Many of my friends of the written word pre-date me— Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) whose words speak to me this morning is but one of these. Whitehead was an English mathematician and philosopher. At the time of Whitehead’s death, A.H. Johnson compiled selections from Whitehead’s writings and published them in a book, The Wit and Wisdom of Whitehead. Every once in a while I take that book from the shelf and leaf through it, gathering as much wit and wisdom as I can. Abraham Lincoln when asked what has been the most important invention of all mankind answered without hesitation, “The written word.” I fully agree with Lincoln, for without the written word, I would never have Alfred North Whitehead as a friend, or his wit and wisdom.
This morning, for example, Whitehead offered me this piece of wisdom: “A race preserves its vigor so long as it harbors a real contrast between what has been and what may be; and so long as it is nerved by the vigor of adventure beyond the safeties of the past. Without adventure civilization is in full decay.”
Without a sense of adventure, a sense of moving forward to what “may be” civilizations decay—and this, particularly, if that civilization hunkers down and chooses to remain in the “what has been” or tries to go back to an imagined time that once was but is no more, as in “Make America Great Again.”
It struck me this morning that a similar decay can and does occur as one grows older and begins to dwell in the past (what has been) and no longer seeks the adventure of moving forward to what “may be.” Adventure is defined as “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” I know people my age who refuse to deal with the new technology, and even brag about how they still do their banking the old way. What an adventure they could have if they would “get with it,” instead of living back there! Every new day can be an adventure for an older person—perhaps even more adventurous than in earlier years. What “may be” for me tomorrow? If we lose the adventurous spirit we simply lose our vigor and we decay. Old age wins the day and we live in what “has been,” but is no more. I need to get on the road again!
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