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GRAVES: Re-learning life's lessons

Joe Graves

In our society, it is often lamented that we have very little respect for the wisdom of the elderly. This hasn't actually bothered me much over the years. While I have the highest respect and regard for the elderly, I haven't noticed that they (we?) have a monopoly on wisdom or even that they tend to be any wiser than other age groups. Proportionally, I suspect there are just as many old fools as young ones. (Perhaps in earlier days fools shuffled off this mortal coil earlier than those of greater wisdom, but that is just conjecture and I certainly wouldn't make that argument in today's safety net society in which we are inundated with messages about how to stay well and steer clear from danger, even sometimes against our will.)

Nevertheless, having had this conversation with someone recently, it did leave me asking myself if there are any things I have learned with advancing years that I did not know earlier. And one of them I was reminded of last week -- don't assume you won't miss more days of school for inclement weather until May 1. This year demonstrated that but it also demonstrated that even though I have learned this rather minor point, I still haven't fully integrated it, even as a practicing school superintendent. Oddly, I know this but I seem to forget it each year.

The only analogy I have for this is one, ironically, I know enough to completely shy away from: pregnancy. It only takes one or two experiences of talking about pregnancy or labor to know, from the responses of all mothers within earshot, that no man anywhere of any expertise or any experience has any business saying anything about it. Yet, like the man who knows he is walking through a minefield but has no map of just where the little subterranean explosives might be, here I go. It is my understanding from speaking with various mothers over the years that there is a phenomenon in which the pains and difficulties experienced during labor are forgotten or at least glossed over with time in the mind of the mother, and that if this were not the case, the human population would consist entirely of three-person families: Mom, Dad and an only child.

That "forgetting" or "glossing over" is the relevant analogous point here. And remember it is an analogy, not a full comparison as the pain and/or difficulties manifested in the two experiences are not at all of similar magnitude.

Each year, the school calendar progresses from February into March and April. And each year, I try to remember that while the weather improves, it remains the case nevertheless that we often miss more days in March and April than in any other month. And then, in the current year, temperatures climb, robins appear in the yards, a cacophony of geese is heard overhead and I come to believe that the worry of school closures for weather can be set aside. Spring has sprung and we can move blissfully, uninterrupted through the remaining days of school.

And then a winter storm like what hit last week kicks me hard in the pants and reteaches me the lesson. And I wonder why I had to relearn it, why I would have started to assume against all past evidence that this year was exempt. And I am left with only my original observation, that those of increasingly advanced age have no monopoly on wisdom, that there are just as many old fools, proportionally, as young or middle-aged ones. And that, alas, just as this year was not exempt from the March/April phenomenon of school closings, I am not exempt from having to relearn certain things, seemingly each and every year. Which can probably be shortened to the observation that "hope springs eternal in the breast of an old fool."