Monday, March 14, 2011

The Sweet Bird of Youth

Eight productive days at home and now on the road again. Or more precisely, “in the air again” (old metaphors die hard) winging my way to Salzburg, tucked away near the back of the plane, where the leg room dwindles to nothing, surrounded by 30 buzzing teenagers off on a school exchange in Italy and seated close to the mandatory screaming baby from hell, who is reaching a range that calls dogs. What was that about the romance of travel?

But fun to feel the energy of young people on their first trip to Europe. Despite the homogenization of culture worldwide, Europe still holds plenty of character and enough difference from a small town in Oregon that these kids are going to notice it—and hopefully, cherish it and not spend their time in McDonald’s or Starbucks and watch Seinfeld re-runs on their hotel TV. My first trip was in the summer I turned 22, a two-month odyssey with 40 fellow hippies from Antioch College who, in an unlikely marriage, sang the exquisite sacred masses of Rennaissance composers Guillame Dufay and Johannes Ockeghem in the cathedral of Paris, Chartres, Venice, Florence, Rome and more. What a time that was! (Those curious can take a peek and a listen at If you look under “Bruce’s photos,” you’ll see the barefoot- bright-eyed- bearded- bushy-haired person I once was.)

To quote an old Chinese song; “The sweet bird of my youth has flown away, never to return.” Ain’t that the truth. But fun to feel the excitement from this group of kids on the plane. I had my turn, now it’s theirs. And would I really trade who I am now for insecurity and pimples? Would I want to freeze that unformed-self and be a perpetual adolescent Peter Pan? “You’re damn right I would!” some part of me shouts. “What are a few pimples compared to the current ravaging of the body?! And those adolescent insecurities keep popping up anyway. Meanwhile, there’s the romance, the excitement, the sense of the world before you and everything possible and immortality walking by your side.”

But truth be told, I’m glad I lived it once and except for occasional nostalgia for that younger body, I wouldn’t really choose to do it again anytime soon. I now have a few known truths under my belt (is that why it’s so hard to fasten these days?) and different kinds of pleasures. And though the sense of possibility of what I want to be when I grow up, what I hope to accomplish, dwindles with the sobering math calculations each passing year brings, that sense of excitement in what tomorrow might offer is still with me. I still practice as if I might someday be a jazz pianist, write as if I might be an author more than ten people actually read, imagine that someday I’m going to plant a garden and putter in the yard. I still see beautiful houses or visit intriguing places and wonder what it might be like to live there some day. Though the melody may seem distant, the sweet bird of youth is still singing, with an experience that gives body to the innocent song I used to sing. As William Blake suggest, we need songs of both innocence and experience and when we passed to the innocence given to us for free as children to an earned innocence married to experience, we have the best of both worlds. 

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