C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Young should savor joys of youth

I am not obsessively envious of the young. But I confess to being overtaken from time to time by a sudden powerful remembrance of how sweet youth used to be.

One such moment occurred on a recent afternoon as I was driving along a boulevard on my way home from some now-forgotten errand. Earlier there had been a brief cool shower, welcome relief after a run of blistering days. So now the temperature was pleasant. The world looked washed and fresh.

I stopped for a traffic signal, and as I waited for the light to change, a group of boys came loping past, not on the sidewalk but on the grass of the boulevard median.

Lads of high school age, they were – though with classes on summer break this was no organized event.

Shirtless, in shorts and running shoes, all were striding effortlessly. Clearly they weren’t in any way competing. They were just friends, running for the pure enjoyment of it. And, for the first time in a good many years, I recalled that exact same feeling with a sudden little ache.

At those boys’ ages I was a runner, too, a miler on the school track team, and later in college – never, if truth be told, with any accomplishment worth mention. What I mostly prized was the sense of feeling fit, which served me well through the years.

In that antique time when fraternity hazing was an accepted feature of college life, one bit of brutality imposed on pledges by the group I joined was a midwinter hike of several hours through night woods and icy creeks. It was supposed to be an ordeal. I found it exhilarating. When the time came to impose that pain on later classes of newcomers, I led the hike myself for the pure joy of it.

In the military, the morning two-mile training run was intended as a test of character. It gave me wicked satisfaction to sprint the last quarter mile and leave the vexed sergeant in charge behind.

One spring shortly before turning age 30, tired of being hemmed in by office walls, I rode a train to Springfield, shouldered a pack and walked nine days to Arkansas.

And for many years, well into our late 40s, on trips to Rocky Mountain National Park, my wife and I made the 9.7-mile round-trip hike up the Glacier Gorge trail to Black Lake, nestled in a basin above 10,600 feet.

I mention these adventures wistfully – almost as the activities of someone I used to know. Because for me, that sort of effortless mobility ended on a Colorado ski slope in 1998 with an injury whose effects have been compounded by time’s passage.

I’m not complaining. Anyone with the hubris to challenge a black diamond mogul field at age 65 probably deserves what he gets. And in most other ways life proceeds as before.

But the memories of more vigorous times came rushing back when I saw those young fellows in full stride through the sunlight of a perfect day – free and confident as birds in flight.

This is their moment, and I don’t begrudge them that. I only hope they might understand, and remember, that the moment can be fragile, and shorter than they know.