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.

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