This week, I walked one group of students through a well-wrought essay by Paul Auster of the New Yorker. "Why write?" was the alluring title. He recounts a monumental disappointment in his very young years regarding an unrealized autograph from the great Willie Mays. The Say Hey kid just stood there, waiting. The problem? Nobody had a pencil. "Sorry, kid. Ain't got no pencil, can't give no autograph." Heartbroken, the poor little guy sobbed the whole way home. From that day on, he made a habit carrying a pencil at all times. He explains:
"if nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there's a pencil in your pocket,
there's a good chance that one day you'll feel tempted to use it.
As I like to tell my children, that's how I became a writer."
Well, after clarifying quite a bit of vocabulary regarding that mysterious American diversion known as baseball, my students seemed as altogether charmed by the story as I had been (cue to teacher to keep digging - heads and hearts are wide open). What about you, I said, "why _____?" Why teach? Why cook? Why study logarithms? Why play football? And so they have been duly charged with the task of filling in the blank with one driving passion, and speak about it in front of the class in two weeks. I cannot wait to see what they come up with.
But I have asked them, somewhat unfairly, to do what I find impossible. That is, I cannot seem to narrow my purposes down to one glorious endeavor. I suppose this is not uncommon. Whereas I count my blessings in this area (several hundred, at last calculation), it can feel a bit haphazard at times. Something like a pinwheel rocket - plenty of creative sparks flying about, but not a whole lot of forward movement.
Then I was online today. (Hmm. Maybe this has something to do with the lack of direction...) Anyway, AOL news is not widely known for dispensing epiphanies about life. Today, however, was a happy exception:
It is a story about centenarian Waldo McBurney, 104 and still a happy member of
So that's what I wanna be when I grow up. A centenarian. I'm not interested in any morbid, demoralizing fountains of youth...just give me the days allotted to me, whatever their number. And forget narrowing it down to one passion. I'm gonna need all of 'em over the next...oh...seventy years or so. Lord willin', that is, and the creek don't rise.
So "why grow old?"
Because the next life is secure. And as far as Waldo and I are concerned, there's no such thing as retirement.