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Whoa there! Slow down!


ONE OF my sons turned 14 the other day and immediately announced he was now ever so much closer to driving age, as though his dad wouldn't be agonizingly aware of that sinister fact, already dreading those evenings of anxiety that are the burden of a teen-age driver's parents.

All I have to do to make myself really apprehensive about the ordeal is to let my thoughts drift back to the terror I inflicted on my poor parents 30 years ago; to the November night just beRonSmithfore my 18th birthday when I borrowed my father's 1953 Chrysler New Yorker, fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into a telephone pole, waking up two days later in the hospital grateful to be alive and incredibly relieved that the fates had spared me the lifetime horror of being responsible for some innocent person's death.

There were other incidents, though none quite as serious as that one; in fact, it seems miraculous that I lived to grow all the way up.

Granted, my son seems a whole lot saner than I was at the age of hormonal awakening, but I don't ignore the truism that appearances can be deceiving. I pray that in this case they are not. The fact is I don't really begrudge him the youthful yearning for the grownup prerogatives that seem so important. With some age on us, the perspective changes as the whirling circles of time speed the seasons by our startled eyes faster each succeeding year -- the way the pages blew off the calendars in the old "B" movies. We desperately want the whole process to slow down, don't we?

I know that I have only begun to learn how to savor life. And when you get to that stage, you first fully realize that youth is wasted on the young. You realize what that means: The great blessing of youthful vigor and freshness, too often unnoticed by those who possess it because they are, after all, preoccupied with wishing for and dreaming of the happiness to come, when they're on their own and no longer under the thumb of Mom and Dad and their teachers.

In due course, they'll discover the greater pressure of other thumbs. It's probably best not to belabor that point with the child. Lessons have to be learned alone. Knowledge isn't that difficult to acquire since it's learned from others and isn't that rare or even that precious a commodity.

Wisdom! That's a far different story, because it's learned from ourselves, and by the time we possess even a little bit of it, the brief moment of consciousness is nearly over.

So my bright-eyed son understandably urges the clock to speed ahead. And I silently shout, "Whoa there! Slow down!"

Ron Smith is a radio talk show host on WBAL.

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