Say not ‘I have found the truth’, but rather ‘I have found a truth’.


When I was young, I knew everything -and yet nothing, really. Things change; there is no fixed star, and when I look up with autumned eyes, even the world looks different now.

But is it really? Is reality so different now from when I was a child, or does an invisible shroud already cloud my youthful vision? Have the years changed what I thought I learned, or have I -have all of us- lived pentimento lives leaving only traces of what went before in shallow graves?

I suppose it’s something we all have to face in the Final Act: will there be applause as the curtain falls, or merely stunned silence, confusion at the point being made? Did we die with answers undisclosed, or with questions still behind our now-closed eyes?

There is what seems to be a universal tradition of respecting elders, not, perhaps, for technical answers -we often prefer the ways things were; what worked for us; what we understood- but more for wisdom and guidance through the labyrinth of years. And maybe to earn for ourselves what Shakespeare’s  Macbeth also wanted: ‘that which should accompany old age, as honour, love obedience, and troops of friends’ that he could not look to have.

Time, if nothing else, provides experience, and towards its end, opinion, and judgment -a collation of its successes and failures to report and analyse. The final act, after all contains the denouement, and it really cannot be understood without first assimilating the events and drama that have occurred. It is the duty of the elders to tell us what makes it special -to assure us of its value.

There seems to be a widely held belief these days, that youth no longer hold their elders in esteem; that data is so readily available, and knowledge is so easily divorced from personal experience, that our opinions need no longer be sought. Things certainly move with untimely speed now -with haste, some of us might say. Take Moore’s law predicting that the power of computers will double every two years. Look at our smart phones and what we can research with the touch of a button. The knowledge of the world is now online; everything we need to know is there; almost every question we could ever ask is answered…

Or is it? I am not frequently consulted anymore, and yet I’d like to think that if I were asked, I might be able to offer an experiential perspective which might add something unique, if not technically helpful to the questioner. My years could add fuller, more colourful patterns to the weft and warp of a life still learning how to weave itself.

And yet, maybe I am still looking for validation of my yellow leaves; I find myself drawn to essays which support my hope that Age still offers something valuable to the Young. One such essay was written by Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University with similar concerns: https://aeon.co/essays/why-we-should-all-ask-our-elders-about-how-best-to-live

He was giving a seminar to some college seniors, and ‘had arranged the meeting to find out what these ‘emerging adults’ wanted to learn about work and careers from their elders.’ And what they asked was whether they really needed a purpose for their careers to succeed, and if so, how would they go about finding one? ‘They feared that this lack of a unique and compelling purpose might doom them to a life of failure and futility.’

But, perhaps the answer was actually hidden in their questions: they were asking him -an elder (at least to them)- for enlightenment.

And in his essay, Pillemer continues by asking his elders the same questions as students. The ‘elders give us a very different view of a life purpose – and a tip for finding one. Basically, the oldest… tell you to relax. They say that you are likely to have a number of purposes, which will shift as you progress through life.’

‘The elders recommend that we re-shape the quest for a purpose, thinking instead of looking for a general direction and pursuing it energetically and courageously… A grand purpose, in their view, is not only unnecessary – it can also get in the way of a fulfilling career. Instead, they have offered the idea of finding an orientation.

We older people are not so much gifted with omniscience, as we are with experience. ‘Because older people have one thing that the rest of us do not: they have lived their lives. They have been where we haven’t.’ Some of them have been where even angels fear to tread and can warn the rest of us off. They ‘bring to our contemporary problems and choices perspectives from a different time.’

I think I learned this when I myself was young -too young to make wise and considered choices, perhaps. I had just turned 16, and with the sure and certain knowledge of youth, I knew that I wanted a car –needed a car. And the pinnacle of my desires was for it to be a convertible.

I saved the money I had made working in a local factory all summer and knew I was finally ready to realize my desire. I had visited multiple used car lots, but what appealed to me was far beyond what I had saved. Some were too large, and seemed, well, too old for me to park in my high school parking lot; others had visibly tattered cloth tops or rusted frames.

But I persisted and finally found just what I was looking for. It was black, shiny, and just the right size for me. I felt a little like Goldilocks, trying for the right porridge -not too expensive, yet not too eaten by Time and left to cool, tasteless, on the lot. I was proud I was such a discerning buyer: wise beyond my years, patiently seeking and finding the just-right-baby-bear porridge -sorry, car. It was a black Consul convertible -a brand that I don’t think made it much beyond the 1950ies.

But even at the ‘reasonable’ price, I’d still need a loan from my father, so, after excitedly praising its virtues, and the amazing benefit it would be to me I convinced him to accompany me to see the car.

He agreed, of course, and I could tell he was trying his best to seem excited like me. But I could see his enthusiasm fade as soon as I pointed to the car on the lot. They had tarted it up with a wash and wax, and someone had attached a fox-tail to its aerial in anticipation of my return. My father was careful in his inspection, though. He touched a section of the door that seemed a little too black and shiny, and it indented under his finger as if it were cloth. He scrutinized the engine and shook his head -I had not even thought of looking under the hood, to tell the truth. “Awfully rusty,” he said, and glanced at me.

Then he jiggled the steering wheel and demonstrated the play in it before it actually turned the wheel. Finally, we started the car and it coughed like an old man awakened suddenly from sleep and angry about being disturbed.

When we were finished and exited the car, the salesman began to look worried. “Might need a little work,” he managed to say through my father’s disapproving glare. “But the price’s right, eh?” he added and shifted his eyes to stare at me.

“You’d be better off with a Volkswagen, G,” was all my father would say as we walked across the lot. I knew he thought the car was junk, but he could see I was still excited. The duty of a father is to advise, and not demand; the value of an elder, is knowing the advice will eventually be appreciated, and waiting with patience for its wisdom to unfold.

The car unfolded within a month, but my all-knowing father had already found an old Volkswagen for me in good condition; it was being sold by a mechanic he trusted.

Elders have a way of knowing the world, don’t they…?

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