Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Wisdom of the Uncarved

Eliot Smith is not loud. Eliot Smith is the kind of music that grown-ups like because it makes you sit down and stare at the CD player instead of running outside to play. Eliot Smith makes grown-ups cry and be in love and think grown-up thoughts. Someday when i'm a grown-up I'll think Eliot Smith songs are better than loud, fast songs. Eliot Smith plays guitar and sings and my favorite song is usually "Miss Misery" but not always.
- "What I like about Eliot Smith", written by Dave Younce for a fourth-grade music class

There's a school of thought that says that youth is wasted on the young, that wisdom comes with experience, and that the sweetest thing imaginable would be to be able to revisit youth with the eyes of experience, savoring the best of both worlds. The older I get, the more attractive this school of thought becomes to me.

At the same time, there's a differing school of thought, in which the young, particularly the very young, already possess a great deal of wisdom about life and existence, and that it's experience, and particularly 'growing up' that causes them to forget this wisdom. Kids really do say the darnedest things, and sometimes those things are as profound as they are amusing.

It's that last phrase that has my mind all bent right now:

my favorite song is usually "Miss Misery" but not always

As we get older, we tend to think of things like 'my favorite movies' and the like as series of lists, and that each list is carved in stone, requiring something new to come along to knock the old champion off the top of the hill. But a child knows that's not necessarily true - right now, her favorite movie could be the one she's watching, but two hours after it's over, her favorite movie might suddenly be one she hasn't seen for a while and only vaguely remembers.

Neither of these are wrong answers, by the way. By definition, a 'favorite' anything requires an emotional response, and emotions are notoriously irrational and even occasionally inconstant. Only a grown-up would expect someone's favorite movie to remain the same for years, simply out of some sense of intellectual integrity.

The really interesting implications of this emotion vs maturity debate come, however, when I consider a different question.

A few weeks ago, I got together with a couple of good friends I don't see very often, and we all tooled out to a mutual friend's place for an afternoon of gaming and grilling. It was great fun, as it usually is, but something happened as we were getting out of the car that stayed at the back of my mind all day. We'd opened the car windows a crack to let air circulate, and mine was open just enough to let my hand slip out the top as my ankle rested on the door. When my friend pulled up to our destination, he reflexively began rolling up the power windows from his driver's master control, which caused my window to press up against the flesh just above my knuckles. (Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that my response to this was not a cry of pain or surprise, or an expletive of some sort, but a simple and fairly quiet, "Excuse me?") We sorted things out, and I escaped with all my fingers intact.

Chuckling about it as we walked up to the house, my friend commented, "I can just see it now. 'What did you do today?' 'Oh, I nearly chopped off the fingers of my best friend.'"

And my immediate thought was, I'm his best friend?

If I'd had to guess, I'd have picked the friend whose house we were approaching as his 'best friend'; they had more in common, spent much more time together recently, and - without getting into too many specifics - had way fewer bad experiences with him than he'd had with me. Maybe he was just saying that because it made the joke better.

The more I thought about it, though, the more it struck me as odd - if we'd been ten years old, the comment would have made perfect sense. In fact, I could have replied, 'You're my best friend, too, except when you're not,' and it still would have made perfect sense. When you're ten, your best friend is the person who makes you feel the best at the moment you think about it. If five minutes later, that person makes you angry, he's not your best friend anymore. It's only later that we learn to associate friendship with longer-term, grown-up things - that you can still be angry with someone and be friends with them.

I'm not saying that grown-up logic is useless. There's still a part of me that reacts in that emotional ten-year-old way, in that if I fear if I do something bad, the people around me won't like me anymore. Grown-up relationships are predicated on the idea that you can still love someone even if you feel like strangling them at any given moment.

But there's still wisdom, I think, in the observation that your best friend is the person who makes you feel the best, at the moment you think about it.

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