The Owl of Minerva

The owl as a symbol of wisdom comes from its link to Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom.  The philosopher Hegel tells us that this owl flies only at dusk.  At the end of the day, at the inch-by-inch denouement of our lives, the owl of Minerva takes flight.

At least that’s the idea.

The passing of years should, indeed, make us wiser but I have had the opportunity to watch more than a few people advance into dusk no wiser than when they were young, and foolishness was the proper order of things.  Hence the saying, “There’s no fool like an old fool.”

I’m beginning to think Hegel was toying with us and that the owl of Minerva tucks its head under its wing as the sun sets and says, “To hell with all of ya.”

To be fair, we live in a culture that adulates the young and the clueless. I can cope with youth and naiveté.  I’ve been there and it cost me a fortune.  To be specific, it cost me myself in ways that are irretrievable.  What’s done is done.

But here I am, passed what would reasonably be considered the middle of my lifespan, and looking down the road to where it all will someday end.  I am not morose about this. I do not glance over my shoulder at what was and wistfully long to return to the days of my youth.  Let me be blunt: My youth sucked.  My early adult years were not much of an improvement. My primary adult years catapulted me into over-drive hyper-suck, and I would not go back if you held a loaded gun to my head.

I sit here in this house on this mountain surrounded by the glistening evidence of our worst snowstorm in 100 years and think, “Peace.  At last.”

What I have learned, I learned painfully. I learned that bitterness, hatred, and resentment ages a person.  I learned this by looking into the withered faces of people who are bitter, full of hatred, and consumed with resentment.  Also, these same people usually drink.  A lot.

I have learned that Francis Bacon was (predictably) correct when he said, “People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.”

Boy howdy.

I have learned that gentle quiet soothes my soul when I finally stop caring who believes what.  How is it my job to spare stubborn people from making fools of themselves?  There is an enormous sense of relief in letting go; in saying, “Do as you will.  Think as you will.”

Then, all I feel is pity, and pity doesn’t cost me a thing.

I have learned to let people be who they are without getting all in a guts about it.  I can’t change anyone so what does all that angst get me?

Prilosec OTC, once a day.  That’s what.

I have learned that the sure-fire antidote for the scourge of bad family is the love of good friends.  I have learned that good friends have beautiful eyes.  I don’t know why this is, but it is.  Always.  Look into the eyes of your good friends and you’ll see what I mean.

I have learned that wisdom comes only in quiet, in stillness, in the uninterrupted filtering of words and experiences.  In these kinds of meditations, you’ll notice things you never realized, before.  Pictures come into focus.  What never made sense now makes perfect sense.  Those hidden things and hidden events become outlined in neon green.

I have learned that I have less to say, but I see more and hear more and understand more than I used to.  I have learned that opting to step away from the relentless arguing about every damned thing was easily one of the most important and momentous decisions of my life.

I have learned that people who argue and bicker constantly because they “love a good debate” are not merely liars.  They are also assholes.

News Flash:  You do NOT love a good debate.  What you love is the sound of your own insipid voice and the thrill you get from watching other people become frustrated with you and give up.

News Flash #2:  No, you didn’t win.  When people look at you with disgust and contempt, you did not win an argument or a “debate.”  You lost respect and integrity.

News Flash #3: Be nervous and watch where you step.  Someone much smarter and much faster with an even greater lust for victory than yours will eventually grind you to dust.  Publicly.  I know because I’ve seen it done.  I didn’t grin, but I wanted to.

I have learned that, if it’s poisonous, put it down.  This goes for spiders, snakes, and family members.  I have learned that if you absolutely insist on holding spiders, snakes, and some family members, you’ll get bitten and have no one to blame but yourself.

I have learned that if you feel unhappy, hurt, emotionally weak and ill, take stock of how you nourish your soul.  If you don’t want to feel so awful all the time, stop drinking out of a psychological/emotional toilet.  Or is it REALLY news to you that toilets are full of disease and sickness? You honestly didn’t know this?

Tsk, tsk.

You know it now, so stop it.  Nourish your soul on the laughter of good friends.  Nourish your soul on the endless joke-with-no-discernable-punch-line told to you by your three-year-old granddaughter.

Speaking of grandchildren, sit with them and watch TV sometime.  Maybe—if God loves you—your five-year-old granddaughter will lean close to you and murmur ever so softly, “I remember you, even when I’m not here. I remember your face.” Then, you can turn, look into her exquisite, pale blue eyes, and know that no one, ever, at any time, has said such a life-altering, life-affirming thing to you…and no one ever will, either.

Nourish your soul.  If you have no grandchildren, more’s the pity.  I highly recommend them.

When mine come to visit and their mommy puts them to bed, I sit in the room with them, in the darkness, in a chair, rocking slowly back and forth.  So I am with them, listening to them whisper and softly telling them, “Shhh, now.  Time for rest.”  I want them to know—to always know—that their Grandmommy loved them and sat with them in the dark so they would feel peace and feel safe.  I want them to remember the sound of my voice asking, “Can you see the branches of the trees outside the window?  The little squirrels are going to bed, too.  Their mommies are tucking them in and giving them kisses.”

I want them to remember.

I nourish my aging soul by passing down memories to those I love more than life.

I have learned that my children are stronger than I thought they were.  This bodes well for me because I have long since passed the phase in my life where I get any sort of maternal thrill out of carrying them.  I mothered competent people who know how to handle their own lives and this is good news for one very obvious reason.  They communicate with me because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to.

That pleases me…endlessly.

I have learned that, of all the seasons of my life, I feel most comfortable here.  This is where I belong.  I am, right now, more genuinely me than I have ever been.  I feel as though I have been waiting, waiting, all my life to be here, at this age, at this time, knowing these things.

May I never again pass up an opportunity to learn, to see, to understand.  May my each new step be firm and deliberate, leaving the perpetual bumbling of my youth behind.  When a young woman stumbles, it’s embarrassing.  When a woman passed her youth stumbles, it can be pretty serious business.

And may I always keep a keen watch for the owl of Minerva, waiting for the benediction of its wing brushing against my forehead, and blessing it each time it passes.

© Camille Moffat  2010

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