A lazy and warm sunny afternoon, with the winter light already dimming over the horizon. My least favorite part of the day is made bearable by the spread of Sunday papers around me on the couch. When sofagirl and I shared our freezing and damp flat on Albert Square, my Sunday ritual was to trudge to the newsagent around the corner as soon as I woke up, still in my pjs, purchase both the Observer and something lighter and gossipy, croissants from the Italian bakery, and go back to bed with all this bounty and hot coffee. Our flat would turn into a mess of ink and paper until it was time to trudge back out, to the bus stop, to go catch a movie on the King’s Road or in pursuit of some other low-budget activity.
I haven’t lost the taste for ink and paper on a Sunday. Nowadays it’s the New York Sunday Times for the news and the op-eds, and the LA Times for the entertainment reporting. A piece by travel writer Pico Iyer (age 57) extols the virtues of cultivating an inner life, of looking in, after a lifetime spent traipsing around. Another op-ed by philosopher Ruth Chang (age unknown but I would say between late 40s and early 50s) aims to teach us the most efficient method of making hard choices: basically, follow your moral compass, which she describes as imagining the person we want to become.
Come on, Times, I need something more challenging here, I think, as I drop the paper. While both pieces were interesting and of inherent value, they told me nothing new. You see, I am at an age when I need new challenges to keep my brain in shape.
Then I looked at it from a different angle: it’s not that the Times is failing my appetite for new ideas, it’s that, after 52 years on the planet, I reached my own conclusions, through trial and error, experimentation, dropping the ball a number of times, a brief affair with some self-help books in my 40s, different religion affiliations in my 20s, yoga and meditation….whatever went into the hodgepodge soup of my existence, and I came out at the other end with a loose compass to help me make sense of it all. News flash: I have acquired wisdom. Of the cheapest kind maybe, not rooted in grand philosophical theories, but enough wisdom to see I have become the person I was going to become.
Still flawed, still seeking, still far from whatever cosmic truth guides the universe, still curious, and wrong more than I am ever right but finally at peace with who I have become. There all along, to counterbalance saggy arms and laugh lines with nothing funny about them, is the knowledge that I don’t need books or articles or gurus or whatever other anchor to know that living in the present is the only way to navigate treacherous waters, that making decisions based on our morality trumps two columns of pros and cons and that, in the end, we really know nothing.
This wisdom “thing” doesn’t make me immune from mistakes or from straying from the path, but it makes me laugh more often, it has released anger and it invites me to shrug things off rather than hold on. It feels pretty good.
The road to becoming who we are ends only at our ultimate destination. The job is never done. But building block after building block makes the paving of it a little bit easier, the travelling swifter. The dependency on external counsel and validation meaningless. I recently found a bookstore that will buy all the unwanted books sitting on my shelves: I have the feeling the few self-help tomes remaining will be the first to go.
Owl fabric image from modes4u
Wisdom cartoon courtesy of the New Yorker