Life experiences continue well after your youth

Amanda Irons
Amanda Irons

“You are only young once!”

A phrase I’ve grown to loath.

As college students, I feel as if we are constantly bombarded with this ideology that you must act now. You must go out and see the world now. You must make all your mistakes, find your true love and explore yourself while you’re young. Otherwise you are going to be condemned to a mundane existence of stagnant discoveries.

This phrase, although seemingly hopeful, acts more like rain cloud than a bright, exuberant sunrise of optimism. It imposes a sense of urgency as if somewhere, at sometime, you’re going to suddenly be stopped and told, “I’m sorry, your time is up. You are bound to the life you’ve experienced so far.”

Why anyone would bind themselves to living life with this imposed sense of limited youth is beyond me. I’ve grown to believe that youth is a synonym of drive. It has a cognitive meaning of energy, restlessness and optimism. Youth is not something that you pass, but instead something you carry with you.

Perhaps what fuels this idea of everlasting youth is the role models I have in my life.

My 76-year-old grandpa is walking across the United States of America.gma unit

In 2007 my grandpa, Bill Fairbanks, retired from teaching Anthropology and California Indian studies after 40 years at Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He was the type of professor that invited students over to his home for in-depth study sessions and a home cooked meal. He could easily be found in his office during school hours to accommodate for students’ busy schedules. His door was always open to discussing content and helping his students grasp the concepts presented to them. He was the type of professor that cared about his students, a trait indicative to his character.

Upon retirement, my grandpa wouldn’t settle for a life of rotting in a rocking chair.

With the help of my grandma, Carole, the two set out to conquer America in the fall of 2009. They started in my hometown, Los Osos, Calif., and began their journey by walking north to Santa Rosa. Each morning Carole drops Bill off at his destination. From here Bill walks between five to 15 miles a day. Along the way, he observes the traits and wonders America has to offer. In his daily emails he documents these observations, giving his input and reflection. He never shies away from inserting interesting facts and ideas. He is often stopped by concerned citizens while walking, only to stir up a conversation and often walking away with a new friend and perspective. At the end of his day he calls Carole to pick him up, carefully documenting his location for his start the next day.

It’s illegal to walk on highways or freeways, so this entire journey is taken off the beaten track: back roads. little streets through neighborhoods and places only traveled by those who call it home.

He’s trekked through Pennsylvania, Utah, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri and New York, to name a few. Although he has his trip mapped out, he is always open to exploring exciting proposed locations. He takes days off to visit museums, monuments and cultural outings with Carole. He has attended local school board meetings, spoken to college classes and generally submerged himself in the societies he’s walked through.

He plans to finish his journey in Dedham, Mass. at the Fairbanks House. Built in 1637, it’s believed to be the oldest surviving timber-framed house in North America.

When I hear respectable elders and trending social media outlets state that people must seize life while they are young, I scoff at their lack of youth. Stay curious. Don’t be shy to chase after an answer, explore that which you don’t understand and be persistent with your desire to learn. Never be content with absolute comfort. Only when you indulge yourself in an unfamiliar culture can you absorb the wisdom it has to offer.

I plan to pursue my wanderlust for as long as I have a pulse. One could jest that it’s in my blood, but I insist it’s in my perspective.


Amanda Irons can be reached at [email protected] and at @amanda_irons on Twitter.

Illustration by Liz Coffee.