Monday, August 24, 2009

Deadly Older Students

Proverbs 20:29 reads: The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is gray hair.

This saying of ancient Israel contrasts the strength and virility of youth with the experience and wisdom of age. It does not appear to value one over the other, merely to point out the unique advantages possessed by each. In our youth-obsessed culture though, the advantages of age are often less celebrated. Looks and shape are lauded less loudly than perception and discernment. Rather than idolizing the fleeting beauty of perfect skin, might we not appreciate the life lessons gained along with a few wrinkles? Instead of constantly coloring hair to cover the gray, might we - now and then - extol the seasoned strands of our learned elders?

This contrast was often driven home in kung fu. Over time I often observed that "wisdom in the Art" was more valuable than the mere speed or strength of younger students. Though the younger belts had the flexibility, stamina and quickness to perform noteworthy feats in the Art, the older students had the patience, fluidity and panache to execute movements more effectively. Though we were not a tournament-based Art, we once had an in-house tournament which I judged according to artistic execution (not merely contact points). Though this made the judging somewhat subjective, I was doing all the judging and using each "point" as a teachable moment. When the younger students sparred with the older ones, I observed something very interesting. The younger ones danced about in a jittery fashion, trying to throw their opponent off, distract him or gain an opening through feint and speed. However, the older students often gained the advantage and exploited it by being patient, not moving, waiting for the erratic youth to over-extend themselves or misjudge their stepping. The older students had gained more "wisdom" in the Art, and thus were more effective, using energy better and more often winning the match. All involved learned a lot that day; me included.

The younger, faster, stronger student can be quite dangerous; but the older, wiser, patient student can be deadly.

I reflect on this principle in specific application to my marriage. We recently celebrated 16 years together. How is it that our marriage is so much better now than we dreamed in might be in our youth? By what principle has our relationship grown to a level unimagined when we had been married only two, three or five years?

I'm not sure what to call it, but it is undoubtedly tied to the same principle that helped my older students best the younger ones. Over time, an economy of motion is combined with knowledge about people. This is then fused with patience to allow things to unfold before acting rashly. In like manner that the older students were deadly in skill, so also the older marriage is more fulfilling than the younger one. This is a great mystery, but it seems all aspects of marriage are made more dynamic, fulfilling and meaningful with age. Consider the "trinity of attraction" (spiritual, mental/emotional and physical) that a couple experiences and then grows in; are not all of these areas developed over time into an intimacy the young cannot fathom?

Of course, age is no guarantor of wisdom. Many of us have observed the fifty year old "adolescent," and think "O, what a pathetic specimen." However, there indeed remains those skills that only the years will offer. They emerge by no other means than through crucibles of life potent enough to produce the blessed wrinkles, the glorious gray head and steely eyes that perceive far more than can be taken in by the naked eye. Such aging brings blessings to marriage that the young can only speak about longingly, dreaming of such joys. Hence the oft repeated phrase by couples in love, "I want to grow old with you."

No comments: