Wisdom of the Ages

Even when rebelling against the authority of my elders, I always knew deep down when I was wrong. Adults were bigger, and therefore knew better, right? As I got older, I began to appreciate the wisdom that comes with age from a more logical standpoint, that of experience. Anytime I'd question my father he'd inevitably remind me that he'd “been around a lot longer than” me. This was especially true of automobile repair. By the time I was in college, there were definitely things I had to question, even though he was of course an adult and adults as a rule always know better in my book. For example, when a section of pipe between the catalytic converter and the muffler proved rusted and too stubborn to unbolt, he came at it with a blowtorch. Inches from the gas tank he scowled at me when I asked if that was a good idea.

The truth is, ALL humans are inherently fallible—only God is perfect. I still think in the grand scheme of things, the old will ALWAYS possess a superior knowledge base to the young, but that doesn't mean they're always right. My dad's given me a lot of great advice over the years. He taught me the best way to tighten the bolts on a tire, the way to bleed excess air out of brakes, and how to maintain a lawnmower, to name a few. My mom's taught me the importance of responsibility over leisure, and how to spend money more wisely. There have been things I've disagreed with though, dated advice that I'm certain to be erroneous. In hot weather my dad will sometimes offer me a hard candy because “they make saliva”. I'm pretty sure saliva comes from salivary glands, and that sugar can contribute to dehydration. Of course in the movie Cube, one of the trapped protagonists advises the others to suck on a button to keep their mouth moist. I think my objection is toward the literal interpretation of my father's words. The candy doesn't MAKE saliva, but it does cause a person to salivate. Semantics? Perhaps.

Another gem that I've been hearing ever since I started playing music some twenty years ago is that it's important to always wear an undershirt, especially in hot weather at parades, because they “absorb the sweat.” Early this morning we arrived in Brooklyn for an Italian procession, where the band leader handed out new t-shirts. The previous red tee's still had his former partner's name on them, but he'd dissolved that business arrangement last year and “promoted” his son, the drummer. The new shirts bear his name followed by “and son's festival band.” We were instructed to hand in our old ones and put on the new ones for today's job. As we changed on a street corner in front of the church, his son's fiancée asked a 76-year-old trumpet player if he was going to leave on his white t-shirt under the red one. He looked at her like she was crazy and I heard only a few of the words the drummer whispered to his intended: “...absorb the sweat...” They're about my age, and probably look at it the same way. I understand protecting the outer garment, but when it's 90° outside I think an extra layer of clothing is going to cause as much perspiration as it absorbs. It's interesting that a man a year older than my dad shares his view on the subject though.

It's funny how generations hang on to what they know to have been accepted as truth, at one time. Just the other day, Rey was commenting on how many older people prefer the large “big boat” cars. I'm sure those of us still in our thirties are just as guilty of hanging on to things teenagers would find laughable, but we're too close to see it. Sometimes wisdom comes as hindsight, with terrible cost. One of the other horn players, a man close to 80 was lamenting the fact that his wife was leaving him after what I'm sure were decades since they have two grown sons. My dad tried to console him, to say she probably was going through a phase or reacting to her cancer treatments, and that the desire to leave would pass. The man shook his head and said, “when I was a kid doing these jobs, I used to listen to all these old guys complaining about how hard life was, and I thought ‘what are these guys always complaining about?' I didn't know how hard life could be, but I'm living it now.” Experience is necessary for perspective sometimes, but every experience isn't necessarily pleasant.

Four hours later as my dad, the 76-year-old trumpet player, and I were trudging back to our car, the trumpet player caught his breath and remarked, “boy, that was a BRUTAL one!” My dad turned, looking puzzled, and asked, “Flugelhorn?

Someday I'll be old and wise, but I'll have trouble hearing, my memory will be poor(moreso than it already is), and I'll constantly be asking people “is there a bathroom around here do you know?” when I'm on a gig. Somehow, it doesn't seem a fair trade, and I'm reminded of some wise words from that trumpet player: “Youth is wasted on the young.


Blogger Rhodester said...

"We are the sum of our experience". I've forgotten who said that, but I find it to be the truth.

6/12/2005 4:16 PM  

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