With age comes wisdom, but age often comes alone

I’m up early on a Sunday morning out of a nightmare. It’s a recurring one where I’m forced to do nonsensical things at work designed to run me into the ground and make me feel like my presence is meaningless and I don’t matter. It’s your typical lack-of-control nightmare and I always wake up from it in despair, but relieved that it isn’t what’s actually happening (at least not that badly).

I’m in that space late in my career when I want to direct rather than act but don’t have the network around me that enables me to do that.  As I approach retirement I know more and more people who have crossed over into it.  I also know more people who are getting properly old and are struggling with the complications that brings.  Getting old is difficult and few people seem able to do it with any kind of grace.

Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “”With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone” comes close, but I’d reword it – I suspect most people aren’t any wiser towards the end.  A few years ago we were working away on circuit building in class when one of the grade nines wondered out loud, “why is it that in movies old people always seem so wise and kind, but in real life they just kinda suck?”  This sparked a heated debate where many other students said that their grandparents were lovely, but when I asked them to name any other elderly people who were so giving and wonderful the room got silent.  It seems that only nepotism trumps the worst habits of aging.

As you get older it’s difficult to retain a Yoda-like calm and act benevolently for the good of others without making it all about you.  You become less capable and have less of an impact in the world each year, usually while seeing your income decrease as well.  In those circumstances most people grasp for control and interfere with others in order to retain any kind of presence in a world that has passed them by.  I understand the impulse but I hope I’m not consumed by it.  The past few years have asked more of me than I have and I find myself ducking and covering when I used to be all-out in my teaching, but I hope my reflex to enable and empower others remains even as my ability to do it diminishes.


Getting old and retiring from riding has come up before in TMD.  A few years ago Jeff and I rescued a BMW from a retired rider which led to For Whom The Bell Tolls.  This guy had ridden the BMW home from a conference fifteen years earlier, parked it in his shed and it then sat there.  He finally sold it on to Jeff when he honestly told himself he was never going to ride again.  I get all Dylan Thomas about that and think I’ll be riding to the end no matter what.  Twenty years of deterioration with no time in the wind at the end of life doesn’t sound like living at all. 

Another time the Canada Moto-Guide wrote a strange obituary on a rider who crashed at over twice the legal limit on a rural backroad, suggesting that he was a motorcycling martyr rather than reckless rider who caused his own demise.  There is a different kind of abstract fatalism here that has more in common with the stingy pensioner than it does with those rare elders that have found and express wisdom even in their weakness.  Being honest is a big part of growing old or riding well.  Understanding your limitations honestly allows you to be genuine in your being in whatever state it’s in.  There is an unfortunate arrogance around motorcycling (and aging) that often prevents us from thinking about either thing rationally and honestly.  If that’s all true, then if I ever get to the point where I can’t ride effectively I shouldn’t.  That guy who sold Jeff the BMW was wiser than I.

I’ve tried to apply some eastern philosophy to my riding (and aging) on a number of occasions in order to manage the challenges both things create without devolving into dick-swinging nonsense.  Machismo, or just plain old gender-free arrogance, might move you up in the world of management but it doesn’t make you a very nice human being.  I think I’d rather age honestly and retain my urge to mentor and support rather than force my way up the ladder in order to gain a fictional sense of control along with accompanying ego.  When it comes to directing, the only person I really want to direct is myself and I want to do it while enabling myself to act as genuinely and with as much fecundity as I’m able.  Perhaps then I can find myself old without finding myself frustrated and angry, hopefully while still riding.

Hasn’t happened yet in 2022 and I’m missing the Frostbite.

This is the kind of thing I don’t usually carry with me because I’d go out for a ride and ruminate on things until I found my quiet centre again, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance style, but I’m in another never-ending Canadian winter with COVID piled on top (and on the verge of WW3), and instead of being in the wind I’m stuck inside.  This is the only year in the past many where I haven’t managed a cheeky February ride on a clear day.  Riding and aging are both very difficult things and doing them well is more than many people can manage, for me it’s even worse when I can’t get out into the wind.


Nothing like a bit of poetry to create some perspective:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas – 1914-1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 4

Tao is empty (like a bowl). It may be used but its capacity is never exhausted
It is bottomless, perhaps the ancestor of all things.
It blunts its sharpness. It unties its tangles. It softens its light. It becomes one with the dusty world.
Deep and still, it appears to exist forever.
I do not know whose son it is. It seems to have existed before the Lord.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 5

Heaven and Earth are not humane. They regard all things a straw dogs.
The sage is not humane. He regards all people as straw dogs.
How Heaven and Earth are like a bellows. While vacuous, it is never exhausted. When active, it produces even more.
Much talk will of course come to a dead end. It is better to keep to the centre.

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