The Ukrainian Muse and the Paradox of Life

Alone I walk.  The bite of the winter chill does not let up, colors of the world fade into different shades of bleakness.  The ache for youth pulsates strong although I’m acutely aware each passing second takes me further away from this dream.

A nondescript voice echoes in my head, “the closer to death you are, the closer to life you become…”

My turned-up collar does little to stifle the cold wind caressing my neck, motivation for the continued search of a spark to ignite another year of passion.

The winter’s silence is broken by a warm whisper, “so you’ve finally come to see me again…” I look to find a smile I’ve grown accustomed to when in a philosophical mood.  She’s always walking beside me, but it’s been too long since I last heard her voice.

“This morning, I noticed you were preoccupied with a quote at the coffee shop.  What did it say?” She asks.

“Is not wisdom found among the aged?   Does not long life bring understanding?” – Job 12:12

Reading this quote during breakfast was the trigger for my current philosophical fog.

“Experience and wisdom have shifted my life more than I could’ve imagined. Hard to believe life becomes richer as we grow older – the electricity of my 20’s pales in comparison to the beautiful aches of aging,” I pause to rub the crick in my neck. “Never gave it much thought until this morning.”

I open the door to a small roadside café ~ lured by the aroma of exotic foods.

I look around the café, the serene setting and lack of urgency capture the bliss of the moment.

A newly found paradox within my mind, within my life.

In my 20’s every day had an unlimited future.  Every corner had something new to offer. The more active I was, the greater I felt. My goal was to secure enough adrenaline for the day and bold ideas for tomorrow.

A concept of my youth I held fast. A concept time erodes as years drift past.

“When we were young, life was a series of wild rapids, ridden without fear. We were unstoppable.” I pause to look at the roast duck in front of me and quickly finish my thought. “Then at some point, we began to have doubt in our invulnerability and our lives changed forever.”

“This gauze of doubt you have mentioned before, correct?” her laughter holds a touch of self-deprecation as she pours us a shot of the local spirit.

“Feeling untouchable, the definitions of youth and immortality are interchangeable.”  She grabs a duck leg and continues, “then fear creeps in.  The gauze of doubt begins to blur vision and time becomes finite. The recognition of death.”

“Ah yes, I think I’ve bored you with this before.” I smile and she points to a speck of spinach on my front tooth, I clean and go on. “We take risks when we’re young, devour the late hours of the night and soak up the knowledge around – ahead an unlimited amount of time.” I pause to think of the happiness I had growing up. Thanks I owe my parents and friends I could never begin to repay, knowing they would say the same in return.

“Then came the bittersweet moment in life, confronted by mortality I began to appreciate time.  I evolved.” I lift my glass, our eyes lock and we chase our words.

“With age comes experience. With experience comes wisdom. A young mind is too busy absorbing life to contemplate deep meaning. The growth of wisdom is a gift, a gradual gift.”  The stillness becomes magnified.

Which of us said those words? I am not sure, but their truth allows me to exhale and reflect.  On the surface, responsibilities with my career and life seem to have increased, but my relaxed attitude is a sign of wisdom with the recognition being in the now holding undeniable freedom and a purer happiness.

This small town nestled in the northeastern part of Ukraine huddled against the cold shoulder of Russia is where today exists. Questions drift around and I enjoy the chase to find the answers.

There is a certain confidence in the freedom to pursue. Pursue happiness. Pursue dreams. Pursue wisdom and relish in age.

“The older I get, the freer I become. Accepting mortality sets me free.” Again, our eyes lock and we knock back another shot. She refills the glasses, gazes around the room without worry.

“It is called the Paradox of Life.” she smiles, looking younger than ever. “As people age, the body loses the vitality of youth but the mind…” her eyes light up as she moves forward as if to whisper the greatest secret of life, “the mind revels in emotions, in the happiness of the moment.  People with wisdom forget the worries of tomorrow and focus on the positive pieces of reality in front of them.  Studies show we find our greatest happiness as we grow older, thus the paradox.” 

The walk back to the hotel is refreshing. The evening has faded into the night and while still below zero, the conversation warms the winter breeze.

