Throughout my life, I have dreamt of the future. At 16, I dreamt of college. In college, I now dream about my future career. It was not until this summer, at my minimum-wage job, that I began questioning not my dreams, but my dreaming. Working at an elderly retirement community in south-shore Massachusetts as a waitress, I never expected to learn more than how to be a good server, much less leave with new perspectives on myself, the future, and youth.

With a few months at home in Massachusetts, I was planning to work, hoping to save, and really hoping to not spend all of my money before I got back to Dublin. With money on my mind, I began picking up shifts, then more shifts — until I realised I had definitely spent more time this summer at the retirement community than with my own friends. But, it was in these months that I forged stronger relationships with a few residents, and in turn, began looking forward to each shift, not only for the monetary compensation, but for the conversations, advice, and wisdom imparted.

I heard the tales of collegiate excellence, promptly followed by a well paying job. I heard tales of regret; those wishing they had travelled more in their youth, before their age infringed upon their mobility. I heard the frustration and pain in voices as some racked their minds trying to remember even the simplest fact, often in vain. And I saw. The pride for their newest grandchild. The empty seat at the table where a good friend once sat. Lucid minds becoming a bit more forgetful each week. The childlike delight that an ice-cream sundae still brings, whether eight or eighty years old.

At nineteen years old, I found myself having a bit of a quarter-life crisis. It became disheartening going into work, to be blunt, often feeling surrounded by death. It’s not uncommon to hear of a resident passing away; but I found it equally painful watching some gradually lose their keys, then their memories, and then themselves. However, I often wondered how much pity was fair to have for my older friends, especially since their wrinkles allude to lives filled with laughter, pain, stress, love. Lives well lived. I am still a dreamer. I still have hopes for the future, and a long list of things I hope to complete one day. But I have been careful, as I fear that one day I could look back and realise that I spent more time dreaming and planning, opposed to truly living.

As I approach my twenties, I have never felt more youthful. Not in the traditional sense of the word, but rather that I no longer directly link age with youth. To me, being youthful isn’t as simple as being “young and dumb,” or having a wrinkle-free face. It is something far more complex. It is pursuing your interests. It is cracking a joke at a slightly wrong time. It is being authentically yourself, and letting others do the same. It is passion and spontaneity. It is seeing the good in the world. It is seeing the good in yourself. As we mature, it can be easy to lose some of these characteristics. Not overnight, not in a year, but gradually. College turns to a career, dreamers turn to realists. It may be a futile effort, but I hope one day, when I am wrinkled and grey, I will still have a bit of my youth in my back pocket.