I’m slowly reading my way into the way into the nineteenth century essayist, poet, abolitionist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s way of thinking and writing. Amongst many others, Thoreau was to influence Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Leo Tolstoy, Walt Whitman, and Marcel Proust. I was intrigued to find the following two quotes within a few writing breaths of each other from a thirty-year old Thoreau:
‘One many may doubt if the wisest man has learned any thing of absolute value by living. Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies the experience, and they are only less young than they were.’*
‘Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the worlds of the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology! – I know of no reading of another’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.’*
The more we understand that much of our knowledge will be superseded, as will our applications, the more we are useful both now and for those who follow us. Oldness and youngness is not about age. It is about our willingness to keep exploring the one life we have the chance to live with curiosity and adventure in their souls, knowing that we only have time to engage with a fraction of reality. Many who are old on the outside, live young – living more from everyone’s future than their own past. And there are too many who are young but are old, never journeying to the future themselves, so allowing others to shape their present.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell writes about how:
‘You’ve got to say yes to this miracle of life as it is, not on the condition that it follow your rules. Otherwise, you’ll never get through to the metaphysical dimension.’**
Explorers define themselves by constantly opening their minds, their hearts, and their wills. In these these things they find their youthfulness. This is what those who are older in years have as their best to pass on: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.