“There’s a certain poignancy to life I never realized.” I look around at the scene deciding I could definitely be happy here. I look at her reflection in the snow and moonlight.

She pauses as we reach the intersection, shifts her weight and expands on my thought. “The world is dynamic, multidimensional, and there is always happiness to be found.  It’s the gift of wisdom, the gift of youth.” 

“Savor and appreciate the emotions of life.” She looks down the street at my hotel.

“When people believe time is unlimited, the focus is on knowledge, on possibilities, on the future.  A perfect time for daydreamers.”  She grabs my hand, putting emphasis on her words, “when you understand time is limited, the focus needs to be re-directed to the present…where serendipity happens.”

She looks at me inquisitively. “Not quite sure what this means for a daydreamer like yourself…” her flurry of words float in the air between us, separating me from her smile.  I watch it all drift away with the gentle breeze, and before I can answer she is gone.

236 Comments on “The Ukrainian Muse and the Paradox of Life

  1. What a delightful story. My favorite line is “Then at some point, we began to have doubt in our invulnerability and our lives changed forever.” So very true.

    • Doubt can add a very new dimension to life, where we reassess, refocus, and then set out to create a new path. 🙂 Cheers to a great spring ahead.

  2. Your writing is an adventure .. Always! Much beauty in your words Randall .. how I relish your wisdom. There is much life in this post. I have missed you …

    • Thank you very much, Julie. Around this time of the year, it is a bit easier to let the mind wander and take a little adventure by putting pen to paper. Sometimes such adventures dissolve into nothing, but even then an experience is had 🙂 Wishing you a great autumn season down under, and continue on your remarkable path. Take care.

  3. There is wisdom from the aged passed down the generation; there is wisdom from the innocence that aged people have shut their eyes. Of course, who can refute what Job said? I just finished watching a show filmed in Ukraine “Everything is illuminated.” Randall, your writing always brings illumination to use readers, Randall. I hope you are in Oregon spending Easter season with your loved ones. Enjoy life wherever it takes you. Do take care, Perpetua.

    • Thank you, Perpetua, I will have to check out the movie “Everything is illuminated” it sounds good. You are correct with wisdom being available all around us, just have to be alert to it all and take it in. Wish you well and hope this spring brings a lot of sunshine in the Pacific Northwest (and BC!). Cheers.

  4. Wonderful and stunning images, Randall! Gosh, it must be cold there! Love this para – There is a certain confidence in the freedom to pursue. Pursue happiness. Pursue dreams. Pursue wisdom and relish in age.

    Well done!!

    • The spring has begun to thaw the cold, and it is a great feeling Indah 🙂 Along with the nice weather, there is nothing like taking advantage of the freedoms we have ~ wishing you a great weekend.

  5. Randall, another good post as usual from you. I find the paradox intriguing though I’m not sure if fully applies to me yet. I hope as time goes on, I can learn to live in the present more. I certainly hope I can feel happier the older I get, ha.

    • I still daydream all the time, so I still have a ways to go to be more ‘present’ 🙂 but I do like the thought of feeling happier as we age. In fact, I think it was my main hope and thought when I began writing this post, it seems very logical ~ I guess we will all eventually know the answer to this at some point in time. Cheers to a great spring and great week ahead.

      • This mindset would be a good way of living life and being at peace with getting older. I hope we can all follow that line of thought. Wish you a good week as well.

  6. Winter can be a litmus test for staying positive. 🙂 On the upside, it can get you thinking about life in ways you’d never bother to explore in summer. I suppose youth and age are similar. Life can look very different depending upon which side of it you’re looking from. Your post is always interesting to read. Thank you for sharing another fantastic post with us. Have a great week ahead and hope the sun’s shining through. 🙂

    • Yes indeed, I think winter truly tests our character. 🙂 I usually love the first month or so of winter, the diversity of season is always a bit exciting, but then…I’m ready for change again, and the “youth of spring” is perfect. Thank you very much, and in the past when I only thought about the beauty of being young, now there is a whole other world to explore. Cheers to a great week ahead.

