In an article published by Slate, writer Laura Helmuth describes, at length, some of the reasons we’re living longer than an ancestors did in the early 1800s; the most obvious have to do with disease, bad water and naivete (Helmuth writes that the early settlers were “gentlemen” — which meant they had no idea how to incorporate manual labor into their lives.
In pondering the major medical advances that have allowed us to live longer, healthier lives, I’m struck by the fact that living a long life is a gift — and not merely because as humans we want to “stick with what we know” and stay in our three dimensional world indefinitely, but because with the aging process comes the gifts of insight — knowledge that can come only experientially.
If we are wise when we’re younger, we will listen to those who are more mature and have more life experience than we do; but even the wisest of 20 year olds still think that they know better than their elders about some things. In fact, the wiser the young adult, the greater the resistance to the wise counsel of others. Here are a few life lessons that are making this stage of my life one of the most satisfying:
- We truly get the fact that we’re not the center of the universe, that it’s not all about us. This is freeing on so many levels, not the least of which is that this realization puts life’s irritants in perspective
- We’re better equipped to live in the moment — that’s because we’ve lived long enough to realize that thinking too far ahead are to far in the rear view mirror robs the present day of its joys. I have the privilege of having a little diary my dad kept the year he turned 10 years old – 1936. He describes one day in March, “Mama found wild flowers and picked them today; she says that means spring is comming [sic].”As a young mother raising three children on a Texas ranch during the depression, I can imagine that the promise of spring made her step just a little bit lighter that day.
- We understand that regardless of what comes our way, “this too shall pass” — both the good and the bad. This keeps us from resting on our laurels during the good times, and from drowning in despair when life hands us those proverbial lemons.
- Momentary highs — those one-off occasions like winning the lottery — aren’t what satisfies in the long run. Concern for others (it’s not all about us, remember?), doing what we enjoy career-wise, and nurturing familial relationships are what will sustain us as time goes on.
- There are some questions that simply cannot be answered; the fact that bad things happen to good people and that good things happen to the bad guys is a given. What we do during those times, not the circumstances themselves, are what shape us.
Since my kids reached adulthood, I’ve encouraged them by letting them know these things, and for the most part they listen. But some things we learn only after we’ve been on our journey for awhile. And learning those things? Ah, there’s the adventure!