I can be a bit agist. When people are a lot younger than me, I sometimes am dismissive of them. I’m a friendly person, so they probably don’t know all the judgement that’s going on in my head. But I know it’s there and it doesn’t feel good.
I’ve experienced tremendous personal growth since turning 30. I’ve probably done more to push myself outside my comfort zone in the past six years than during my entire twenties. I’ve made bold career decisions, been a support to loved ones struggling with mental health and addiction issues, gotten my novel published in two countries, and had the courage to end relationships that weren’t right for me. It’s been hard and hugely rewarding. I’ve found inner strength I never knew I had.
Last month I attended a long weekend at Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults. They bill it as a “digital detox” and there are a lot of interesting rules. Obviously, no tech is allowed. You hand over your phone at registration. There are no watches. You’re not allowed to talk about work. Silly camp nicknames are used instead of real names. And there’s no age talk. The idea is that we’re all just big kids there and age is irrelevant. I thought it sounded nice in theory but wasn’t sure how it would play out in practice.
The magic started on the way to camp. I carpooled up to Mendocino with three people I didn’t know. Excitedly, we turned off our phones and got to know each other without discussing the taboo topics. Fortunately none of the social intelligence techniques I learned at Jaunty involve these subjects either. One of my carpool buddies looked a lot younger than me, but we didn’t say how old we were. I didn’t say how long I’d lived in different places and I didn’t ask how recently she’d graduated from college. I liked her instantly and felt more open to her without attaching a number.
The first night at camp, using my social intelligence skills, I complimented a woman on her dramatic facepaint and we easily struck up a conversation. It was dark and I assumed she was around my age. When she removed the scarf from her head, I saw her hair was streaked with gray. I looked closer and noticing the wrinkles around her eyes, realized she was more likely in her mid-forties. And then I realized it didn’t matter.
One of my favorite moments of the whole weekend was during a late night cuddle puddle. It was cold outside the teepee and perhaps twelve of us were a cozy, blanketed heap of humanity on the floor. For many of us it was one of our first experiences with platonic touch. We told stories, laughed hysterically playing the ha-ha game, and shared insights. Laying on my back I usually couldn’t see whoever was talking and each disembodied voice was a unique person and part of the collective whole. We talked about prehistoric people probably sleeping like this every night.
One person in the cuddle puddle, was a very young guy who looked about twenty-two. He had probably just graduated from college or was working his first real job. But of course we didn’t talk about any of that and as he shared his ideas with the group, I realized he had real wisdom. And of course, everyone has something to share. Everyone no matter how old or young has wisdom. In the same way that we miss out on so much of the world around us when we’re glued to our screens, camp reminded me that I’d been missing out on genuine connections with wonderful people who I had dismissed because of their age.
Now back in the default world, I’m hanging on to that discovery and trying to see people for who they are, not how old or young they are.