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Feeling Old at 24

by Carson T. Clark on August 14, 2009

Since I wrote my recent post on my depression, a lot of people have weighed in both publicly and privately. Most of their comments have been uplifting or poignant, both of which are needed. I’m still in the thick of it. I simply hurt inside, but my saving grace has been the people in my life who care and are praying. You guys mean the world. Thank you.

A lot of people hopped on the fact that I’m talking about being old while I’m 24. Understandable. But there’s context to those comments that people either don’t know or didn’t consider. I don’t say that I feel old (primarily) because most people have graduated college 2 yrs earlier than I am and many of my peers have a head-start on grad school. I say that I feel old because death feels very real to me. I have a genetic respiratory condition that, if full blown, would shorten my lifespan to about 30. Thankfully, I’ve got a mild, variant form of the thing. Lord willing, I’ll have a normal lifespan. Nevertheless, it remains a very real possibility that I could die prematurely.

That’s not being morbid. It’s acknowledging reality. I remember the fearful instances I had as a child when I couldn’t breathe. I remember coughing myself awake many nights and wondering between gasps if I was going to get better. I remember thinking about what would happen if I didn’t. I haven’t talked about this much with people and I’ve never written about it, but my having to confront the reality of death was hugely influential in my life.

How many times have I head people say, “You feel like you’re invincible when you’re young”? My response has always been, really? Seriously? I’ve just never had that experience… The second to last sentence originally read, “I’ve never had that luxury,” but when I reflected on it, I don’t think that’s accurate. I count it as a blessing that I’ve been keenly aware of my mortally since childhood. These experiences have shaped my perspective. They’ve giving me a seriousness, intentionality, and passion about life that, from my observations, few of my peers share. In my darkest moments, yes, my thinking about death can be a little morbid. But ever since those years in high school when I was contemplating suicide, those moments have been fleeting. What has replaced them is this inclination to savor life.

All this gets back to my starting to feel old at 24. It’s not about the fact that even now my body doesn’t feel as young as it once did. It’s not that I’m jealous of my peers who’ve already completed Master’s degrees. It’s about wanting to accomplish as much as possible with whatever time God has allotted me. It’s about taking an honest assessment of my life and realizing that even if I lived a full lifetime, I may well have already lived 1/3 of my life. I genuinely strive not to be that guy who has a near death experience at age 48 that changes their life and causes him to re-prioritize his life. I want to have my priorities in line right now. I want to enjoy the gift of life to its fullest now. I want to be the best husband possible. I want to be the most discerning man possible. I don’t want to learn about life through the school of hard knocks and mistakes, but to glean the wisdom of those who’ve come before me. I want to worship God with my heart, mind, soul, and strength now. I want to make a tangible difference in the broken Body of Christ that I so love. I affirm God’s sovereign hand, but I want to do everything in my power to live my life the right way for as long as possible. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think you get that perspective not by seeking after perpetual youth but by openly addressing and grappling with issues of age, mortality, and death…

Upon further consideration, I’m not depressed because a third of my life has (likely) already ticked away. (I think of that as the depreciation model of aging.) I’m depressed because I keep getting beaten down by people that I love when I try to live the right way.*

* More to come about this in a future blog post.

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