When You Don’t Try to Relate

Today I felt supremely frumpy and old-fashioned in my loafers, cardigan, and twisted up hair; I’m dressed exactly how I looked in the 90’s.

So I’m sitting in my office on campus, and it’s the kind of day when I feel so much older than my students. I’ve become increasingly aware of their particular expressions, music, and kinds of social interactions. (The older I grow, the younger they seem. I ask questions about shows they watch, technology they use, and words they say, and we laugh together when I appear out of touch).

It’s happening. I’m old.

Example: I had a student explain to me, with perfect clarity, the different tones of K (no period), Okay, K!, Okaaaay, and K. (with a period, apparently, it’s angry) in a text message. They all mean different things.

This predicament used to bother me greatly. I feared the very person I’m becoming: old, outdated, irrelevant.

But what is this? Students stream in for office hours, asking for advice about graduate school applications, papers for class, and even relationships. They sit and listen as I straighten my knee-high nylons and adjust my scarf (it’s that bad!), smoothing back a few grey hairs.

A spark flares in my heart. They’re here, listening. They’re here. Two students actually hug me after I talk to them. Of course, they had to maneuver beyond my steeping tea and my leftover chicken Alfredo that I packed in a responsible lunch sack. They had to endure a yawn because I felt like I needed a nap.

But they’re here.

I remember seeking the wisdom of elders precisely because they sat outside of my world. I remember wanting to spend time with older people because they offered an escape from the pressures of life, and they created a kind of breathing room by their slower, archaic ways.

So when students ask for advice, it’s because I don’t relate, not because I do.

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