This is it. The news has reached me. I am on final approach – if lucky – and no other. Sobering to be pushing 67. But somehow I am not sober enough. Not from the way I carry on.
For example, I waltz into my local Jewish congregation for a brief event. And complain of being mystified. I don’t know Hebrew. Have forgotten half the prayers and songs. And, yes, this will be remedied with the availability of the van. Still, Jane asks the logical question: why not study a bit? I mean, just a bit can’t hurt, right?
Similarly, the Menlo Park Chorus continues to bewilder me with its baffling array of notes, vis-à-vis music. And I really am looking forward to visiting my cousin Bob outside of Paris…but don’t happily anticipate fumbling around with the language. Then, on the more domestic scale, there is the car. My Dodge has all sorts of voice controls…which are currently outside of my control. Because, like all of these topics, one has to learn.
Let’s run a quick inventory. Judaica. Music. French. Along with some slight mastery of a new car. Not to mention a perennial struggle with my MacBook computer.
And I tell you, flatly, no. I am too old for any of this. Certainly, I am too old for all of it. There is not enough time. The latter is not on my side. I am running out of it, things dissipating to zero.
And yet the University of California offers evening programs of “Lifelong Learning.” An underlying concept that has my wholehearted support. We never stop learning, I would say. Except for me. For me, I would say that there isn’t time.
Except, truth be told, I have been saying this all my life. In the seventh grade I was plopped down in an upstate New York school, in the middle of the year. I was enrolled in a Spanish class, this somehow being obligatory. And since the school year was well under way – it was January – it seemed impossible to catch up. I sat through the classes dumbfounded, falling behind…and giving up. I flunked. My June report card said “F” in Spanish. I didn’t care, or so I told myself. I was heading back to California, the shame of failure behind me.
In retrospect, the adults in my life should have intervened. In concert with the Spanish teacher, we should have worked out a plan. Clearly, I wasn’t ready to do this on my own. But now I have to. No, I take that back. I want to.
It amounts to a plan for failing. Okay, this description is punitive. But it will do. Certainly, it is a plan for doing something incompletely. Learning a bit. Only completing part of what might be deemed successful. Of course, there could be surprises. The learned amount could be less than a bit. Or more. And so what? Why does this look like failure? Or have I never come to grips with life’s incompleteness? Surely I’ve had every lesson in this area. By now I should know.
Unless knowing has always been too hard. From my injury at age 21, the future often looked empty and disappointing…to the point of terrifying. Life was going to leave me behind. Failure. And despite the fact that I managed to cram quite a bit into my quadriplegic years, I have lost quite a bit too.
Mount San Gorgonio. I never climbed it, never went to the top. Worse, I stared at it throughout my childhood wanting to. What was up there?
Is this life? Perhaps someone with a serious loss can never know. Maybe that’s the defining uncertainty.
I hope I find the courage to stumble forward, a smattering of Torah, bad French and misread music dogging my every step. For now, though, it’s unclear. For now I hope.