Just adding to the lists

By Sarah Allen - [email protected]

Back in high school I spent most of my study halls hunched over a notebook; writing until my hand started to cramp; and glancing up at the clock, begging the bell not to ring until I finished this one last sentence ….

Typically, that notebook was a thick, sturdy one, complete with large metal rings binding its pink-tinted pages.

In retrospect, perhaps I was a little gutsy to take my diary to school.

But nobody really paid it much attention; in fact, I had such a reputation for writing I doubt most people thought I was doing much more than outlining some story or other.

And true, many pages of my diary were filled with just that: stories. But, more than anything else my diary was a place for lists.

I love lists. To this day, I can still tell you my favorite singer, Harry Potter character, and song within a second’s notice (Buddy Holly, Snape, and “Shilo” by Neil Diamond, for the record).

Not long ago I stumbled across my old diaries while tidying up my room. A lot has changed since then, but a lot has stayed the same, too. And those lists – which I penned so carefully during those seemingly endless study halls – are quick little insights into that simple truth.

For instance, like I said before: My favorite HP character nowadays is none other than the greasy-haired, anti-hero Severus Snape.

Back then, my favorite was Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black. (For anyone who’s read the Harry Potter series, you know that Snape and Sirius are pretty different – especially considering they sort of hate each other.)

My favorite song back in high school? “I Want to Break Free” by Queen. In many ways it’s a far cry from Neil Diamond’s ballad about an imaginary friend.

Though there is one thing that is exactly the same: Buddy Holly has been my favorite singer for years – and that’s something I don’t ever see changing.

It was rather surreal, flipping through my old diaries, coming across things that were so vital as a teenager and that now don’t amount to much more than wistful memories.

It doesn’t matter, for instance, whether or not this crush or that crush ever came to fruition. It doesn’t matter whether or not I dreaded gym class or worried over some assignments.

What does matter, it seems, is that nothing remains as it was. And that is sad in some ways, yes, but also liberating. Because who wants to have teenage doubts for the rest of their life?

I look at today’s teenagers – how they turn each bump in the road into Everest-like mountains – and I want to say, “Stop being so dramatic!”

But then I remember I was once there, too, and my reactions certainly didn’t feel “dramatic” at the time. They felt real, and raw, and a little scary.

So I don’t say much. Instead, I start compiling a new list:

• Everybody’s too worried about what other people think of them to really spend too much time thinking about you.

• “Popular” and “cool” are both states of mind that change all the time. It’s better to aim for happiness than either one of those.

• Listen to your parents, especially this gem from Mom: Take it one bite at a time. Seriously. One bite at a time.

• Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just breathe and enjoy whatever is happening right then and there.

I’m sure 10 years from now I’ll start another list: One for people in their 20s who are letting the worries of “just starting out” bog them down.

And those lists – new ones for each decade of life – could go on and on. But they would all say basically the same thing: Calm down. It all works out in the end.

Of course, to use an old adage, hindsight is 20/20.

But still, to use a newer phrase that’s popped up online: “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”

And there’s a lot of truth to that. Each rising and setting of the sun comes with a bit of wisdom. But still, never quite enough. Because each day can also hold something new, something we’ve not experienced.

So will we fret? Yes. But will we also look back with bemusement and wonder, “Why was that such a big deal?” Oh yes, definitely.

But what is important, I think, is to remember where we’ve been and that we somehow rose above all those bumps that seemed like mountains at the time. So yes, we can tackle the new challenges, too.

Because one day lists of favorite bands will turn into grocery lists. One day, we won’t have time for pages-long diary entries. And one day, inevitably, always comes sooner than we think.

Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.


By Sarah Allen

[email protected]