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Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On Youth and Old Age

All rising to great place
is by a winding stair.

Sir Francis Bacon, Essays

When do we suddenly turn old?  I don't mean gray, or wrinkly, or forgetful.  I mean that transition that happens subtly over time, until suddenly one day we barely recognize ourselves.  I'm not talking about outward change, even though this change may be accompanied by softness around the midriff — I mean the inward loss of youth.

When we are young, we are ready to charge headfirst, bravely, even foolhardily, into everything and after our dreams.  We believe ourselves nearly invincible and set out to conquer the world, both in our careers and love lives.  Sure, we know that there will be knocks, sure we know that our hearts, souls, and egos may get bruised, yet still we courageously put ourselves out there, jump into the river with both feet.

What I mean by turning old is that, somewhere along the way, we become cautious, almost to the point of cowardice — too paralyzed with fear to take risks, to start anew, to set ourselves vulnerable to rejection and hurt.  And yet, what does it mean to be alive, if we are afraid to live, afraid to take chances, afraid to conquer the world?

One of my acting teachers continually prompted us to "invite someone dangerous to tea" — and he didn't mean just in our acting, but in life.  If we close ourselves to the world and to new experiences and new people for fear of getting hurt somewhere down the line, we lose out.  Just as an actor who does not take risks, whose acting becomes staid and, in effect, dead, so we as people must continually stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones, and lay ourselves on the line, or we too will be as dead.

I'm not suggesting, dear Reader, that we should all immediately go sky-diving, or quit our jobs, or that we should run headlong into the Amazon jungle — and then again, perhaps we ought — it would at least be a great adventure!  Taking baby steps, we should at the least look at who we were once, who we are now, and how we'd like the book of our lives to read when/if some day we are treated to "our whole lives flashing in front of our eyes."  Yes, we may fail, this is true, we may get disappointed, our wildest dreams may not come to fruition, but if we do not even try, this end result is guaranteed — if we go for it, then at least there is the chance that everything will turn out, perhaps even better than we hoped.  In the words of Sir Gawain in the Medieval Romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:  "In destinies sad or merry,/ True men can but try."

Let's go out there and play whatever hands the Fates have in store for us — at least we will all be the heroes of our own stories, not bystanders too frightened to live.



Blogger Save Emma said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

February 01, 2006 7:27 PM  
Blogger Anniina said...

The comment I deleted wasn't a real comment but spam >.< Grrr...

February 01, 2006 9:54 PM  

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