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Thirty years more beautiful

Dear Joanie,

It’s been thirty years since I saw you last. I was stunned at how beautiful you’ve become. What was once the buff glow of youth has turned into a loveliness that reflects your inner being. Sometimes, at least you tell me, you fear getting old, age is creeping up on you, and your body is not what it once was. You have nothing at all to worry about.

In these moments of greatest fear and doubt, we are not good judges of our own conditions. The perspective of human selfishness—a survival mechanism, I think—comes out in the moments when we feel most threatened. We are dying. Things outside our conscious selves are evolving, changing, becoming. We, too, are altering ourselves and being altered. Our personal development and maturation shape and reshape us. All the time, the world does its duty in that process of personal change.

But we don’t feel our own changes and shifts. They are so incremental that we understand them only in relation to long periods of time. We see ourselves always in hindsight, and only understand how and who we are in comparison to the people we were. That’s all right. We need human society because we cannot assess our own conditions. We have a healthy need for others. To keep us in perspective and out of the business of self-destruction, we sometimes have to listen to what they say about us.

In my classes in American History, I always bring up the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle early in the semester. I realize that to apply an idea from one science to another, or from a science to a humanity give rise to the false analogy. But I use Heisenberg’s idea wholly within the realm of personal, human history: The closer I understand the arc of my own life, the less precisely I understand the present moment, and vice versa.

So, Joanie, lofty? Maybe. But think about it in less personal terms. We call an age post-modern only after we understand that it’s occurred. When the post-modern happened—and it may have only been a few seconds of time or the after a long, gray area of transition—we didn’t know that it was occurring. When we understood it had occurred, then it was past. When post-modern was understood, it then influenced an entire realm and era of society, politics, culture, and economics. That is, it became “post-moderism,” a belief system that shaped our future actions.

This reflexive relationship applies to us, you and me, in very personal ways and with regard to our lives. Age is relative to the understanding of time’s passage. It is not fixed. Aging of stone, for instance, or the cat, a flea, an elephant, or Bristlecone and Huon Pines. Yes, time passes. Yes, things get old in relation to themselves. But, no, age is not in and of itself good or bad, beneficial or harmful, happy or sad.

Life is a great adventure. We have nothing to compare our lives to but that of ourselves and other people. We do not know non-life or afterlife (at least no one has convinced me that “seeing the light” is anything more than good imaginative fun or a physical recounting of the processes of death). As such, Life is unique to every person. Not in the moral sense, that can be debated and often is in relation to war, for instance, when the enemy dead are as anonymous as plastic spoons. It is unique in that this Life is the only one we will h have that will be just like this. Every other life we might have, past or future, was, is, or will be different.

That means, of course, that we ought to see and understand the uniqueness of our present fear of aging and dying, fear that the best of our lives has passed (which shows we understand that this is the only Life we have like this), misery over aching feet and backs and brains, and all those other symptoms of aging and dying. This is the only time in my Life I will endure this misery just like this. As with all things, this misery will pass—it will shift into a different kind of suffering or it will end. Thus, I can appreciate and, perhaps, enjoy this misery in its uniqueness.

Of course, this kind of intuition does not make suffering any less painful. It makes suffering endurable, able to be learned from, able to be applied in service to others.

I cannot give you relief from worry of aging. I can tell you the truth (even if you may know and just be fishing for it) from my perspective. Three decades ago, when you were twenty-two and I was just a dumb kind just out of high school, I could never have comprehended just how beautiful you would be today. At the same time, I cannot now imagine how much more beauty you will gain in the future. I suspect that physical beauty comes not just from the body. I only know that I’m very, very lucky to have run into you again and to have my own cup refreshed.

Always in good faith and good wishes,

Patrick

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