  7. Ah!!!
    Your writing is so superb! Or do I want to say sublime…how about both!! The correlating photos touch me in such a fantastic way! Right in the beginning I had to “copy” the following because I knew it had such an impact: “the closer to death you are, the closer to life you become…” and I was right!! Yes! I believe that is truth.
    Many blessings to you…wonderful post 🙂

    • It is a strange feeling to fully appreciate something only when you’ve become aware of its eventual end…a very powerful and useful feeling. It can change the way you view the world, for me it is inspirational. Wishing you a great springtime, Lorrie, and thank you very much.

      • Ah! Yes! I couldn’t agree more. My dad passed last summer at 88 and my mom moved in next door to me…I am her only caregiver…she will be 90 next month! It is a difficult, yet rewarding…YET DIFFICULT…process 😉 I think I have learned a whole lot about appreciation over the last year.
        Many blessings to you. I was happy to read that it is ‘inspirational’ for you. For out of your inspiration what you create is SPECTACULAR!! 🙂
        Many Sweet Blessings! ❤

  8. Gosh you do get around, Randall! You enjoy the world and engaging with it… I envy you that, but I enjoy the glimpses you share with us. I don’t think wisdom comes so much with age as with experience… I know some very wise young people, and have met foolish old ones. ‘The beautiful aches of age’… gorgeous imagery there, may have to borrow that phrase! 😀 You have been away from your blog a long time… a sure sign that you are busy living life and not just dreaming about it! Nice to see you back, though! 😊

    • 🎶’Round, ’round get around, I get around, yeah… 🎶 Now this song will be in my head all day, which is not too bad. I think what you say is correct, and I believe in it 100%: experiences bring wisdom. Experiences enrich our lives and I think make us better as we age. Very happy to know you like the phrase ‘the beautiful aches of age’ ~ I gift it to you 🙂 Wishing you a wonderful and inspirational spring, Ali, thank you very much.

      • Haha! You are in a very good mood today! 😄 Thanks for the gift and much joy and inspiration back to you.

      • 🙂 Always good to take advantage of a good mood when it arrives 🙂 Cheers to a great weekend.

  9. Hi Randall! I love your last snowy pic! Very interesting thoughts. Its true in my 20s I would just do things without any thought. In my 30s I began to doubt myself in everything, and probably not did many things I should have because of doubt and fear. Now I’m 40, and thanks to Miss E, I’m learning to enjoy the present. I feel like I know nothing, but for the moment I’m the world for Miss E and I have to pass her my knowledge on everything. It’s very strange… I hope you are well 🙂

    • Hi Sofia, your comment will have me smiling all day ~ just imagining you and Miss E together and enjoying every second of every day. What a beautiful sight. In a sense, I think Miss E is allowing you to reconnect with yourself so you can open up fully to her and give her all you can ~ especially your recipes and cooking secrets. It is something else to realize how we really do change from our youthful ignorance of our 20s ~ to our much **cough, cough** wiser older selves 🙂 Take care, Sofia, and enjoy the springtime with you and your family.

      • And your comment has made me smile because indeed I’ve never enjoyed my days so much as since she was born. I think you’re right, she is allowing to to reconnect with myself for her, even though she hasn’t got to see any recipes yet as for now she’s just drinking milk 😉 It’s strange though that now that we are cough cough older and wiser, we just feel less wise… Enjoy your springtime too!

  10. First dear Randall, apologies for my lateness in arrival, and in the lateness of my response. And even more of a delight to see you had given us yet another beautiful post within your wisdom of words and excellent photos.

    Yes as we grow with age we begin to view the world from a different perspective, and take life at a much slower and calmer pace..

    And as you rightly note, ‘As people age, the body loses the vitality of youth, but the mind revels in emotions……”
    Indeed, sometimes the mind goes into overdrive, but again your wisdom echoes throughout your piece Randall, We do need to focus on the positive pieces of reality’ And look to the Now of experience. The past is gone, as is much of our vigour. But we find a new sense of purpose. As we view life from the vantage point of our experience. 🙂

    We may only be here for around three score years and Ten. 🙂 but the real wisdom comes from knowing we are infinite .. With infinite possibilities, should we ‘Daydreamers’ Dare Dream them into Being. 🙂

    I have been focusing on my Dreams more and enjoying my NOW moments..

