On any given day, I invent a million excuses not to advance our plans (whatever those plans may be): we can’t leave the kids home alone for too long; we might get sick and not have access to adequate medical care; we could deplete our savings while US housing prices soar. When all else fails, I fall back on “you can’t teach an old dog…” What an irritatingly dismissive thought. I refuse to abide the idea I can not learn new skills and accomplish new goals.
We are in Wales this week. When we left the United States, Pat and I struck a deal. If he sold his car, he could use the proceeds to buy camera equipment. After all, he relinquished a lot to join me in Bratislava: cherished friends; meaningful volunteer work; a beautiful home town. He sold the car at the height of the used car market and left town with enough quality camera equipment to ply his craft. An accomplished photographer, Rick Sammon, is hosting a clinic in Wales, and Pat landed a spot in the class. As our train chugged into the tiny village of Llarnwst, Pat mentioned he was a “bit nervous”. Falling prey to personal insecurities comes way too easily. I must admit learning is more difficult than it used to be.
In January, I completed my second semester of French in Bratislava. The class was largely comprised of 18 to 24 year olds. I was the oldest by more than a decade. Learning new words, accessing them as needed, putting myself out there in this incredibly unlevel playing field was terrifying. Beyond that, it was humiliating. After years of studying in the US – where second language learning is not such a contact sport – I placed into an advanced class. I kept up through sheer force of will and near constant study. After the two hour final exam, I decided not to pursue further classroom instruction. Ten months later, my French is deteriorating. After licking my wounds, I am plotting my return.
My older brain will never beat my younger brain in any form of competition. Yet I refuse to accept this means all learning is done. That’s just
bullshit hogwash. As slowly as I may now learn, eventually a few new thoughts stay to roost. With more and more available time on my hands, I am willing to outwork my younger peers. While the young pups chase rabbits, roll in cow dung, and wrestle with the young dogs, I will gladly sit by the fireplace and study.
We are in Llanwrst a day early. Pat left before dawn to shoot in the early light. As I type this, he is editing the photos he took this morning. The rest of the class should arrive in town later today. He will do fine. And we will leave here enriched – experiencing a new country and making a few friends. Neither Pat nor I may be as fast as we used to be, but young dogs beware. We are every bit as tenacious.