I am old. Once you get to be my age, there is no denying it, unless you are “in denial,” as they say. And I would rather be old than just an old fool. Being an old fool robs you of one of the chief compensations of age, which is wisdom. The reason wisdom comes with age is that you have seen it all before — or at least enough of it to avoid making the same foolish mistakes all over again.
Part of me identifies with the world-weary author of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, who first observed that there is nothing new under the sun. “All is vanity and a striving after wind,” he wrote. Tradition holds that the author was King Solomon, although biblical scholars think otherwise. Whoever he was, he talked like he had seen it all before. Life is a wearisome business, he maintained. He has pursued pleasure to no good end.· Wealth has provided no satisfaction, and even wisdom has brought only vexation. He has toiled ceaselessly with wisdom and knowledge and skill for riches that will eventually go to someone who did not toil for them and may be a fool besides. In the end, the wise man dies just like the fool, and both are soon forgotten. Solomon long anticipated Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who lamented, “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!”
The sun has risen more than a million times since Solomon allegedly said there was nothing new under it. Pleasure, wealth and hard work are presumably no more worthwhile now than they ever were. Even wisdom proves unavailing if it does nothing more than reveal that all is vanity and a striving after wind. But if I am able to step out of my dull routine and pay close attention to life as it actually unfolds from moment to moment, I am astonished to discover that each moment is still sui generis.
There is a biblical phrase that describes moments like this: newness of life. At my age, the adjective “new” rarely springs to mind when discussing my life. After all, the sun has risen more than 26,000 times since I saw my first sunrise. So what could possibly be new under it? And yet I find, especially when I have a camera in my hand, that the world can still appear brand spanking new.
As a landscape photographer, I am often out and about at dawn’s early light. At such times it hardly matters that I am hobbling about on arthritic knees, or that I only see clearly because I have had cataracts removed. When the sun spills over the horizon, I often feel like I am privileged to be eyewitness to the dawn of creation, with birds singing like the morning stars that sang together and the heavenly beings that shouted for joy when the Lord laid the cornerstone of the earth in the Book of Job. At such times I know what Marcel Proust meant when he said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”