Thursday, July 10, 2003


All this folderol about youth being the peak and elderhood being the pits; I mean, even Yeats, that dissimulating fogey ("But oh that I were young again...."; "a tattered coat upon a stick...") he wrote his best stuff when he was near eighty. I say it's a lot of youth-media-generated horsefeathers. I've been young and I'm becoming elder, and I'll take elder any day of the maturely ejaculating week.

Like all else that grows, life gets where it's going in stages, so youth is not yet life, since the youth has never been any older. Elderhood, by contrast, is very definitely life, for the elder has indeed been young, and what's more has survived and grown thence, and is cored with the experience. Only the span of both ages in one individual comprises what can truly be called a life.

So when the young say 'get a life,' this is what they really mean, despite themselves: they mean get like the elders; they mean GET ENTIRE. They don't know this of course, for in youth nowadays it seems the gardens of the spirit often yield little more than a few stunted facts amid a weedy tangle of ideas randomly received from sources only the inexperienced would patronize, such as age-segregated schools, Hollywood, television, video games and other kids. So forget it if you're looking for major revelations in that quarter.

I'm not talking book smarts or street smarts or any of those five-and-dime kind of smarts anybody can get if they can breathe long enough; I'm talking SMARTS, all gilded bold caps, as conferred only by time deeply spent. And I don't mean in meditation. I mean in ACTIVE QUEST. That too is gilded bold caps, but this time generously embellished with precious stones, mainly emeralds and rubies, because diamonds are way overrated, as any multifaceted elder knows.

Anyway, that's why genuine elders aren't enticed by the culture of youth: because they see right through it, how short-lived and time-blind it necessarily is. They know the portals one must pass through to get beyond that stage of life and, if one is truly alive and not asleep or otherwise spiritually sightless or habituated, the lessons that await and must be learned at each stage. That, in its totality, is life; it is not life if one somnambulates through the whole thing, or tries to stay young forever, or mature quickly. A life thus true is all the more a life the closer it approaches its entirety.

And in contrast, as there is the closed and therefore dead youth, who has learned nothing at all from his few years trapped within the senses, so there is the closed and therefore dead elder, who has sprung unchanged from said youth. The latter, though, is the greater tragedy, for the point of life is that toward which we age: toward becoming a living cornucopia of worthy experiences, toward becoming wise at the cost and the pace that wisdom requires, toward acquiring, gestating and dispensing that wisdom, at its pace and in its place, to the experientially challenged young, who, were it not for the wisdom of those in full elderhood, would rush pell-mell here and there doing even more to kill the time they have in excess and make days play dead so they don't have to live them exactly, more like zombie through them in a stylish pattern that can tend to remain for the rest of the life, until one day they wake up in maybe the suburbs or maybe a shooting gallery and wonder how they got to a place where there's nowhere else, and now are too old for youth and too unlived for elderhood; and when youth is not young and old is not elder, that is the end of the world.

And to hell with Swift, who said: "Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old." I for one can't wait to start using a cane. Somebody has to get the world going the way it should; who better than the experientially advantaged?