Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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63? Could Be My Lucky Year! Sunday musings…1/8/2023

1 Concubine. Hard shelled porcupine. Dunno why, just love this one.

2 Flaneur. One who wanders. Specifically in some definitions, a French wanderer. The French Surrealists were known to ride the trolley to its terminus just to see where they ended up.

Again, don’t really know why I like this one, either.

3 Qualia. The internal perception of sensation. For example, how you perceive the first taste of that 30 year old Bordeaux your wife, daughter, and son-in-law got you as part of your surprise birthday wine tasting.

I know what that means, I just didn’t know that’s what delicious was called.

3 63. Yup, last Saturday was my 63rd birthday. Are you like me? Do you look at a particular age number and play around with it. Try to find some significance in your age at any given moment? For example, when I was 61, a prime number, I told everyone who asked (and quite a few who didn’t!) that being 61 meant that I was in the prime of my life. A bit of a stretch, I will grant you.

And 63? Seems rather unimpressive on first blush, eh? Ah, but don’t discount my number quite so quickly. 9 x 7 = 63. The number nine is a lucky number in Japan I am told, and seven is lucky pretty much everywhere else. That’s a lot of luck in one number! I’m going with 63 being my lucky year.

I mean, after last year and all…

4 Enough. So, how am I gonna approach this upcoming year now that the calendar has turned for me? Most folks do the whole evaluate and adjust thing for New Year’s. I know it’s only a week later, but I try to use that week to take my own pulse as it were. As a way to do this each year I return to a little thought experiment that measures, at least for me, whatever declines I may have experienced, and those gains that I have (hopefully) made.

You are given the option of taking a pill that will halt the aging process. At what age would you decide that the balance of physical prowess and mental acuity, and age-begotten wisdom, was optimized?

Each year after a certain point that is different for everyone, each human begins to experience an inexorable decline in their physicality. Strength, speed, endurance, balance. Pretty much all of our physical attributes will show a net decrease over time. In a similar way, we become less “sharp” mentally. We may still maintain possession of our memories, our internal hard drive if you will, but we begin to experience slower access to them. Our computational abilities decline as well. Now, to be sure, this is not a straight-line decline, not like an airliner on the glide path. It’s more like descending through a rolling hillside on the way to the valley below: both physical and mental prowess can be enhanced, at least temporarily, through purposeful action.

On the flip side of this we have what we would all understand as “wisdom”. Wisdom is something more than simply experience. It’s more like, I dunno, actionable experience I guess. It’s a kind of knowing, a confidence leavened by compassion, in the act of decision making. If you are fortunate your wisdom is a source of comfort for some of your people. Having you, and your wisdom, makes their lives better. Along with this comes a deeper type of happiness that you hopefully gain by ever closer relationships with those same people. Family, for sure, but close, loyal friends as well. Another year has hopefully brought you deeper, more positive interpersonal relationships that result from your wisdom (As an aside, I plan to read the latest findings from the famous Harvard study on happiness over a lifetime: The Good Life by Waldinger and Schulz).

One very important aspect of that age-begotten wisdom is the ability to take a gimlet-eyed view of the decline. Blake Crouch in “Upgrade”: “If we all had perfect memory, we would all grieve the older version of who we used to be, the way we grieve departed friends.” Grieve yes. Pine, no. To pine for that earlier version is to regret not figuratively taking that time-stop pill earlier. Our wisdom will hopefully allow us to take the occasional trip back in time for the pleasure of watching a less-wise but almost surely more exciting version of ourselves.

Is this the year that I would find myself in that “optimized” state? Remember, to make that call you would necessarily have decided that you have peaked on the wisdom thing. Perhaps gone a year without gaining any significant actionable experience. 2022 was a tough year for me. Without question it was the year that brought me more physical decline than any other as far as I can recall. I learned what chronic pain meant. I got a glimpse of the kind of inward vision that is necessary to endure under that cloud. Those positive interpersonal relationships can become less give-and-take and more one-dimensional.

But there was wisdom to be gained there, as well. In that space filled with physical decline what I found was compassion. Unfailing, unflinching, continuous compassion streaming toward me from my people. The same from the many folks with whom I have only the most superficial relationships. But I also felt a greater ability to feel compassion myself. To extend compassion not only within my closest circles but toward those who simply orbit my being. Would this have happened if I hadn’t gotten better? If the pain had not subsided and I’d reached a new, dramatically reduced physical state? Meh, who knows. Blessedly the pain went away and I am once again climbing one of those rolling hills back to a slightly greater physical acumen.

But I DID learn. I am wiser, and will be able to apply that wisdom in any number of ways, with any number of my people, because I learned more about the importance of a compassion that can extend beyond your innermost circles. I am still making meaningful gains on that side of the ledger, ones that feel like they are greater in magnitude than whatever declines I may have experienced in physical prowess or mentation. It is apparent that wisdom is so valuable that to stop the clock now seems like I would be missing out. That I’m not quite yet optimized.

Ah, it’s all a game anyway, right? My little thought experiment. The aging process proceeds unabated. The best we can do is fight to slow whatever declines are in the cards such that we can benefit from what we can hope will be ever-increasing wisdom. Who knows if my calculus is accurate. If I’ve actually gained greater wisdom than any prowess or acuity I’ve lost. Anyone who knows me would smile and chuckle and question if I am capable of ever recognizing that tipping point.

But one must wonder, even if one has the perspicacity to make that call, is it wise to do so?

I’m happy to begin another year, and to see you, once again, next week…

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