My daughter recently informed me (and not for the first time, to be honest) that I’m not the mom I was ten years ago. Apparently, I’ve changed. Given her facial expression and the tone of her voice at the time of this declaration, I’d say her comment was more along the lines of making an observation and less along the lines of offering a compliment.
I spent some time considering her statement. Not just days, but weeks and months (as I said, she offered this information more than once) and came to the conclusion that she was absolutely right. I’m not the same mom or the same person I was ten years ago.
And praise the Lord for small blessings.
Ten years ago I was in an extraordinary amount of emotional pain. Ten years ago I was facing—and being decimated by—life-altering betrayals. Ten years ago I was quick to anger and never content merely to win. Ten years ago my opponent had no opportunity to wave a white flag. It wasn’t over until I said it was over, and I said it was over when the verbal excoriation I inflicted upon anyone foolish enough to challenge me had left my enemy emotionally maimed, bleeding, on psychic life-support.
But that was then.
As we grow and as we age we should change. I know entirely too many people who never changed. They are, in their elderly years, every bit as shallow, self-deceiving, and foolish as they were in their young years. The ancient saying rings truer than ever: There’s no fool like an old fool.
As time rolls on and we keep passing the same symbolic McDonald’s over and over again, sooner or later we need to pull over, take stock, realize we’re making a mistake, and ask for directions. Of course, that involves embracing a teachable spirit and the willingness to suck up some pride, which many people are unwilling to do.
For reasons known only to them, they believe driving (or living) in the same destructive circles for a lifetime is far more dignified than admitting that somewhere, something went wrong…and making it right.
To watch them hold their heads high, their backs stiff, and their jaws like implants of jutting steel, you absolutely know they think they’re actually pulling it off and convincing the world to buy into their farce.
I read about an emperor who thought the same thing. It took one honest voice to show the silly old fool for exactly what he was: A silly old fool who never learned to hear, to yield, to bend, to learn. His vanity meant more to him than truth, even when the collision between the two left him exposed to an entire town of mocking eyes. v Truth is important. Truth is really vital. But don’t ask God for it unless you’re ready to look at it and to look at yourself in its unflattering light. It hurts. It’s necessary, but so are booster shots and those hurt, too.
Once you learn to see and accept the truth of yourself, enact the required changes, heave up the toxic pride, learn to face your endless, monotonous wrongness right in the eye and say, “I yield.” Then, some profound things begin to happen.
First, comes the peace. No more daring the world to put up its dukes.
There are people who love to argue. They argue for the sake of arguing, for the sake of causing discord, for the sake of listening to themselves talk. They call this passion for dissension a “love of debate.”
Well, I grew up with someone like this and I didn’t call his unrelenting browbeating a “love of debate.” I called it “manipulative bullshit thrust upon the unwilling and disinterested as a way of controlling conversation and bullying the less able into helpless submission.”
I was easily engaged in these little games because I had been trained to be easily engaged in them. Imagine my shock, several years ago, when just such an atmosphere of disharmony swirled around me with its super-charged anger and barely-harnessed aggression, and I had no response at all, save polite boredom. You want to argue? Argue. You want to talk with me? I’ll be in my office, reading. I don’t give a tinker’s damn about your argument, your position, or the chaos you cause. The majority of my life has already passed. I don’t intend to spend the rest of it listening to a bunch of insecure buffoons trying to out-shout each other.
I’ve changed. I prefer quiet and deep conversation. I prefer to learn what your soul has to teach me. I prefer to play in the den with my granddaughter and let the party upstairs churn on without me.
My granddaughter is a lot more interesting.
There was a time when I felt certain that logic, common sense, and evidence was all I needed to make a strong case that might cause someone to see a situation the way I saw it. But over and over—with some people—it became a case of me pointing at a red circle and saying, “See? It’s red,” and someone else glancing over and replying, “It’s not red. That’s dark orange.”
After years of genuine confusion on my part as to why I could not clearly articulate myself to save my life, it finally became clear. The “redness” of a thing or a situation isn’t the issue at all. The issue is what people want to see. Reality and truth are demoted to appreciated conveniences while personal preferences and prejudices ascend to and stubbornly maintain heights formerly enjoyed only by the hard sciences.
“People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.” He was a wise man, that Francis Bacon.
I no longer feel compelled to convince anyone of anything. It’s called being peaceful, being quiet inside, and –after so so many years—learning the truth of the holy prophet who said, “In quiet and in confidence shall be your strength.” Smart guy, that Isaiah.
Growing older means growing up. It means seeing the truth of yourself and bracing yourself for the truth of others. It means stepping deliberately away from relationships that are emotionally or spiritually septic. It means seeing the flaws of a beloved friend or child or relative and thinking, “We are both broken. Let us be gentle with each other.”
The passing of time also teaches us how to see the lie in another’s eyes or hear it in another’s voice and be able to make a calm decision about the importance of exposing those lies. Who will it help? No one? Then let it go. So often it really is wisest to remain silent and let the conscience do its own talking. People can (and DO!) ignore me. Hard to ignore one’s own conscience, though, isn’t it?
The point is that I have already lived half my life. I’m flattering myself. I’ve already lived well OVER half my life. Let’s say this is the halfway point, where I stand right now. I can assure you, the second half will be very different. I will not be getting younger, I will be getting older. The first half was of youth and beauty. The second half will be of AARP and unforgiving age. During the first half, I fell in love and became a lover and had babies and went to school and tried desperately to keep my balance amid the endless chaos that throbbed painfully around me. The second half will end sadly…maybe even tragically.
But this I do know: My daughter was right, which is no real surprise. She is often right. I am not the same person I was ten years ago, and for that I thank God.
The hollowness of being right or winning or outwitting an opponent is meaningless to me, now. Now, I seek solitude, I seek good conversation over a glass of wine, I seek the true heart of a true friend, and I seek the unpretentious laughter of my granddaughters.
I seek wisdom. May God grant an aging warrior that one thing. Wisdom.
© Camille Moffat 2008
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