Letter to a Young
It’s not often that a young woman decides to chat me up in a
coffee shop. But that’s what happened a few days
blonde conversing earnestly with a stranger three times her own
It was obvious she wanted something from me, but felt too uncomfortable
to ask, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it
was. I had
the feeling, as we parted company, that in some way, I had let her
Later, I figured it out. She’d been curious to know what I
about life, this old man, three score and ten. In an attempt to
make it up to her, I began writing a letter, hoping I could find some
to get it to her.
Dear Young Woman,
I realize now what you want from me. You want to know
is about, and you sense that, from the far end of the road, I should be
able to tell you something essential about the journey. I can,
I’m not sure you’ll want to hear it.
I think of the Russian poet, Yevgeny
Yevtushenko, and the first line of one of his poems:
to the young is wrong.” I don’t want to give you
polite lies, or what I think you want to hear: that life is good,
follow your dreams, expect to be rewarded in the end. The
you hear from parents, teachers and the like. I’m not a
can do that.
In fact, I’m not sure I want
tell you the truth. It wouldn’t prove useful to you. Yet I
some obligation to share what I have learned, with the caveat that it
my reality, not yours. You’ll discover your own truth
To begin with, the essence of my journey
has been finding the courage to move from illusion to reality.
wonderful dreams of my youth, of my adulthood, had to be tempered by
is possible in life - possible in my own life. It’s been a
process that has made me more human, more humble, more humane
I thought I was capable of great things.
I imagined I would create great beauty with my music, capture a special
vision of life in my writing. I believed I would enter a world of
truth and harmony when I joined a therapy commune. I expected that I
find unconditional love in my marriage.
And even before all that, I grew up
within the sheltering arms of Christianity, believing there was a
angel who protected me, saints to whom I could pray for lost objects,
favours. I loved being one of the “chosen ones”, with
of eternal happiness in heaven after I died. These were some of the
that carried me forward on my path through life. And after they
done their work, drawing me along from stage to stage, each belief was
The same can be said of dreams.
Dreams fulfilled, dreams destroyed; either way, it doesn’t
They take you out into life, after which their purpose has been
You’re left with the challenge of dealing with who you really
The process for me was one of
deflation - from a belief that I was a gifted, special being
by the Divine, to a simple human, limited in capacity, aware of my
kin to all creatures who walk - and crawl - on this Earth.
And here I am, nearing the end of my
lifespan. I ask myself if I would have been better off remaining
within the protective world of my illusions. Just as a child
have a choice about remaining in the womb; however, I didn’t have
Plus some questing side of me hungered for the truth, even though it
always what I wanted.
And yet this isn’t the whole
There is a boon given to those who are faithful to their path.
the collapse of every dream, the breaking of every illusion, I found
becoming more vulnerable, more open. And out of this
came an awakening of what I believe is the most human of all virtues,
Having suffered, been hurt, failed at so many attempts to gain
I find myself able to reach out to others in a way I never thought
- with compassion.
How to describe compassion? For
me it is an awareness that others, too, share the regret of mistakes
failures endured, loves lost. That’s what happens as we
Realizing that we all suffer helps us accept others we meet along the
And perhaps that is why my life unfolded as it did.
But there is something more that
makes age worth the struggle. Recently - not all the time, but
infrequently - I have found myself able to love. Not the romantic
love of youth, but one that can embrace all who share this
It’s a strange and wonderful phenomenon that seems to come
to those of a certain age who have lived their lives honestly,
Some might call it cosmic love; others, Christ love. Regardless,
the truth about oneself, humankind, and one’s place in the
an awesome discovery. And then to experience this ultimate gift
aging, this open heart, is a blessing of the highest order
So here I am, at the pinnacle of my
life, looking back across the distance I’ve traveled, conscious
the twists and turns and detours. To be able to reach out in love
and embrace this world as it is - that is where life has taken me, and
what for me it’s all about.
For this I sense is the ultimate
challenge. My response to this truth will be what will make me worthy
have lived for a time within the staggering beauty of Existence.
For all of this I give thanks
The Old Man You Chatted Up
PS Please drop by at http://www.myoldage.ca
Visit as a sequel. Click on: Love-Dust