Around here, the local radio station often offers an all-'80s weekend. If I can get past the idea that my music is now considered retro, I can have a lot of fun listening to the old songs from high school and college. Remember "Come on Eileen"?
Anyhow, I'm driving along, humming to "Come on Eileen," and the theme song from "St. Elmo's Fire" came on. "St. Elmo's Fire," the movie that launched the Brat Pack. We were still in high school when we watched the likes of Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson and Demi Moore embark on their grown up lives. It seemed so glamorous. The possibilities of adulthood were endless. Soon we'd be out on our own, making undoubtedly large sums of money to support a high partying lifestyle. The best years were yet to come.
I wondered, as I hummed along, when we stopped looking forward and started looking backwards. When did we start longing for the optimism of our 20-something selves, or at least the waistline and skin tone? When were those best years? How did we let them go by so quickly? When did the fun optimism get replaced by the mundane chores of living, of paying bills, raising kids, making a marriage work?
Later on that evening, I hung out at our neighborhood block party, listening to an incredibly awesome band playing, literally, in my neighbor's garage. It was 10 p.m., the agreed upon curfew for the party and our community, but we asked them to play one more. Just one more song. The band fired up their instruments and gave us Prince's "Let's Go Crazy."
Those college memories came flooding back. I was 18 again, wearing cheap Kmart clothes, hoping to fit in with my college peers who probably never shopped at Kmart in their lives. I was on the dance floor at some snobby fraternity house – sorry Sigma Chi alums – dancing with my girlfriends, wondering if we were going to be noticed, whether our dancing was cool or clunky, how our hair looked, how our makeup was holding up, whether that cute guy in the corner was going to ask us to dance or find someone more beautiful. And if not, would we have to go back to the dorm and listen to the pretty and popular girls talk about their much more successful nights, as we pretended to be happy for them.
Contrast that to my 44-year-old self, who slipped off my Walmart $2 flip flops so I wouldn't trip when I danced. I was surrounded by friends and neighbors who didn't care if I could dance, didn't care what my hair looked like, didn't care where my clothes were from. I knew I'd see these people tomorrow, and we'd laugh about what a great time we had. I leaned against my husband, who's every bit as cute as those circa 1984 Sigma Chis. The band gave us the music from our youth, and we danced.
And I started to realize that those great years – which were a lot of fun – were also fraught with insecurities and limitations. With age, you come to realize how little certain things matter, and how lucky you are to have what you have. You dance because you want to dance, not because you want to attract attention, or look good, or fit in. Life gives us the freedom to dance, and there's no looking back.