“To everything there is a season, and a time and purpose for everything under heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
September is here, and with Labor Day, Summer is unofficially over. Autumn can’t be far behind. Autumn, here in New England where I live, is one of the most eventful times of the year. The leaves have already begun to change, and nature is slowly and subtly beginning to do what it always does. Cooler mornings, changing sounds, later sunrises and earlier sunsets. Everything is changing, including us humans.
I’ve always associated Fall with two significant things in my life-school and football. As a New Englander, I am a fan of the Patriots and, as a former player, cold induced aches and pains bring back memories of every tackle that probably were not quite as vicious as I recollect. The rest of the country may not be able to relate to the Patriots, but all Americans can relate to the anticipation and excitement of the beginning of school. I’m more aware of this excitement than most people. Eighteen plus years as a student and thirty-three as a high school teacher have conditioned me to react to September like a Pavlovian dog. The season starts with the back-to-school sales on clothing, stationery supplies, and accessories that every kid needs for school. Remember that lunchbox you got before third grade started? Those must have items that “all the kids have?” Remember the anticipation of meeting your new teacher and the excitement of learning new subjects, being exposed to new challenges, and participating in new activities?
“Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a constant state of learning.”-Bruce Lee
Most of us had a love/hate affair with school. We would never admit that we liked being there, and eagerly looked forward to the day when we would complete it. For some it was high school, others college undergraduate, and postgraduate for others. Our desire to complete our formal education need not be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The reality is that all humans have a fundamental need to learn, take on new challenges, stretch their intellectual and physical limits, and continue to grow. Even people who try not to be challenged by life will eventually find it challenging. Life happens, with both the good and bad, and, whether we know it or not, we are in a constant state of learning. The human intellect makes us, by definition, lifelong learners. Life can be more meaningful, and less painful, if it is accepted and embraced as one, continuous, educational experience.
When was the last time you consciously sought out some new things to learn? What’s the last foreign language you tried to learn? Musical instrument? Sport or exercise routine? Formal class that you took? Book that you read? Are there any things that you “wish I learned or studied years ago?” How often do you use the words “too late” and “too old now?” Formal education would have been a better experience for all of us if we could choose the subjects we studied and the extracurricular events that we participated in. As adults, we all have these options. With the right attitude, we can continue to grow and thrive right up to the day that we die. Medical science has redefined what aging means. Each of us needs to discover our own personal definition.
There are hundreds of things you can do and get involved in that can mimic that September excitement that you felt as a kid. Here’s a few ideas:
⦁ Find some new activities. Are you really “too old” for yoga, tai chi, martial arts, Pilates, ballroom dancing, or the gym? A visit to any places where these activities are practiced will show you that the answer is probably not. Adults of all ages participate in these activities, some well into their senior years.
⦁ Take a class in some activity, topic, or academic subject that always been interested in. Most states have pretty vibrant vocational school systems that hava hands-on activities that are useful, interesting, and fun. In some states, community colleges offer free tuition to citizens over a certain age. Many major universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, record their classroom lectures and make them available to the public online for free. You “attend” all the class lectures for a semester online through video. No test taking, no pressure, just access to interesting information and intellectual stimulation available when you are.
⦁ Make some new friends. One of the more exciting aspect of returning to school was who the “new kids” were. Finding out where they were from, what they like to do, what their favorite music was, and why they talked differently, was all part of your developing a social awareness that people were different. If you’re someone who finds it difficult to make new friends, new activities will acquaint you with people that you can size up for a while as you participate. Eventually, some of these same people will become friends in the same manner that your teammates did during high school athletics. No pressure, common activities and mutual interests can form the cornerstone of lifelong friendships.
⦁ Consider counseling, psychotherapy, or self-help activities. These activities are all too often associated with having problems or being “crazy.” They’re not exclusively for those going through some difficulties. They can be incredibly beneficial for everyone, giving us self-awareness, personal insight, and allowing us to come to terms with a lots of baggage that we all needlessly carry through life. I often compare this to looking under the hood of a car. Many of us superficially travel through life never taking a look at what drives us, motivates us, or inspires us. Looking under the hood occasionally is a good idea with any vehicle, including you.
⦁ Explore what you believe for some of life’s ultimate questions. If you are a follower of an organized religion, don’t be afraid to question it. If you have no organized religion, then what do you believe? Having some healthy doubts about what you believe is what separates true faith from indoctrination. Being curious about these ultimate questions can make life more meaningful.
Whether you’re heading off to first grade, or heading into the autumn of your years, September can be the best season of your life. There’s no sense trying to fight it, embrace it, learn from it, and enjoy it. You just may find that this acceptance is what life is really about.
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus
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