    I Loved your post Randall, and your philosophy which was perfectly interwoven with your wonderful gift of photography of the Ukraine..

    A perfect start to my day.. Many thanks my friend
    Take care
    Sue 🙂

    • Wonderful words, Sue, thank you very much. I think you are correct when you mention we tend to find a new sense of purpose as we grow older. We begin to view the world from a different perspective and it allows us to enjoy today ~ and as you allude to also become aware of infinite possibilities. I like this thought of yours 🙂 Wishing you a wonderful day and a wonderful spring, Sue.

      • Thank you Randall, with age, grows wisdom. 🙂 lol.. Wishing you a Perfect Day as we Day Dream our infinite Possibilities into Being . 🙂

  11. Another fantastic piece, Randall! Your images of an Eastern European winter reached through my computer screen and sent chills up my spine. 🙂

    I especially enjoyed the line about never being able to repay debts to our parents. It is certainly true that as we grow wiser, the more we appreciate the sacrifices our parents made for us.

    Hope all is well with you my friend! Enjoy your travels. 🙂

    • Very true, Shawn. The sacrifices and support parents can give has undefinable value ~ something that can never be repaid, which is part of the beauty. Things are going well, much better now that winter is in my rearview mirror and ahead is a green, sunny springtime. Cheers to great days ahead, Shawn. Take care.

  12. Lovely pictures Randall, thanks for nudging me out here. The first picture shows amazing images within!

  13. This is an excellent article, I very much enjoy the philosophy and the wisdom. I am going to reblog this article for you, it is very good.

    • Thank you very much ~ I’m happy you enjoyed the writing, and wish you a great weekend. Cheers to a great spring ahead.

  14. Outstanding photography when standing alone tells a story all its own. However, your
    combination of incredible quotes and thoughtful comments leave the reader nearly breathless.
    Great work once again Dalo, celebrate peace

  15. “With age comes experience. With experience comes wisdom. A young mind is too busy absorbing life to contemplate deep meaning. The growth of wisdom is a gift, a gradual gift.” This is so true. Looking back to ten years ago, there were things my current self would have or would have not done. But such is life, it really is a journey where along the way we pick up lessons to make us who we are today.

    • Very true, Bama, life is this journey where every day, every experience, leads us to new lessons and a new way of looking at the day. Cheers to collecting more wisdom as we all move forward, and to a good day ahead. Thank you.

  16. As a sensitive artist, I tend to fall back on a melancholy retrospection of youth. Thank you for reminding me my journey isn’t over yet. Maybe in some lifetime’s serendipity we may be able to shoot from diverse perspectives together. Sending you a virtual hug from across beautiful islands.:)

    • Great comment, it reminds me too that this journey is in a sense just beginning ~ I think that is the beauty of waking up every morning. Ha, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to allow serendipity to flow to bring two perspectives together, I like the idea. Wishing you a great day and a wonderful coming weekend. Cheers.

  17. I’ll be back …. I’ve been having problems with WP … your pictures are not coming through …. I’ll wait until I can see them to comment. 🌹

  18. How wonderful to find a post from you today. I’ve not been keeping up with the blogs I follow. Your words add such grace and wisdom to your photos. A true multidimensional adventure! I like your muse, maybe she’ll whisper in my ear. 🙂 Thanks for sharing Randall.

    • Hey Brad, great to hear from you and very happy to say my Muse is on here way, so be prepared. Be very prepared 🙂 Wishing you a great spring – full of grace and wisdom. I really like this thought, thank you.

  19. Your ability to transport me to another time and place is incredible, Randall.
    Every time I come here I get lost, and the immediate world around me becomes mute and distant.

