"You are old, father William", the young man said, "and your hair has become very white;
and yet you incesantly stand on your head -- do you think, at your age, it is right?"
At one of the parties I recall clearly this NYE (which means it was pretty early on), I overheard a snippet of conversation regarding an old friend that had moved away. "she said to me on the phone that her life is so different now. she says she's strong and wise. Strong. and wise".
As I said, I recall this part of the evening with extreme clarity. What I recall thinking at this point was "what bullshit."
Ever since, I've been mulling on and off the myth of wise old age. We have this idea, this expectation, that as people get older they "become comfortable in their skins", settle into these golden-haloed personas that dispense the experience of years with benign jedi-like smiles from their comfy sofas.
I have no doubt that some people, through often herculean efforts (I should really say sisyphean, given their ultimate lasting power in most cases), manage to become more conservative in their approach to life. Fewer people still manage to glean some tiny insight into the workings of human conscioussness, and an even tinier apprecaiation of their own motivations and desires. Again, not the same thing. The people who actually claim to have been transformed into "wise beings" almost uniformly end up to have learned a newer and more sophisticated set of tools with which to engage in denial, and mistake this for the real thing. And this is the result of persistent work; the devouring of libraries, hours spent on the meditating cushion, years on your knees confessing sins to some priest or abbot or rabbi.
Most parents cannot recall their childhood, and this is while they still have most of their mental faculties. There are exceptions, obviously, but they mostly serve simply to highlight the truth of the matter all the more brightly. Age does not provide wisdom, or comfort, or peace, or grace. These are myths. They are dangerous myths because too many people believe in them and buy into them early on, Like my friend in Osoyoos.
I'm looking back on what I just wrote, and I dislike it. it doesn't say what I want it to say. I'm gonna publish it now anyway, because that's kind of my point, even if it's shittily made. life is imperfect, full of mistakes, and doesn't get better as you get older. To paraphrase Dan savage talking about Marriage: "[life] is is an endless cycle of wrongs committed, apologies offered, and forgiveness granted, leavened by the occasional orgasm." (Dan's next statement in this week's column suggested that if you were unable to forgive your partner, you weren't cut out for marriage, and I think that carries through as well; if you can't forgive yourself for your own failures in life, then you're probably doomed to run away from that life, either literally or figuratively).
If, on the other hand, you are prepared to consider that you are and will always be a fucking idiot, then you have a tiny chance of letting yourself in on the joke, which is probably the closest thing to actual wisdom any of us is ever likely to see in this existence. And that's available at any age at all.