What if the answer was deeper, less objective and more nuanced than a simple recounting of the number of times the earth orbited the sun since the day you arrived?
If I asked, instead, how creative you are, I would be confused and disheartened if you answered “5,” “23,” or “99.” Those are meaningless in the context of creativity. I would appreciate hearing that you love to write poetry or music. It would tell me a great deal to hear that your passions are theater and improv. I could look more deeply into your soul if you say, “While I am not terribly accomplished, I take great pride in some of the pencil sketches I have attempted.” I was touched recently by a caller who told me she loves to write music, especially pieces that erupt from her deep sorrow and invite others to listen deeply to their own with less judgement.
Similarly, if I asked about your generosity, your capacity for love, and the extent to which you are trustworthy and honest, what would you tell me? Should I ask of your wisdom, I would gain insight even if you were to express doubts about the depth and breadth of yours.
With one exception, there is no upper limit on the qualities that define our character. Our admiration for another is in direct proportion to the extent of their creativity, generosity, love, trustworthiness, honesty, and wisdom.
The one exception, or course, is our culture’s, oft unspoken, acceptable upper limit on the number of years we have lived. There is no remark about creativity, generosity, love or wisdom equivalent to being “over the hill” regarding age.
What would it mean if the answer to how old you are was similarly nuanced? What if, instead, how old you are is defined by the character you cultivated during the years you have lived? To which, of course, there is no limit.
What if, instead of telling me your age, you were willing to admit you are old enough to know the limits of your knowledge; that you are coming to understand the power of questions and are less compelled by the veracity of opinions—yours and others. To what extent would you be willing to share you are old enough to focus more on what is left for you to be, and less about what is left for you to do?
I would love to hear you have learned the power of compassion and how you might use yours to ease the journey of others; that you are discovering, when you are with another during a time of deep sadness and grief, it is not within your power to fix, but absolutely within your power to be fully present—and that that is enough. Might you also admit you have less fear about your legacy and are taking comfort in knowing that such a thing is unknowable.
Should we meet sometime soon, and I ask how old you are, know that I do not care a whit about the years you have lived. What I care to discern is the extent to which you have fully lived during your many revolutions of the planet Earth, and developed character worthy of the time you have been given.
1 thought on “How Old Are You?”
Roger a probing meditative piece on the content of our years. Each of us has a limited lease, and in the youthful years we can afford not to think about the coming time when we must leave. As the years click by though, time takes a toll and it becomes more difficult to deny the truth. Your list of questions about the ways that one might value life are interesting, and would be a worthwhile conversation with anyone. You touched on the pervasive ageism in our culture, our worship reflex toward youth, and the dismissal of those who are no longer “useful” in the professional world. In my opinion this comes down to our prime value which is “money.” Many of us actually think that the important things can be accounted for in dollars. I am grateful that not everyone subscribes to that bill of goods. I have found individuals who value love, generosity, wisdom and creativity that I have learned much from over the years. Some have become an extended family. Life is a mystery. We can learn to enjoy the ride. — Jerry