Old age is a blessing.
With the passing of time, the sharp edges of life diminish, and age’s perspective on the universe stands out crisply against a rich background of memories. We can move more easily through a world we have come to know, and we can appreciate time simply reflecting on the many lessons of life.
Yet the frailty of age can also be a curse. With every passing year, we feel our mortality. We come to know a gradual diminishing of the capabilities of youth. The exhuberant energy that we all possess so briefly must be spent building a rich foundation of experiences to appreciate, or old age becomes nothing but bitter regret for mispent youth.
In youth, we hear the first notes of life’s music, but we have never learned how to dance. At first, that music seems full of chaos, and in trying to dance to it we are graceless. We stumble and we fall.
In our middle years we remember from our youth the boundless energy, and the difficult pain of our stumbles from before we learn our first dance is fresh in our mind. But we need to keep in mind that for youth, recovery is quick and creativity is boundless. The energy is there for youth to flail forward in search of something that fits, and in stumbling untutored they gain something far more than the mere knowledge of how to move gracefully as you do - they give birth to something new.
Youth doesn't last long - soon everyone crafts patterns out of the chaos of their first steps, and then life often becomes less about stumbling and more about perfecting that first dance. It is easy to fall out of the frenetic whirl of youthful exuberance into the measured cadence of whatever adulthood pattern we define for ourselves. Learning that first sequence is a difficult journey through stubbed toes, and we are a culture obsessed with the avoidance of suffering. Yet we forget that pain is one of life’s best teachers, and gives meaning to that accomplishment beyond any easy lesson.
The first dance learned is most important, for when we reach this point, most of us just keep on with that first dance. Why venture back to that gracelessness, especially when we feel the fading of youth? We are comfortable, and that first dance just gets easier with more practice. We finally fit into the world, and we are detered by the memory of the pain along the way to where we are.
We dance on, and while those steps fit well initially they soon become a well-worn groove on our soul. Whenever we try a new dance, we are reminded we are graceless again, we rediscover suffering, and we quickly return to what we know. Eventually, we come to believe that we are incapable of moving in any other way.
But the best dancers focus instead on the lessons, recognize the teacher in adversity, and always keep learning new patterns. They will stumble and fall far more than those working to perfect what they know, but every with every stumble they learn more. They keep pace with the creativity of the world by constantly learning. Instead of perfecting one pattern that inevitably falls out of sync with the new dances of youth, they adapt themselves endlessly to fit into the overall music of life as it shifts. For all lessons lend themselves to each other, and dancing is really about learning to dance.
This choice represents a harder road, and it breaks with our culture of avoiding suffering. But, it is the one that transforms age from confusion to wisdom. Those who walk this road have nothing to fear from their twilight years, adapt to life and accept it with grace.
It’s easy to want to teach others the dance we know when we see them stumbling along in confusion. But we must not forget the lessons learned in suffering, and we should approach the world with humility in what we have yet to learn instead of pride in what we know. If we truly want to help others, we should teach each other to appreciate learning itself; the fine art of extracting wisdom and grace from the inevitable suffering of life.
Life, like dancing, is about change. And there's limited use in teaching what worked yesterday when we are in the process of inventing what will work tomorrow.