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January 3, 2013 / Pastor George Fike

Aging Aggressively if Not Gracefully…

Chris KearnsChris Kearns, my best friend in high school, shared this today on his facebook page.


In the summer of 1852 Henry David Thoreau was walking, as was his daily habit, in the woods. As Stanley Cavell notes in his beautiful little book entitled “The Senses of Walden,” Thoreau had long made it his business to make himself available to every occasion. And one never knows what will reveal itself if one has patience and faith enough to wait.

On this day Thoreau noticed that a group of oak sprouts which, after an initial burst of growth, had remained dormant throughout the heat of summer was growing again. When he returned in evening to write in his journal, he set out to imagine the meaning of this experience. He wrote the following:

” Trees have commonly two growths in the year, a spring and a fall growth, the latter sometimes equalling the former, and you can see where the first was checked whether by cold or drouth, and wonder what there was in the summer to produce this check, this blight. So it is with man; most have a spring growth only, and never get over this first check to their youthful hopes, but plants of hardier constitution, or perchance planted in a more genial soil, speedily recover themselves, and, though they bear the scar or knot in remembrance of their disappointment, they push forward again and have a vigorous fall growth which is equivalent to a new spring. These two growths are now visible in the oak sprouts, the second already nearly equaling the first.”

–Thoreau, Journal, 14 July 1852

I have reached an age to love this parable of two growths, one in the spring and another, if we are lucky, in the fall of our lives. As I read him, Thoreau cautions that to earn our second growth we have to learn to move forward both through and with the ‘scar or knot’ bearing the trace of our disappointments. This might serve as a working definition of character – which requires us to resume our development in the context of our disappointing but indispensable finitude.

As I wade deeper into the waters of my senior years, Chris’ observation is inspiring.  His last sentence so aptly captures my autumnal aspirations and challenges me to remain an object in motion that will stay in motion rather than to be an object at rest that surrenders to decline. (Newton’s laws of motion)

Chris earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. He has been the assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota since 2000.

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