The actor, Dustin Hoffman, now 75, recently made the observation that “as the body becomes more limited, the soul expands.” Life, he proclaims should be about “finding that thing that the very idea of just fills you.” (“Dustin Calls the Shots. Finally.” By Meg Grant, AARP Magazine, Feb/March 2013 pg. 51) Being older than Hoffman, I concur with his perception. As we age, life becomes more contemplative. I’m not talking about having sad thoughts of death. I’m talking about a celebration of life, that time when those of us of a certain age can take risks because we’re confident our character is durable. At six, our world threatens to fall apart if a playmate neglects to invite us to a birthday party. At 76, we know we can survive rejection, failure and, yes, the knowledge of our mortality.
We retain one attribute with the very young, however: curiosity. We are constantly asking the question, “Why?” But unlike them, our quest is more than idle curiosity. We seek the key to the understanding of ourselves and our purpose.
Science warns us there is some folly in this quest — which may explain why Shakespeare’s wise men are often fools. The more we uncover about ourselves, the more we learn how many secrets the brain keeps from us. Studies teach us that “we are aware of a tiny fraction of the thinking that goes on in our minds.” (“Ask the Brains” Scientific American Mind, March/April 2013 pg.72) Worse, most of our thoughts drift up to us, less from our volition, than from the soup of our unconscious.
What is it “to know?” Plato asked the question centuries ago. The gift of old age is that we are free to grapple with the question.
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