Have you ever had one of those moments when you are watching TV – perhaps a college football game – and you realize that the players on the field were, for the most part, born AFTER a time when you would have been of legal age to wager on the aforementioned football game in Vegas? It’s a sobering moment. It’s the same feeling you get when you realize that you can remember your parents when they were the age that you are now – and they seemed really OLD. You realize that your youth has passed you by, and maybe you didn’t accomplish quite as much as you thought you did.
With those thoughts percolating in my head this weekend, I found myself doing what I usually do when I feel melancholy – surfing YouTube for an example of human stupidity that makes me feel better about my lot in life. (It’s usually not hard to do – there are a lot of people out there who really should be kept away from both cameras and computers.) What I stumbled upon this weekend, however, was not the antidote that I sought. It wasn’t an ode to one’s bathroom exploits; it wasn’t the single worst exercise video in history; it wasn’t the best game show EVER invented. What grabbed me this weekend was South Korean guitar prodigy named Sungha Jung.
Sungha is a 14-year-old who took up the guitar when he was 11. He is a completely self taught guitarist who originally learned to play by watching clips of classical guitarists on YouTube, then mimicking their actions. I found myself in awe of his talent. I found myself enraptured by his lyrically mastery of the instrument. I also found myself completely intimidated by what he was able to accomplish at such a young age.
How could I hope to compete with that kind of talent? My youth has been over for quite some time. What did I accomplish as a child? It depressed me. It made me question my own self worth. Then I decided to do some research. I found that there have been thousands of child prodigies over the years – some famous, some not. If I couldn’t compete with Sungha, how would I stack up against some of them? Turns out – I stack up pretty well.
At age 7, Akrit Jaswal performed his first medical procedure on an injured neighbor, becoming one of the world’s youngest surgeons.
At age 7, I won the neighborhood “Operation” Invitational Tournament Championship by soundly defeating Lenny Hollister. The unfortunate outburst of canine flatulence by our dog Skippy caught him by surprise and resulted in the unsuccessful removal of the “Ankle Bone Connected to the Knee Bone” rubber band.
At age 8, I helped my dad change the oil on his 1969 Dodge Charger. When done, I wiped my hands on my white t-shirt and created what the local Penny Saver paper hailed as a “haunting, impressionist portrait of beloved television actor Abe Vigoda”.
At age 14, Fabiano Luigi Caruana became the youngest person ever to be awarded the rank of Chess Grand Master.
At age 14, I set a new Northeast Georgia high school endurance record by playing an arrangement of “One Night In Bangkok” from the musical “Chess”, 437 consecutive times on the glockenspiel. It was a long, but rewarding, two-day effort.
At age 16, Jessica Watson became the youngest person to ever sail solo around the world – completing the journey in seven months.
At age 16, I spent seven hours sitting on the hard, punishing concrete sidewalk in front of Turtles Music, to secure the only front row tickets I ever had for a concert while I was in high school (the concert was Heart – and yes, Ann Wilson was actually the size of a small Beluga whale at the time). Once I had the tickets, got back to my car, and headed home – the first song we heard on the radio was “Come Sail Away” by Styx.
It was touch and go for a while, but I learned that my youth was not quite as misspent as I had feared. I had a track record of achievement that I could be proud of. With my existential YouTube crisis averted, I was able to enjoy the rest of my weekend. Will I ever be a guitar virtuoso? Probably not – but if I ever start to doubt myself again, I’ll always have that Abe Vigoda shirt to remind me that anything is possible if you work hard, follow your dreams, and clean your hands regularly.
Life is good.
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