A little over a year ago, I found myself sitting at a mahogany table at Sunrise Assisted Living (with a special community for the memory impaired) with a root beer float and a bingo card. Surrounded by musky perfume-clad ladies wearing what seemed like century-old blouses with hankies haphazardly tucked into the pockets, I felt more than a little out of place. Sure, I had visited the home before, yet each visit seemed more like the interview portion of a documentary I would watch in AP U.S. History than a community service project. Sometimes, I would be dismissed as an unnecessary visitor, other times, I would be offered money for my services. Altogether, the experiences were less than inspiring.
On this particularly cloudy afternoon, a woman with curly white hair in a silky yellow button down top began interviewing me: “Why are you here? Where are you from? Do you know so and so?” I was used to the routine and politely answered each question concisely. She continued telling me about her late husband, her daughter, and the good old days when a picture show only cost a nickel. It wasn’t until she mentioned her daughter was seventy two years old that I started truly paying attention. Quickly calculating the years in my head, I realized this woman must be truly ancient.
We engaged in conversation about both World Wars, the Great Depression, Vietnam, and everything in between. Her hand shook uncontrollably, Alzheimer’s acting up, as she praised Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie O, recounted her old addresses, and recited memorized movie quotations. The impressive thing: she could barely remember my face, my name, or where she currently sat. As she led me through the trials and tribulations of her life, she constantly reminded me, “Don’t say, ‘I can’t wait.’ You can wait. There is never enough time.” Constantly interjecting her anecdotes with these words of wisdom, I occasionally found myself rolling my eyes at my peers who accompanied me on this voyage.
“Don’t say, ‘I can’t wait.” By the end of my visit, I left Sunrise Assisted Living with the words engrained in my memory. For days, I would find myself beginning to use to phrase in reference to an upcoming weekend festivity or social event yet would stop myself midway: “I can’t—I mean, I’m so excited for your party!”
Until this Friday, I am unsure I truly understood what my Senior Citizen friend meant.
At the beginning of high school, I remember one of my senior advisors advising, “Enjoy every minute, four years goes by so quickly!” I listened to the advice yet still remembered the three years of middle school dragging on endlessly, and never stopped to believe that my senior advisor could actually be speaking the truth. I pranced down the hall that first day in a pink mini skirt and lacy tank top, surrounded by friends, feeling like the Queen of the World. Soon I figured out the mysteries of Boe Wenolo, joined more clubs than there were days of the week, and learned the proper methods of writing theses and lab reports. In a blink, I found myself overwhelmed by the anxieties of Sophomore year: my first AP test, multiple accelerated classes, and newfound freedom in drivers licenses. Faster than you can say ‘I can’t wait,” Junior year tumbled in with its inevitable stresses of ACT tests, additional AP courses, and changing social dynamics. Before we even found the audacity to hate The College Board, Senior year arrived, pushing us to the top of the High School ladder. I found it hard to believe that each month started with a 1st because before I knew it, the calendar read the 20th and I had already attended my last football game, turned eighteen, finished visiting colleges, travelled to Peru, completed my final honors recital, and more.
Inexorably, Friday, May 22, 2009 arrived. A day we all starred and decorated on our daily planners yet never believed would arrive. The previous night, I invited the Culties over for our last last-day-of-school sleepover (a long lasting, long treasured tradition) and we celebrated wholeheartedly. At the sound of the morning alarm, we each slipped on the t-shirts of our respective colleges, oblivious to the separation each unique garment symbolized, and headed off for our last nine period day.
Upon receiving our yearbooks, we smiled and laughed about the images from the past year, read Senior Tributes out loud, and laughed at the baby pictures of our classmates. An hour later, specially colored pens were whipped out of backpacks and the signing commenced. But what to write? “HAGS” would not suffice, as we would not see each other after the summer. “It’s been a good year” seemed to brief and inadequate to summarize the last twelve. And “Have a nice life” just felt to final (although I am sure more than a handful of people decorated their peers’ yearbooks with these thoughtful last words).
I paused with my uncapped pen and met the eyes of some of my best friends. Silent tears fell down and we laughed and hugged, assuring each other that this was silly, of course we would still be friends, of course we would see each other all summer, and a juvenile yearbook note could not possibly summarize eighteen years of friendship.
The day passed in a blur. The excitement. The anxiety. The relief. The sadness. We said goodbye to despised teachers forever, we hugged other educators promising to see them at graduation, upset we would no longer learn from them. Bells marked the ending of each period from the last time; we socialized at the much desired Senior Barbeque, enveloped by the scent of charcoal and the sounds of the Naval Band playing rock covers, as we rejoiced in ignorance or denial (I’m not sure which) of what was yet to come.
I will never say, “I can’t wait.” I find myself absolutely shocked at the rapid speed of the last four years. By urging time to move faster, we miss out on the most important moments in life. We rush home from the bus forgetting to engage in conversation with our friends or stop for greasy carry-out egg rolls, we watch the clock tick slowly minute by minute rather than learning a new lesson for the day, we count down days on the calendar rather than enjoying every moment.
I can wait. I can wait to go to college, to move to New York, to grow up. I’m excited, I’m thrilled, I’m overwhelmed, but I can wait.