We’re increasingly averse to trying new things as we age. I could look up some statistics or other material to cite here, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve seen this in my own life. Whether it’s a fear of broken bones, not being in control or looking like an idiot — or perhaps it’s just plain old inertia — there’s an entrenchment that happens as we get older.
We get tired. We don’t have the energy and enthusiasm we had when we were teenagers. We’re more worldly and more realistic — and we’ve been disappointed, even betrayed. It’s easier — safer — to stop pushing boundaries.
I happen to believe this shift in attitude away from adventure is part of what ages us — because there is a difference between growing older and growing old.
But I don’t want to sit on the sidelines of my life.
So I have a new hockey helmet — a good, multi-hit one for snowboarding, biking and maybe even some street hockey. I do feel kind of silly — forty years old and wobbling on my rollerblades at the skating rink, surrounded by grade schoolers who can skate better backward than I can forward.
And I started taking Hebrew lessons last night. I wasn’t raised Jewish. I never to Hebrew school or studied for my bat mitzvah. This is truly a foreign language to me, complete with an entirely different alphabet, not to mention getting used to reading right-to-left. (Studying Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs a few years back probably helped, though.)
I could have assumed that it’s too late for me to pick up a new language, but I want to have a better understanding of what’s happening at the synagogue. I want to at least be able to attempt to read the Torah in Hebrew.
My temple has a beginning Hebrew class for adults — thank goodness — and we spent an hour or so last night learning new letters and vowels, beginning to string simple syllables together. Yes, there were moments of complete brain freeze, where the letters you could read and pronounce on the last page suddenly look like gibberish in the next exercise. But what amazed me was how few instances of brain freeze there were — for all of us — and how short-lived they were. We ended up covering two lessons in a single hour.
I’m not sure we’ll be able to maintain such a brisk pace moving forward. We could all come down with spontaneous Hebrew amnesia next week. But I was encouraged by my own aptitude and mental elasticity. Learning used to come so easily, but it’s been years since I was last in a classroom. I assumed it would be harder for me to learn now, “at my age.”
Continuing to try new things — mental and intellectual challenges, physical activities, travel to new places, etc. — is a big part of what keeps us young. I may not be 17 or 23 or even 30 anymore, but I’ll keep taking Hebrew classes, and I’ll keep rollerblading and meditating and reading, etc. I’ll keep trying something new every year, every month, maybe even every day — and not just because the alternative is sitting on the sidelines. I don’t want to waste my time.