A letter to fellow youth

Dear comrades,

Is it okay if I call you that? My dictionary tells me that a comrade is “a person who shares in one’s activities”. But why should I let a dictionary define what I should do with my words? Wasn’t the dictionary itself written by men and women like you and me?

But if we must stick to that definition, I insist that you and I share the not-always-unpleasant activity of “youthing” — or adulting, for the older ones amongst us.

Dear comrades, I thought I should write you a letter to share with you some thoughts and observations that I have made in my three decades on this planet. These observations mainly have to do with the way we are “doing” our youth, or as I phrased it before, the way we are youthing.

Remember that 2002 song, I Can, by rapper Nas? It went something like:

I know I can, be what I wanna be,
If I work hard at it, I’ll be where I wanna be,

The tune was quite catchy, and the video on point, with all those kids antheming their way through what they would like to be in life.

I bet, like me, you used to sing along to the chorus even though you can no longer remember any of the verses today. I was thinking about that song today as I contemplated this letter. Not only was the tune catchy, the song’s message was quite motivating. “I can be anything I want to be”, with the caveat, “if I work hard at it.”

For a moment, we believed those words. Some of us still do. But many of us, especially the older ones, are no longer so sure. The people who told us to dream and work hard never told us “adulting” was going to be this difficult and unpredictable. It is like life has made a sport of throwing us curve balls at every turn. It is exhausting. No one said anything about being responsible beyond finishing our homework and cleaning our rooms.

The late teens were quite dramatic for many of us. This is the time we were discovering ourselves, honing our talents and shaping our futures. We felt invincible then, with our parents’ food, shelter and pocket money to fall back on. We were free to dream and chase those dreams.

This is also the time many of us started questioning many of the things we had believed throughout childhood. In school, some of us started questioning the relevance of the things we were learning. “Where are we ever going to use Mole’s concept in life?” “I plan to be a doctor, so I don’t see how glaciation is relevant to my future profession.” By the time many of us were finishing college, we barely even remembered what the word “logarithm” meant.

But there is something more pressing that I wanted to address in my letter today, comrades. It is this notion that we are independent beings who don’t need to be told what to do and we can make our own decisions, thank you very much. I am concerned about how tightly we are holding onto the Invictus anthem: I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

Have you noticed how many of us have little respect and patience for the “institutions” that be? The government and our leaders have become easy targets for our cheap shots on social media. We can heap insults at someone’s parent without even batting an eyelid in the name of “speaking truth to power.” We have forgotten what it means to “respect your elders” no matter how unworthy of respect those elders seem.

Religion has become a by-word. Many of us are now attracted to atheism and skepticism because these schools of thoughts promise us “independence” of thought and a sense of “enlightenment.”

It doesn’t help that most religious leaders have made it easier for us to doubt the validity of religion: they live lives that spit in the face of what they preach by sleeping with members of their congregation and duping worshipers out of their hard-earned money. Of course we are justified to rage against such hypocrisy.

But dear comrades, I am concerned about what we have become in the process. By choosing to disobey and disrespect our parents because “we know better”, we are hurtling towards a future where we will be parents who have no clue how to raise respectable and respectful children. By ridiculing religion and insulting our heritage, we soon find ourselves having to work in jobs we never dreamt of and bury dreams that refused to come true.

Every day, many of us are realizing the painful truth that we can’t always be what we want to be, no matter how hard we work at it. Nas is old and Tupac is dead and bills don’t pay themselves. We are realizing that we should have respected our parents and listened to them, that the religious systems that failed us did not deserve to be abandoned but ought to have been reformed.

By believing that we knew better when we were younger, we ended up grown up and knowing nothing. We are slowly and painfully realizing that those peers who pretend to have it together also spend their nights on soggy pillows and are just winging it through life. Disillusionment has become our second nature.

So, dear comrades. I am writing this letter to urge you that independence is not as glamorous as it is painted to be. The adverts lied to us and freedom is an illusion. We need each other. We need our elders. Life is brutal. You don’t know any better and we only rise by standing on the shoulders of those that went before us. We are stronger in the broken places and we are better together.

God is probably real and humility is the only way to know for sure. Skepticism is an impossible way to live and sometimes we must believe something before we can verify it and affirm or dismiss it. Life is a story and all of us are mere words and pages in a novel of infinite chapters.

So be humble and listen. Be teachable and reachable. Your life is not your own, and to die to self is better than to live for yourself.

Yours in Youthing,

Ngare