Shocked to see the total lack of response to the excellent Tinie Tempeh video I put up Thursday. I've been reciting his rhymes to myself all weekend. My wife even compared him (favorably) to The Streets--favorably! (She prefaced that by saying--correctly--that I probably wouldn't agree.) But his rhymes are clever and fun and his general attitude towards life is festive and upbeat, in a knowing ironic way. So I can relate.
Have to fly to [Southern City] this weekend for a semi-expected funeral. My grandmother was 102 years old; she'd lived a long and happy life. In recent years her medical problems had made it harder and harder to do the things she most enjoyed--working in her garden and walking in her neighborhood. So, all in all, it was probably as optimal a death as one could have. If I were speaking at the funeral, I think I'd talk about wisdom. We'd like to hope that as we get older, we all get wiser. In reality, though, I'm not sure that's the case. So the trick for those of us who are still relatively young, who are still aspiring to acquire wisdom from our elders, is to work out who actually possesses wisdom and who only thinks they do. And there's no surefire way to do this. But, one reliable signpost, I think, to indicate a person who may actually may be wise is that they still have a capacity for joy. As most people age, they tend (in general) to become less joyous. This is understandable; in some basic way life is suffering--the more we live, the more we suffer. So joy becomes, with age, more difficult. The ability to feel and express joy despite advancing age is one of the surest signs I know that the person aging has somehow gotten wisdom--and is someone therefore we should seek to learn from.
Of course, joyousness despite advancing age can often make a person seem foolish. Think of Falstaff: the greatest fool--and sage--in all of Shakespeare. His foolishness is one with his wisdom; two sides of the same coin. My grandmother, who retained a capacity for joy well into her late nineties, could also in her way seem foolish. Her entire philosophy of life could be accurately reduced to: growing tomatoes is a lot of fun. But in the time I spent with her (when I lived in Houston I used to visit her every week) I always came away feeling like she actually did know what she was talking about--that she actually had wisdom. She was alone in a house with just her maids; her husband had died more than twenty years ago, and yet despite it all she was still--in general--remarkably happy.
I hope our visits together allowed me to gain from some of her wisdom. At the very least I hope I can emulate her spirit of joyfulness. Those readers who attended my wedding (which I think is pretty much all of you) might remember the speech she gave before dinner about our relationship. In its details, it was almost entirely inaccurate. But in its underlying insight, it was completely true. It may have been the best speech of my whole wedding. Now the speaker is no more. But the words, I hope, in some way will endure.