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Travel and the Joys of Aging

Posted by A Colin Treadwell on 12/6/2018
Posted in: Musings From Colin Treadwell
Tags: Travel, Canada

When I was in grade school I was often in the presence of gray-haired ladies, such as school teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, den mothers, etc., who often addressed children as “dear.” At that time I gave no thought to what the word meant. It was just the way they talked. It was almost like an expletive, a sound with no definition, an ornamentation that punctuates speech, like “ya know.”

But now that I am older I understand why those women used that word. I find myself wanting to address people that way as an expression of the growing affection I feel for people I come in contact with. It reflects a depth of feeling that must be aged and mellowed. It doesn’t come overnight, but only after many years ofTravel and the Joys of Aging experience.

There is a kind of richness of understanding and appreciation that one can develop in later life. The same faculty can make travel experiences more poignant than ever before. That’s why to me the phrase “the Golden Age of Travel” is more than just a marketing slogan. There is no doubt in my mind that I appreciate many travel experiences now in a much richer way than I did as a young man.

It seems that my youthful lust for life has mellowed and expanded into an abiding love of life, of people, and a deepening sense of gratitude for the privilege of living on this beautiful planet. When someone has roamed around the planet for a good portion of one’s threescore and ten, and the farther horizon of life comes into clear view, it deepens one’s appreciation of the preciousness, as well as the fragility of life.

As your life expectancy narrows, your sense of its value increases by orders of magnitude. It seems to me that love of life increases through years of tempering experience, and is deepened through one’s encounters with hardship.

I encounter this truth over and over in literature. There is no spiritual growth without struggle. It is through suffering that one carves out greater depths of understanding and enlarges one’s capacity for joy.

The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain

I have experienced that. I do believe it’s true.

Our capacity for appreciation is expanded through both pleasure and pain, and they complement each other. Pleasurable experiences expand one’s capacity for the appreciation and enjoyment of living. But it is the tragic sense that anchors the experience, deepens its poignance and creates the perspective in which we can truly appreciate the highest values.

The finer things in life are often subtle and not discernible at first glance. As with whisky, they are often acquired tastes. Their value is not on the surface, and not always evident at the first encounter. Beauty is in the capacity of the beholder to perceive it.

It takes time, maybe most of a lifetime, to learn to fully appreciate the beauty, heroism and preciousness of life, and to learn to understand the richness, the many levels of nuance there are to appreciate when you go beyond surfaces and first impressions.

So the Golden Age of Travel is that not only because it is when people retire and have the means and opportunity to travel. It is also because that is the time of life when you have most fully developed the capacity to appreciate what you are experiencing.

When I look back on events of my earlier life I often wonder how I could have been so foolish, how I could have gone through life in such a state of obliviousness. I understand those experiences much better now than I did at the time. It shows me what is meant by the phrase “Youth is wasted on the young.”

All of the greatest experiences of beauty and pleasure I have had in my life, the sublime works of art I have seen, the stirring stories and histories I have heard, the great music I have learned to appreciate all deepen my pleasure and understanding of what I now encounter in my life. But I could not appreciate things as much as I do if I had not also experienced the tragic sense of life, which is something that happens as you come to terms with your mortality.

Everyone experiences suffering at some point. Everyone loses someone they love, experiences loss and disappointment. No one is exempt, but those experiences deepen your appreciation of the great gift of life.

Spirits in a Material World

In a materialistic culture, it’s easy to see the advantages of youth. They are primarily physical. Young people have great vitality, health and physical condition, which is increasingly enviable as you get older. 

As we lose our physical condition, it’s easy to think we are losing everything. What we gain is not as obvious. It is not physical, it’s within. It's a kind of spiritual depth, and an enlarged comprehension of life.

Living History

How much more can I appreciate the Roman Colosseum now than when I was twenty? Now when I see it, it evokes many stories and experiences that are stored in my memory bank from my whole life. They feed my imagination as I am looking at the ancient structure and envisioning what it must have been like when it was active 2,000 years ago.

A recent experience showed me this principle vividly. I stumbled unexpectedly on one of the short stories of Ernest Hemingway that I had read as a young man. And when I read it again I was surprised how much differently I experienced it than when I was young.

The story was “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” It takes place in a café where there is an old man sitting at one of the tables. He’s the last person in the café at the end of the evening, and one of the waiters wants him to leave so he can close up and go home. A second waiter feels compassion for the old man and doesn’t mind him lingering in the café. He says that some people need a clean, well-lighted place to sit, to be around people.

The story is only five pages long and is very understated. It doesn’t hit you in the face, but much of what it says by implication I missed the first time around.

When I read the story as a young man I identified with the more compassionate waiter. This time I identified with the old man, and it had a much greater impact on me. The first time I found it mildly interesting. This time I was almost moved to tears. As a young man I did not have the capacity to appreciate the depth of feeling that was in the story. I had not seen enough of life.

That same increased depth of understanding affects everything we experience. Seeing the great natural and historical sites of the world has much more impact on me now than it did when I was young.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live to an advanced age should probably not regret our lost youth, but rather be grateful not only that we got some more years to spend on this glorious planet, but also that as we matured, our capacity for the appreciation of life deepened.

And on that note I will leave you to return to your journeys, and hope that you choose travel to greatly expand your capacity for appreciation.

Your humble reporter,

A. Colin Treadwell


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