One of the advantages of writing a daily column is that it challenges me to avoid what I think of as the Old Man Story-Telling Syndrome. This is the habit of using certain stories so often that you end up spinning the same allegorical yarn to the same listener again and then again and then again. If you’re a really cranky old man, you think, “I doubt they were paying close attention the first time, so I’ll just forge ahead for their own good.” Since I’m not that old nor nearly that cranky, I’d rather come up with something new. The OMSTS is not an indicator of deterioration, however; were it so, I would already be showing signs of the onset of senility. But certain stories so encapsulate a lesson we’ve learned that it seems a shame look elsewhere only to do the job half as well in the name of freshness. But I think it’s best not to get too attached to any stories, no matter how good they may be. They can turn you out of habit into a museum exhibit: an interesting and well-executed dust collector.
A writer I interviewed recently told me, “Your first novel is always your best.” She said it in a way that suggested this was old and accepted wisdom. It may be old, but I do no accept it as wisdom. The temptation to end our lives while we still walk and breathe follows us forever. No matter how far the light of our learning shines there remains that horizon of darkness for old and young alike. To stand at the precipice of the unknown and turn back is the path of fear, only made noble, as we grow older, with an irrefutable resume of experience.
My wife’s grandmother feared death until a few days before she passed, when this old skeptic matter-of-factly reported a visit from her own mother, telling her all was well. You can turn back, but the horizon remains whichever way you face. Even as you walk away, you resume walking toward, a traveler cursed since birth with curiosity, incapable of escaping an encounter with the unknown.
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