14. Neverland

James Barrie may have been having a flash of insight when he thought of the name for Neverland. It was a place where you could experience eternal carefree youth. Those of you who really remember your youth must remember that it was never carefree. Let’s go back and look.
Not back to infancy; that would be too obvious. You remember how terrifying it was to be brought into a world where you depended on giants who didn’t know what you wanted, no matter how hard you tried to tell them. Occasionally, you would experience moments of pleasure, but as soon as you got comfortable, the sources of pleasure would be removed. It was as if the only purpose for the pleasure was to give pain a context.
Let’s go to some time when you at least had some idea of what you wanted, and some chance of getting it. Let’s try second grade. If you were lucky enough to be born into a functional family, by second grade, things may have been starting to look okay. You were still pretty dependent, but the giants were getting smaller, and some of them seemed to understand what you wanted, and even care. You could even get a lot of it for yourself, which was very gratifying.
Still, you found yourself in some pretty strange situations. You spent a lot of your time in a building where the giants were in charge of everything. You hoped to please them, but that wasn’t easy. They gave you rules, which helped, but you still had to read their minds much of the time. And that wasn’t easy. Sometimes they didn’t seem to know what would please them. What pleased them once would infuriate them another time.
If you had to go to the bathroom, you needed a giant’s permission. And since they never had to go to the bathroom, they didn’t understand what the problem was. It was strange. The giants at home used the bathroom plenty – often, when you needed it. But not the giants in this building. Most of these giants, though seeming to mean well, had no idea what it was like to be your age. Some even seemed to envy your youth.
Have you had enough? I have. Let’s go back. Could we stop in this stationery store on the way back? I want to get a birthday card for my mother. She’s turning 77 next week. Let’s see… All these cards seem to suggest that getting older is not desirable. I guess I’ll have to make her a card. Maybe because I’ve spent my life with children, I think getting older is cool. I’m going to be fifty in a few years, and I can’t wait. Of course, when I’m fifty, I’ll probably wish I were sixty. But that will happen soon enough. My health is a problem, but you’ve got to expect some problems. At some point, I suppose I’ll die, and I’d rather not do that.
I grew up in a youth culture, yet somehow, I escaped our culture’s attitude about growing older. I worked with young children, and unlike most people who spend their lives working with young children, I’m male. If I were female, our culture probably would have made me self-conscious about my graying hair or wrinkling skin. If I hadn’t worked with children, maybe I would have forgotten how important it was to me to get older. Most people do. For the most part, age is really wasted on the old.

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