Eternal Youth

You should never stay in the same town where you went to college. While you get older, the university population stays the same age. A new generation supplants the older one, but the university students remain young.

I was on campus recently to see a play and took the time to walk around the place where, some 50 years ago, I was a student, where I studied English literature and learned how to think critically, protested the Vietnam War and demonstrated for women’s and civil rights, and started my journalism career working for the campus newspaper.

While most of the campus hasn’t changed physically, it felt different; for one, students young enough to be my grandchildren went by on skateboards. But it wasn’t the campus—with its stately stone buildings and ancient trees—that had changed but me. In the last part of my life, I am a different person and view the world through different lenses than when I was in my 20s. Was I feeling sad because of my lost youth? Would I like to go back to those years where life was charged with youthful energy and promise, and I had my whole life in front of me?

Yes, yes and yes. I can only say, like so many others: Where did the years go? What happened to that young, idealistic woman? Where did my energy go?

As we age, we live with continuous loss, but being in a college town only emphasizes those losses, because the town always caters to the young. I was the beneficiary of that philosophy when I was in my 20s and 30s, part of a generation that created our own culture—music, food, art, film. But now, almost all the restaurants I loved when I came here have been replaced by hipper places where I don’t feel comfortable. When I first arrived here, in the 1970s, there were at least 10 bookstores; now there’s three. The two small movie theaters where I learned to love art films are long gone.

Because of all the college students here, the average age in Boulder is 28. It might be better to live in nearby Estes Park, a tourist town full of retired people, where the average age is 61. Or maybe better to have left this town and moved to a Florida retirement village, where everyone is old, and there are no reminders of my past life, no manifestation of how much I’ve lost.

But, at my age, I don’t want to move. Most of my friends are here, and I have connections to people and places that go back more than 50 years. Over that time, I’ve found the best (and often least crowded) hiking trails. I live in a progressive community that has worked to protect the natural beauty of the place and is sensitive to the needs of its citizens.

The other night I attended a classical music concert, where I sat outside the historic concert hall and listened to the soaring music while gazing up at the imposing Flatirons rock formation that give this city its physical identity. Below me Boulder was spread out, aglow in the pink light from the sunset.  Although much of this town has changed, I still find reasons to love it and stay. I’ll accept my losses while still loving what remains.

12 thoughts on “Eternal Youth

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  1. I spent my freshman year in Boulder, the school I’d dreamed of attending since I first saw it in my childhood. (One look at Boulder and the campus from the overlook on Hwy 36 and I was smitten.) Then I transferred back to the U. of Okla. where there was an actual School of Journalism and, not coincidentally, my boyfriend at the time. I’ve wondered often in the years since if staying at CU and in Boulder would have resulted in my living there — something I’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t begin to afford in later years. The same with Estes Park. After I retired I was finally able to move back up here from Oklahoma, but Thornton was as close to Boulder and Estes as I could afford. I do understand your point about living in the town where you went to school. A lot has changed in Boulder, but the students never age. Interesting observation.

    Have a great weekend!


    1. Susan, I was lucky to be able to afford a house in Boulder in the early years–$70,000 for a small house near campus (probably now worth around $500,000). It’s interesting how the decisions we made when we’re young affect us even into our old age. Who knew?
      Enjoy your weekend! Hope it doesn’t get too hot.


  2. Thank you for so vividly articulating that feeling, Kathy. I’ve been observing it move through my own system as I read my old letters. I wrote many of them to a dear friend who emigrated to Australia around the same time I came to the US, and she recently gave a lot of them back to me. Reading myself 40 years ago has been both compelling and disturbing. Do I long for my lost youth? Not really. You couldn’t pay me enough to go through my 20s and 30s again. To have that body back, that’s another matter, of course. But I like my mind a whole lot better now. I truly don’t feel I’d want to be one of Generation Z, or Y, or whatever they’re calling 20-year-olds these days. I wouldn’t want to go back to what it was like to be 20 or 30 back in the ’70s and ’80s, either.


    1. Thanks, Jennifer. Like you, I’m not sure I’d want to relive all of my 20s and 30s (can I pick and choose?), but I would like to feel that energy and sense that the world is wide open and that it belongs to me. My options feel limited now, even as my mind is more settled than when I was younger.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well expressed ❣️ But think I agree with Jennifer, I do miss some of my energy level, but I was so hyper active it was painful, I could never relax. But now I’m calm and much more centered, I can relax and am relatively happy, with all the striving over I can finally relax and enjoy not feeling like I have missed anything!


  4. I like your decision not to move. If you did, you would need to grieve for new losses — a rich cultural life, friends, and the sound and sight of young people, with all their exciting and terrifying energy.


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