“Is it the loss of youth, or the cultivation of wisdom?”
When I was eleven, I received the worst news I’ve ever heard. The words came from my mother but the lesson came from somewhere else…
Eleven is a weird age.
You’re not exactly old enough to be told the brutal truth but you’re too old to be coddled and rocked to sleep when the truth you’re told stops your world from turning.
You’re just old enough to stop believing in super heroes but you’re not yet old enough to stop idolizing one.
You’re old enough to know that pets and Pop Pops and Grandmamas die, but innocent enough to think that’s the only way it works.
But it’s not.
That’s not the only way it works.
And I only know this because I learned it, at eleven, when my brother died.
Here is where some child therapists and psychologists would say was the loss of my youth – the end of my childhood – the instance where I learned that life isn’t a safe bubble where the people around me that I love and cherish are around for as long as I am, the instance where I learned that anyone can go at any time. Mothers can lose their sons and can suffer for days. Fathers can watch their wives struggle and sometimes have to pick up the pieces. Rooms where you played and laughed in can fall silent and become empty. Children can become hollow shells…
“She needs to play,” one therapist told my mother. “She’s just a child and has been thrust into adulthood. She needs to remember she’s a child.”
Whenever I went to see him we’d play video games during sessions. I always picked Mortal Kombat (I always wonder if he jotted that choice down in his notes).
I stopped seeing him though (I guess my mother didn’t feel like paying deductibles for video game tournaments). Instead I saw other therapist after therapist, most of whom I never really liked. This one was too nice. That one was mean. This one said I was angry. That one said I needed to be on medication, but sir, I’m 12; that sounds terrifying. And of course, the inevitable: this one was too expensive…One thing they could always agree on, however: the loss of my brother was the loss of my innocence, the loss of my youth.
As for what the actual patient had to say, the answer was often nothing. I didn’t know what to say or do. I receded into myself. And in doing so, I learned. I learned how to wear masks for the benefit of others. I learned how to put myself last. I learned what unbearable pain was. I learned what the edge of one’s mind was. I learned what wanting to give up was, what a craving for the end was. I learned things you shouldn’t have to learn when you’re eleven.
But as I stand on the other side of those lessons I learned, I stand, no longer a wounded child, but a wiser, worldier youth. I learned things that I would never want a child that age to have to learn. I will shield my children from learning those things for as long as I can. But it’s those lessons, that loss of a life of innocence, that pushed me into the lessons that bloomed me into what I am right now. Those lessons, that loss, shaped me into a person with more experience than you might expect from a sapling like me – my experiences outweigh the number of rings I may have but it is that that makes me more sensitive to the suffering of those like me, younger or older. I’ve seen things and felt things beyond my years that make me able to reach out my arms to those who need them with an understanding that others might not have because they didn’t have to learn that understanding. My loss planted the seed to later wisdom, to empathy, and to a need to be selfless for the sake of others, so they don’t feel alone and don’t have to become a shell.
I would never want a child to have to lose their youth earlier than they are ready but if it happens, all I pray for is a seed of wisdom to blow in and quietly settle sometime during the storm to bloom when the sun comes in.
*inspired by this writing challenge.