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The Potential Last

Learning from the death of the youth

TW: Brief mention of death, suicide, and murder.

An emotion that I find myself recognizing more and more frequently as I grow older is one I call Youthemer: the feeling I encounter when I hear of the death of a human younger than me.

Perhaps it was an unfortunate accident: a stillborn infant, or a toddler tragically falling through the railing of a bridge. Or perhaps it was more cruel: a child kidnapped, starved by their own parents, sold into slavery. The fresh high school graduate murdered by their partner, and the college kid on his way back home to his mother at midnight, suddenly killed by a drunk driver.

Youthemer naturally occurs in growing frequency as we grow older, slowly opening our eyes to the privilege of being alive. Youthemer is standing on a cold mountain peak gazing into a cool blue horizon, allowing a single shaky breath of air to escape as your eyes skim the colossal height below that hadn’t seemed so monstrous before. Youthemer is hauling yourself up the lifeboat, imbibing heavy gasps of oxygen, only to finally look back and see the last of the cruise ship sink beneath the water. It’s seeing yourself amongst eight other people on a single floating life support in the middle of a vast ocean that had once carried a ship that had carried the life of hundreds.

From the time you take your first breath, you become eligible to die.

— Can’t Hurt Me, David Goggins

Youthemer is the not-so-gentle reminder of the Potential Last.

There will be a last time I ever sit in the kitchen counter chair I sit in right now, typing out my Potentially Last Medium essay on a Google Doc for your eyes to see. There will be a last time I ever play Chopin on my mother’s grand piano, and there will be a last time I ever go out on the patio at night to watch the city lights that I have seen shine since I was 6 years old. And inevitably, there will be the last words I ever say to my mother and father, and the last words my brother will hear from me before it is time to go.

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And we need only think a second to recognize that a significant portion of our finite Potential Lasts in life have already run out of Potential long ago. The last time I would ever see my grandmother was at a hospital in Taipei when I was 5 years old, and as I took her hand, I knew as much as a 5 year old could that this would be the last time I would hold it. I know that one day, perhaps a sunny Tuesday, my father picked me up, set me down, and never picked me up again. Did either of us know it at the time? No, not really. But I wish I did. Perhaps I would’ve cherished the warmth of a young and strong father one last time, before having to gradually watch his black hair turn white and his movements turn slow, hiking together up a hill that he normally would’ve cleared in a heartbeat just a decade earlier.

Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash

These are the Potential Lasts that have lost their Potential, to eventually become Lasts in their final state. Youthemer is a reminder that today, right at this moment, I am the youngest I will ever be, and I will never have any more Potential Lasts available to me than I do now.

Of course, there’s a certain impossibility that comes with considering The Potential Last every second of our lives. But it’s still a good thing to keep in the back of our minds if we ever catch ourselves saying something negative or hurtful. Are these the last words I want this person to hear from me? However small it may be, there’s always a chance that we won’t be here tomorrow.

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.

— Unknown

Youthemer feels bittersweet in the moment, but let it act as a gentle reminder that you and I have a finite number of Potential Lasts left. While we cannot slow the rate at which Potential fades away, we can feel gratitude that we have any Potential left to cherish at all, which is more than most can say.

Cheers, friend. Here’s to cherishing each and every one of our Potential Lasts.

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