by David Krausch
I live in the Missouri countryside near Labadie; too far away from the city to hear about Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI) in my normal social circles. I learned it in casual conversation with other participants at an open house for St. Louis public radio. I mentioned that I enjoy coming out to events to get out of my comfort zone and expose myself to some new people and surroundings in the city. They suggested that I might enjoy LLI. I signed up for my first class in January 2019. It was Behavioral Economics and I was hooked. Now I am in the Writing Creative Nonfiction class and really enjoy it also.
At 72, I have accepted being a senior citizen. I have a whole new set of opportunities. My life is still ahead of me. This is the oldest that I have ever been, but the youngest that I will ever be again! I have things that I want to do. I have some new things to learn about myself and others. I am still looking for the next “raison d’etre” (reason or justification for existence.) I want to go on that search every day. LLI helps facilitate the search.
A few years ago, there was a book written about the top 5 regrets of those on their deathbed. It was written by a hospice nurse in Australia and chronicled the conversations with terminally ill patients in their last few weeks of life. She noted some common regrets being expressed and documented them. One of the regrets that impressed me most was, “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”. I have redoubled my own efforts since then to maintain old relationships and to continuously work on new ones. These are my connections. The best relationships for me usually involve some sort of shared experience such as family, schoolmates or work. The class work at LLI provides another opportunity to connect with people who have a shared interest in the topic at hand. It is stimulating for me and I look forward to each session and the discussions with new acquaintances.
I think we all have a creative being somewhere inside us. I have heard that the sculptor knows that there is a work of art somewhere inside the piece of marble and his job is to just keep chipping away until he finds it. I think that is a good analogy for my inner creative side. I find that chipping away with new experiences and learning through immersion in various topics creates the stimulation that I need to fully awaken the creative side of me.
Some time ago I read a piece about creativity in engineers. The writer was trying to objectively measure creativity in engineers and then to quantify what differentiated the more creative ones. One measure was the number of inventions and patents that they were responsible for. When he investigated, he found that the most prolific inventors tended to have an eclectic set of interests and pursued many seemingly unrelated avenues of curiosity. In looking at the world, it has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. But creativeness finds something new. Out of that I have decided that my personal definition of creativity is “the ability to take old things and put them together in a new way”. In that respect, the more knowledge I have of things, the more likely I am to be successful in putting them together in some new and creative way. That is why I enjoy learning new things. Once in a while I come up with my own new idea or a creative solution to a problem!
I worked for a leader who always encouraged us to “keep making a difference” as a form of direction and positive feedback. I tell this to my children and others. I think I am obligated to give back. It helps if what I give has value. The value is always improved by the richness and depth of my own knowledge and experience. I want to keep improving my capability to contribute and give back. I would like to “make a difference”. I know that LLI is making a difference for me and I am grateful for the staff and class leaders.
A favorite old Japanese saying of mine is: “I hear and I believe, I see and I know, I do and I understand”. I could add a fourth item; “I teach and I learn”. Lifelong learning would then be not only the participation as a student but making the full contribution by sharing ideas with others as a student, teacher or mentor. An idea is the one thing that we can give to another while still keeping it! In fact, if the recipient accepts it, it grows in both of us!
I appreciate how LLI places importance on keeping classes light and enjoyable. I would also be remiss if I did not mention how important coffee breaks and snacks are! It has been a great discovery for me.
This post is part of the “Older Adults & Aging” blog series of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health.