The third of my related series of posts:
I had intended to write a separate article on my own musings on meaning and finality but circumstances have overtaken me – namely confronting the same themes in, of all places, a fifth grade book.
Standing on the deck of the ferry crossing from Denmark to Sweden I once aspired to being “an old guy with lots of stories.” Years later, my partner bought me a tee shirt for my birthday that read – “In order to be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.” I am not sure my current standing as a Junior Curmudgeon, 1st Class would allow me to agree with that statement now but both these yearnings illustrate something about me. I am the kind of person (ENTP for you MBTI mavens) who has made a life long pursuit of “understanding” the universe. I have rarely professed it so specifically, even to my self. Indeed, only a fool would claim such a task. More often the quest has assumed the avatar of the desire to be “wise.”
Wisdom is a good thing, right? Of course, the pursuit of my quarry has been overshadowed somewhat by my inability to recognize exactly what it will look like when I finally have it my sights. Perhaps realizing that is the beginning of wisdom... This gets thick, fast!
But maybe I am tracking the Dragon when I think I hunt the Unicorn. I am attracted to idea of Wisdom, surely, but the beast that draws me is Acceptance. No more tortured metaphors, I promise…
Lately, it has occurred to me that Wisdom is not my goal; it is my means. I think that I have set my sights on Understanding in hopes that in doing so I will be able to - wait for it - accept my own Death. We know that many people reach the end of their lives and find themselves ready, satisfied that they have lived fully and well. The (in)famous Stages of Grief grant Acceptance pride of place. Even J R R Tolkien had his elves become world-weary. My wife’s grandmother often complained that “Jesus had not come for her yet,” but, even those without religious faith achieve this state. Maybe that is not such a bad definition of Wisdom.
An understanding the world in which we live stands on its own merits but is it the best route to Acceptance? Wiktionary defines Wisdom as “3. The discretionary use of knowledge for the greatest good.” In my forty-fifth year the thought has been stirring in me that accumulation of knowledge is a passive and selfish act without action. Is it time to cast off my callow youth and start working toward the good of the world? James Michener claimed that surviving to thirty was its own justification but inherent in that is that after age thirty, you are expected to bail with the rest!
I have two children and hope I live to see them grow up and carry with them some of my values and, dare I say, wisdom. But I can’t help thinking that more is required of me. I am not ready for the Peace Corps but there are plenty of opportunities closer to home. Last year I spent a week repairing Katrina-damaged homes. I once spent a year tutoring biology to 9th grade girls in an inner-city school. Bits and pieces. I think I need a more unified effort and vision. I can’t escape the feeling that that is my next move, a part of the transition to the second half of my life (I physically shivered typing that).