    That is a gift and a power. Be careful how you use it, dear Jedi. 😉 ‘Tis the best of imprisonment. Kudos! UT

    • This is a great comment to wake up to UT, and every now and then, it is good to head off to a different place in another time ~ and always enjoy when others can come along as well. As with your cranes, there are photos and descriptions of places that can keep a mind occupied a mighty long time ~ ’tis the best of imprisonment. A perfect description. Cheers to a great day.

  20. Lovely post and contemplation. I do think you both were onto something… 🙂 (Ps. I re-followed you, for some reason WP tells me I wasn’t following, though I know I was!)

  21. I was taken on an infinite path of adventure. I always find (in your writings) a hint of something unexpected just around the corner…sometimes the wisdom is interspersed 😊

    • Thank you very much for the nice compliment, Alok. There is something nice about the hint of the unexpected, keeps you on your toes in life and travel, which I know you’re certainly aware of 🙂 Cheers to happy trails ahead.

  22. Dearest Randall, as I told you earlier, I now return. Your post I read ever so slowly, digesting, incorporating, and then the photos gazing, becoming, merging. I see myself in your words …. yet … sadly not all can understand what you wrote and are far very far from living your words. Life is a paradox for when young we think we can do all and stupid! in so many ways not even knowing. With age we become more mellow collecting along the way much wisdom and experience. Some I’ve observed are stuck in a rut not celebrating life unable to apply wisdom and experience. And some like myself know how valuable that experience and wisdom are. Have you ever stopped to wonder where all that wisdom and experience go when we leave our bodies? To what purpose do we gain these Gifts? And why do only some, not all, accept Life’s processes and learn how to become flexible with them? Your post left me with deep thoughts, and with specific examples of those around me who exemplify your words and those who do not. I just had a conversation a few days ago whereupon it was agreed that neither of us even recognized ourselves in our younger years compared to who we are today. Life. Your photo of the flames, fyi …. I could NOT stop staring at. I saw so many different forms, shapes, things within those flames. It was as though those flames pulled me in them to tell me their story. ALL your images drew me, Randall. Par excellent post!!! You have been missed!!! XOXO

    • Amy, an epic comment ~ thank you very much. You are so correct, it is almost as if we stop asking questions in life, wisdom ceases. When we keep asking questions, we keep moving (mind and body), and it is impossible not to evolve – until we hardly recognize our youthful selves, which I too believe is a very important process in life. It defines what life is and can be. Accepting these processes of life and being flexible when big changes come is the best way to embrace life, which you do so well. Wishing you a fantastic, green and dirty with your garden, spring. Cheers.

      • I’ve been asking questions and have had a very curious mind all my life. I drove my Mom nuts asking questions all the time. I just wanted to KNOW. Just came back from a much needed hike in one of the parks I frequent … in the rain. Giving my newly awakened garden muscles some rest. 😎

  23. Very thought provoking and the pictures are just wonderful. Most of the time we are all too busy rushing to listen to her…

    • Thank you very much, Edwin ~ you are so correct, often we are so caught up in the small things in life that we do not hear the wise words of our muses. It is nice to slow down once and awhile and see what she has to say.

  24. “when you understand time is limited, the focus needs to be re-directed to the present…where serendipity happens.” Absolutely how I feel. You have such a way with words Randall. Contemplative. Descriptive. And your brilliant photos are the perfect foil. Or is it the other way around? 🙂

    • 🙂 Wonderful to hear from you Madhu, and I think for travelers the advice to redirect focus on the present is the best advice ~ then we are able to take advantage of great opportunities that otherwise we may have missed. Thank you very much. Wishing you well, and happy we are able to catch up again. Take care.

  25. What an enchanting ready. I was seamlessly lured into that coffee shop, lost in revery laced with longing, infused with peace, enhanced by the liquor taking effect…relishing in the present moment, yet seduced by anticipation of what is to come. You are indeed a talented writer.

    • To have you fall into my writing/photos as you have described is the perfect compliment. Thank you very much, Brooke.

    • Ha, I think I could say the same with you. There seems to be never ending forces that cause us to think and re-think the path we are on and the one we wish to take. The key for me, let our passions take us where they may 🙂 So very great to hear from you 🙂

      • My brother-in-law already has a plan for when we turn 90… To go BASE jumping off of Mt. Elinor and whatever happens…happens 🙂 I love that idea 😉

      • You always have a shoulder for any and all rough days 🙂 Just let me know.

