Community Voices: What I Meant to Say Was…

Sometimes a theme gets stuck in your head and you have a hard time resolving it to your own satisfaction. So you pick at it and turn it around. You look at it from different angles. You articulate an idea but remain unsatisfied, so you articulate a related idea and hope it meshes. But it still isn’t quite right. You know you should leave it alone, but there’s still something *missing* that you have to figure out. So you keep coming back to it.

When that happens in fiction you end up with a series. Depending on how sparkling the idea is (and how competent the writer), that series can go on for many, many volumes and attract an increasingly diverse audience, or it can thud horribly and drive the audience you have away. Sadly, I’m stuck on an idea and I haven’t quite worked it out yet, so I’m going to take another whack at it here (as I’ve done at least four times already).

How we perceive and how our perceptions change over time is something that has always perplexed me. I picked at the idea in a post on perception of the sacred. I turned it around in a post about fathers not always being wrong, then flipped it over in a post on feeling alone in the big tent. Then I went back and reframed the idea of fathers and getting old.

All of those are attempts to understand perception and the ways that we can radically shift the way we perceive without ever noticing that a change has occurred. And it *is* a change, a significant change, even a mighty change. The thing is that mighty changes sometimes take place so slowly that we don’t even notice–and we don’t even perceive the change.

I hate to come back to it yet again, but the whole age/perception thing is really stuck in my craw (located somewhere northeast of the spleen, I think).

When I was nineteen years old serving a mission in Germany, my mission president said something appalling in a zone conference. He suggested that he thought the same way then as he did when he was sixteen. I was incredulous, as were the other missionaries in the room, and President Klein laughed at our obvious disbelief. So he reiterated the thought–inside his head he felt like exactly the same person that he was when he was a missionary.

What an extraordinary thought. Of course he wasn’t the same person. He could never have been a mission president at nineteen; he didn’t have the right mind or experience. He could never have been a successful engineer running his own firm as a teenager; he didn’t have the knowledge or insight or problem-solving skill. And I can guarantee that at the age of sixteen he would never have imagined himself at forty-something saying that he was just his sixteen year old self with thirty more years of experience.

I couldn’t understand that then–I couldn’t even imagine it–but I think I understand it now. And I think he was right. I’m still the same person, and I still think with the same voice. Yes, I have more experience and have modified many of my opinions, but at the base of it all I’m the same person trying to solve most of the same problems using most of the same methodologies.

I’m better at being me, much more practiced at it. But I’m still me.

Which is something I failed to articulate well last month. I got old, but I did it so gradually and so smoothly that I never noticed the moment it happened. What finally occurred to me this week is that in the process of getting old I never stopped being a young person; I just added onto who I already was. What I meant to say was that I *also* became old, not that I *only* became old. I think there’s a difference.

Which is kind of cool. It’s not necessary to give up who you were to become who you are–or who you will be. In fact, it may not even be possible, which is why the gospel of salvation is so critical in enabling us to have been the one who made certain mistakes at the same time that we become the one who will no longer make them–who is, in fact, no longer interested in making them.

That’s a story worth telling, and as Mormons we have a unique take that is very much worth sharing in whatever form, and whatever forum.

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2 Responses to Community Voices: What I Meant to Say Was…

  1. Marny says:

    Madeleine L’Engle said once, “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”

  2. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    I love this. I’m the same person I was at sixteen, too, only moreso.

    Thanks, Scott.

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