebelling against the outside voice and harbouring the inside voice is the only way I know. On the surface it is easier to be what we are told to be, but in my experience it is exponentially more satisfying and beneficial to be what we are.

It does nobody any good to have a world filled with unhappy people forcing themselves into a universal mould that is certain to not fit everyone. Common sense needs to be employed here, obviously. We can’t all go around living on whims. But the norm of being what we are told to be is an obvious waste. We’ve constructed great architectural wonders and industries and even space stations, not to mention works of spectacular art and acts dumbfounding compassion. But the idea that the only way is for us all to fall in line is dangerous. History shows us so. Just as it also shows us that it is dangerous for the individual who does not fall in line.

Most of us don’t want to admit that it is, simply, dangerous either way. And that’s the trap we fall into. Just as the outlaw is free in a way and the playboy millionaire is caged in a way, both are living examples of those who don’t fit the mould. They don’t even try to fit it. They simply turn away from how they’re supposed to act. Neither is necessarily an example to follow, but they are both living proof of the incontrovertible fact of life that „We are not what we are told to be”. Inside us there is our private self. Whether that self is secretly distributing leaflets against a crooked regime, or helping little old ladies across streets, or bombing other nations in the name of crude oil, or privately not adhering to the status quo while publically pretending to agree with it in order to feed its family, that inner being is ours and can never be taken from us, it can only even be given away. The internal self is the last freedom that any of us have. In many ways, it’s the only freedom that we have. And so we must protect it. For only within ourselves can we truly and unlimitedly be who and what we are. There we need not be delayed by accounting for the needs of others. There we are still 18 and always will be. There we are free to openly analyse ourselves and the world around us in order to achieve the best that we can, even if our shell is a lie.
Stephen Fahey