  26. Randall – photographer, philosopher, writer – your posts are so amazing. I have to read them several times to grasp the richness of your writing and photos.

  27. So your travels took you to Ukraine, Randall 🙂 Beautiful post! Indeed, people can be profoundly happy at any age if their focus is channeled in the right direction.

  28. Fabulous as always. However, I must admit that last photo gave me a shiver! Too cold for me.

  29. A sentiment that touches me profoundly. I have for long now realized that time is limited, and at the same time experienced that it runs faster and faster and faster. That does something with us. Forces us to live and appreciate the present, as you state here. Like for you, life has only become richer and richer as I have grown older. And hopefully I have become somewhat wiser. Thanks for such a poignant post.

    • This is one of the stranger truths of life I’m very happy to have learned – life becomes so much richer as we age, I almost feel sorry for my younger self (until I realize back then I could dunk a basketball…) 🙂 Experience counts for a lot in life, makes everything around me move a bit slower, even though time does feel like it is speeding up. Thanks, Otto, and wish you a great end to summer.

    • 🙂 So missing you, Léa. I hope the spring time has you in a great mood and enjoying life. Take care, my friend.

      • Spring is usually a tonic. Yet today, there is a somber veil over France. Thank you my friend and even when I can’t respond, I do enjoy catching up with my favorite photographer.

      • A very eloquent feeling you’ve written here ~ a somber veil over France. Fits my mood perfectly, heartbreaking but is a sense I believe it can be very uplifting for all of Paris, France, and the world. Wishing you a fantastic Easter weekend.

      • Out of the ashes… Thank you my friend and all the best to you.

  30. Such a beautiful post. I’d like to share this in my “conversation with a muse” series if that’s okay with you. It’s a conversation that so many of us have, or should have. ❤

    • Thank you very much for this, Diana. It was good for me to re-read this post and have this conversation yet again with myself 🙂 It would fit well with your “Conversation with a Muse” series, those moments when we need and find those pieces of inspiration. Wish you well ~

    • Hi Diana, thank you very much for the re-blog. It takes me back to the time I wrote this and wrestled with the paradox of life issue, life grows richer as we grow older ~ and we also get to meet some beautiful people along the way, such as yourself, that enrich life even further. Wishing you a great start to the holiday season ~ take care ❤️

      • My pleasure. It’s such a beautiful post, and it fit perfectly into my “muse” conversations. I know that a few readers made it over your way, and hope they’ll continue to enjoy your posts. Have a lovely weekend and holiday season. ❤

    • Thank you very much, Liz. One of the best experiences of life is to see how we change over the years ~ from the hair-on-fire years of the 20s to the more introspective years that follow, life ensures we will never be bored 🙂 Wish you a great holiday season, and take care.

  31. Randal, I just read this and what worthwhile thoughts. Your muse is delightful and full of wisdom like you. Of course we know who the muse really is. I can attest to aging being filled with insight (I’m 81). The focus needs to be on the present—where serendipity happens. 📚🎶 Christine

    Are you living in the Ukraine? 🤔

    • Perfectly said, “The focus needs to be on the present—where serendipity happens.” I’ve been working in the Czech Republic the past four years, and work with a couple companies in Ukraine. Beautiful country, but their history/conflict with Russia is just beyond frustrating. Politics as usual…the one constant in history.

      • Randall, I’ll always remember that quote. I have a bit about Ukraine in the historical fiction book I’m writing. It refers to the 1881 pogroms (killing of Jews) that started in Odessa, Kishinev and Kiev. Also, the 1905 pogrom and the late 1800s Russo-Turkish war. One of the book’s characters is a Ukrainian nurse (called a healer back then). Right, the political climate there today is in a state of flux. Many Ukrainians don’t approve of the pro-Russian, anti-reform course. It was interesting to research Ukrainian history then, and to get updates today. Looking forward to your Czech Republic country photographs. 📚Christine

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