--Richard Bach, "Illusions: The Adventures of Reluctant Messiah"
This time of year I always feel envious towards the young, as they prepare to go back to school, begin some new learning chapters in their blossoming lives. Late August reminds me of the excitement and anxiety, the nervous energy I always felt as a young person when brand new classes or a brand new place of study was just weeks away for me. There's no other feeling quite like it in all of life.
It's time to learn.
Time for brand new books that open with a satisfying "crack" as you explore those pages of knowledge for the first time. Time for unexplored class syllabuses outlining all you will learn in the days ahead. A time when your only job in life is to learn. To expand your knowledge of the world and yourself and others. A time when life is unsettled in a good way, as you wade into some challenging new academic or life activity with absolutely no idea of how things will turn out. Life then is a blank slate, a canvas waiting to filled in, and so with courage and curiosity you move ahead. Try some new way of thinking or living. In that one bold act, your life changes for ever.
All because you are committed to the act of learning.
Which is why I also love this time of year, these pre-September days, as I see young people in my life leave for college so excited about all the new ideas that they get to study. As I drive the streets of the city and watch young adults move into a new neighborhood, wrestle a couch up a flight of stairs, live with new roommates, start their next academic semester. As in just days from now when I will drive by the bus stop in front of my suburban home and watch as nervous parents let go of the hands of their young children, sons and daughters off to classes, some for the very first time.
All of them learning. All of those young people reminding me that the best God-given life is always marked by this work: to learn and to grow. To expand hearts and minds and spirits constantly. To never stop studying. To see all of life as a beautiful and unexplored classroom. To learn just for the sake and the joy of discovering some new talent that you never knew you had or a new thought that you never considered before.
What I most fear as I age is not the slow breaking down of my body, the new creaks and cracks I get to experience in the morning as I get out of bed. Nor do I fear too much this fast changing world that admittedly some days feels like a foreign land to me. Everything shifting and so quickly. No: what I fear most is my mind's ossification, the nightmare that one day I will awaken and conclude that I no longer need to learn anymore, or learn anything else, in my life. That instead I've seen it all, done it all, learned enough to last me forever. What I really need to do is fall back into my Lazy-Boy chair, watch TV all day, preferably some mindless drivel, or worst of all, a 24 hour news channel that tells me exactly just what to believe. No thought necessary. No learning.
If one day in the future you happen to find me living thus, please put a fork into me because then I will be done.
No. Give me a life of learning instead. Lifelong learning from the day I am born until the day I leave this earth. Give me a room full of books and the time to read them all, to allow those tomes to take me to places I have never been before. Give me a God who pushes me to try new things, a God who is ever faithful but always challenging me to expand my soul and never settle for narrow orthodoxy or dusty doctrine. Give me the courage to try something new each and every day. Some exotic food. To sing a new song I've never sung. Ride on my bicycle to some new place I've yet to discover. Give me a new idea I need to think about, that just may change my mind for the better.
When will our lives of learning cease? When is school out of session? If we are still alive, God willing, never. School is beginning again. Today. Will I see you in the classroom called life?
Think about it.