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Date Posted: 06:50:50 06/20/06 Tue
Author: Chuck in ND
Subject: It's not political, but here's dh's latest column
To embrace the summer of the mind
Ross Nelson, The Forum
Published Sunday, June 18, 2006
First came the phone call on a warm morning last July. Then, through the wonder of the Internet, I watched a video clip from a TV station 1,200 miles away. A speeding motorcyclist on a “bullet bike” had gone wide on a corner and smashed into an oncoming dump truck. The clip showed the scene of the accident while someone chuckled in the background, a forlorn motorcycle helmet sitting upright in the middle of the road. A policeman was describing to the reporter what happened but not releasing the name of the dead rider. But I knew. He was my big brother.
There’s been plenty of time to reflect on mortality and physical decline after the shock wore off. My brother and I were a couple of aging baby boomers born scarcely a year apart. Looking behind and ahead, it’s a little hard to accept what the onset of years has and will do to us all. (How typical of a baby boomer–to think somehow we’d be the exception to the rule of old age.)
It isn’t easy losing the exuberant physicality of youth. I recall a distant Sunday when my brother and I, with a couple of other teenage bucks, decided between church meetings to try to lift a full-size pickup’s rear wheels off the ground. There we were in wingtips and ties, one at a time with our backs to the tailgate, hands hooked under the bumper, straining for all we were worth. I reflexively reach out now to speed dial our chiropractor just thinking about it.
A few years back The Forum carried an article on regional drug-free senior powerlifting events. Some of the competitive numbers in my weight class looked achievable so I started training, but re-injury and a later household accident put paid to the whole idea. It’s a melancholy moment to know that whatever limited physical glory you might have reached is in the irretrievably far-off past.
One of nature’s clever little tricks is that humans not only reach their physical peak in their early- to mid-20s, but also their mental peak. It’s not a coincidence that great creativity in the arts and major discoveries in the physical sciences tend to cluster in relatively young people. World championship chess players rarely sport much gray hair. Great breakthroughs in math and physics, arguably the most difficult subjects there are, follow the same pattern. One physicist in his early 30s recalled his surprise when the department secretary approached him for his memoirs. Although of course the general assumption was that he had many productive years left in his field, it was also taken for granted that his greatest discoveries were already behind him.
But the mind at least is comparable to summer, in a way. Summer reaches the zenith of its power early on in June, but even as it wanes, has a cumulative effect of greater heat in July and August. So too are there human endeavors that can increase for a while on previously built-up knowledge even as the mind’s raw power recedes. For example, philosophy thrives on a rich, lifelong process of weighing and examining arguments and evidence.
I have no illusions about aging – it brings a steady, inexorable decline of mental and physical powers. My brother will be forever spared the indignities of old age. Yet I still wish that we could have grown old together.
We postal workers each have an individual digital code to get into our workplace. On one occasion, after using mine hundreds of times over the course of years, I completely forgot the numbers. All of them. How … odd.
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