I don’t remember exactly what show I was watching although I remember that it was about interviewing people who have lived to be 100 or more. One interviewer asked this feisty 103 year-old woman, “So, to what do you attribute your longevity?” Her response was priceless: “To having not died yet.” Is living just about how long we hang around? What about the issue of whether or not our minds are growing and expanding throughout those years? I remember when former Vice-President Dan Quayle, that master of mis-quotes, once famously opined: “A mind is a terrible thing to lose.” While this quote is funny it does get to the heart of one of our current-day primal fears: living long enough that we lose our sense of ourselves as our minds slowly succumb to Alzheimer’s. In the old days we called it “dementia”; whether we call it dementia or Alzheimer’s, the end is the same: We essentially lose ourselves even while our body lives on without “you”. For most people this is a pretty good definition of hell, a place to which they absolutely do not want to go.
We now live in a culture which emphasizes exercising and staying in shape, no matter what our age is; as they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Genetics aside, I believe the same thing can be said of our mental faculties; I also firmly believe that the issue of creativity is the way in which we exercise our minds and keep it in shape for as long as possible. Creativity does not only involve paint and canvas: Essentially, creativity is about seeing in a new way, seeing new connections, kind of like staring at a “Where’s Waldo” puzzle until you “see it”! So what holds us back from being creative? My guess is the issues of rigidity and the fear that fuels it. In the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” an Indian waiter offers one of the Englishwomen a dish. She asks what it is and he gives the Indian name for it, and then asks, “Would you like some of this?” With a sniffing dismissal, the woman replies, “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it”. Why do we fear the unfamiliar? Even more, why do we think it is all right to dismiss what is not familiar? Narrowness and pettiness of mind and heart… again, genetics aside… make us prime candidates for the oblivion of Alzheimer’s; having spent our life in not-wanting-to-know, Alzheimer’s delivers what we have craved all along.
So, even though you are living, are you “alive” ? Do you believe the lie that you cannot color outside the lines? Have you selected something from the menu lately that you have never had before? Are you afraid of out-living your mind? What are you doing about it? Anything?