Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/01/2011

“Let Me Go, Lover” – or, Has this turned into a blog for old people?

Sometimes a sentence from the Bible gets stuck in my head—the same way “Let Me Go, Lover” or “It Was an Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” or the first movement of the Chopin Concerto No. 1 in E Minor does. At the moment it’s Genesis 3:9. 

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 

Everyone gets tunes stuck in their mind, but why on earth a Bible verse? The weird little anthem we sang in University Choir, “Good Lord, Shall I Ever Be the One,” is an annoyance that gets stuck my mind. I made the mistake years ago of looking up the Genesis story it’s based on—God looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden—so every time the anthem plays interminably, I think: Genesis. 

Sometimes I’m embarrassed by what’s swirling in my mind. “Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini?” Really! My friend who can play from memory, upon request, any movement of any Beethoven piano sonata (or the entire work) surely has more sophisticated and intellectual stuff stuck in his mind. 

Anyone too young to remember “Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” probably doesn’t receive forwarded e-mails making fun of the elderly. They’re silly and unsophisticated and, well, just plain dumb. But we all know there’s truth behind every attempt at humor. 

Most sages are old people. . . Wisdom does not reside in our libraries or in our university curriculums or in the Internet, although the arcane markings of wisdom can be found in these places. Wisdom is a human capacity that can only be fully manifested by individual human beings. Most people with the capacity to be wise are older people, and unfortunately in our culture, we seldom ask older people to be wise for us (1).  

Because I’m not an old person, I’m not wise. When I was a teenager, I considered anyone the age I am now to be old. When I was in graduate school, too. And five years ago. Social Security is for old people, not for me. 

At fifty-three I was beginning my current teaching position. I lived with my partner and had passed my qualifying exams to write my dissertation for my second PhD (not!). At fifty-three I felt as if I was beginning a new life. I was on top of the world. Or far enough up the side that I could look down on most of it. And then in 2002, things began happening. Within five years, four of the most important people in my life died—and two of my best friends, and there were these idiotic wars going on, and a couple of personal disasters happened, and I made a couple of almost ruinous decisions, and suddenly the top of the world seemed a long way off. 

Atchely (like many others) observes that 

Spirituality is a popular topic now. For example, as of October 2007, listed 130,595 book titles dealing with spirituality. People over 40 are primary consumers of literature, workshops, retreats, and personal growth programs concerning spirituality. “Spiritual life” is a major focus and motivator for large numbers of the people gerontologists seek to study, serve, and design programs and policies for (2).  

Last night I was too tired to check the assignments my students had submitted (which was what I was “supposed” to do), so I checked out PBS’s program about the Greely Expedition, the tragic (the absurd) attempt of Americans to get closer to the North Pole than anyone ever had. The expedition was just plain stupid—the result of arrogance—and I couldn’t sit through the program. I don’t like “food-chain” programs much these days, either—magnificent leopards killing helpless antelope. I don’t care how natural and eco-friendly they are. Something has shifted in me. Something has become gentler.  

I keep asking myself, “Where are you?” 

“Meditate again and again” on death, insists the renowned Tibetan scholar Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419), “until you have turned your mind away from the activities of this life, which are like adorning yourself while being led to the execution ground” (3 ).  

What has shifted in me is neither that I am (or consider myself to be) “old,” nor that I’m preoccupied with death. What has shifted seems to be hope—the hope of discovering my true self and my true relationship to—to what? Reality? The Universe? What? Perhaps it’s simply the hope of discovering what I need to be in relationship with. I’m not looking for a new religion—or any religion—but I’m curious that in spite of their  

. . . two radically different perspectives both Islam and Buddhism agree that the central human predicament is not death but the unsatisfactoriness that results from our identification with a self that hankers for the things of this world . . . (4) 

Perreira explains because of that  hankering 

. . . we generally go about our lives under the pretext that we can expect to enjoy a long and healthy life. To maintain this fantasy, we plunge ourselves into the pursuit of pleasure, wealth, and prestige and, in the process, become so “engrossed” we fail to recognize how brief and ephemeral these frivolities are in actuality. . . it is the failure to penetrate the veil of ignorance that keeps us from knowing the true nature of the self (5).  

With any luck grace at all that hankering is what’s shifting in me. Perhaps it’s just part of what happens naturally when you get to a certain age. Those ridiculous songs from the ‘50s may, in fact, be replaced in my mind by music I really want to hear, and I’ll become one of those old sages with the capacity to be wise.  

Or, perhaps I’ll be like Father William, perennially standing on his head. 

‘In my youth’, Father William replied to his son, 
    ‘I feared it might injure the brain; 
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
   Why, I do it again and again’ (6).
(1) Atchley, Robert C. “Spirituality, Meaning, and the Experience of Aging.” Generations 32.2 (2008): 12-16.
(2) Atchely, ibid.
(3) The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Vol. One: The Lamrim Chenmo. Joshua W. C. Cutler, Editor-in-Chief, Guy Newland, ed. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2000, 160. Quoted in: Perreira, Todd LeRoy. ““Die before you die”: Death Meditation as Spiritual Technology of the Self in Islam and Buddhism.” Muslim World 100.2/3 (2010): 247-267.
(4) Perreira, ibid. 
(5) Perreira, ibid.
(6) Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Project Gutenberg. gutenberg,org. April 15, 2005. Web. 1 Feb. 2011.



%d bloggers like this: