There is a famous adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I don’t know a lot about dogs but what I am seeing in my human friends and myself defies this line of thinking. I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer which probably bodes well for being willing to learn some new tricks despite my age. I wouldn’t call myself an old dog but I am no spring chicken either. It’s often erroneous thinking that makes a person think they can’t learn something new because of their age. However it can also be aching knees so nix to snowboarding, rollerblading and a few other things that require physical dexterity although I have not yet ruled out the tango. In spite of those limitations though, I would say it doesn’t matter what age you are. The sky is the limit!
My latest and long desired learning trick this past year has been taking piano lessons. I’ve wanted to play piano for as long as I could remember. When I was 8 or 9 I had actually talked my parents into letting me take piano lessons with Mrs. M in the local church basement of our small town. I was determined to make sense of those black and white keys and learn how those symbols on a paper translated into actual music. I got a few lessons in before learning that a life circumstance in our family meant we were not getting the old piano from our neighbor after all. The lessons stopped but the desire did not.
Fast forward 30 years and I jumped on the chance to buy a piano from my own neighbor. However as much as that keyboard called to me it was my son who actually took lessons and learned the piano which led to his growth as a musician. I could have taken the opportunity then but did not. Even long after he left home, I still kept that piano. Having acquired one, I just couldn’t let it go even though for years it just served as a surface for family photos, flowers and candles.
Then finally last year the college I work at offered a class in piano and I knew it was time. More than fifty years after sitting down in the church basement with Mrs. M, I was once again staring at the keyboard. My fingers are not as nimble because of the arthritis in a couple of joints but those keys all started to make sense and those notes on the page arranged themselves into a language I could actually read. I was the oldest student in the class and many of those youngsters could play a mean scale or two but that didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother them either and if I do say so myself I learned to play a pretty soulful rendition of The House of the Rising Sun.
Being the oldest student in a class was nothing new to me. I had decided to go back to school when I was in my 30’s after spending 10 years pounding the pavement in LA in search of a viable acting career. I was also the mother of two young children. It was daunting but I was excited. However in my first meeting with an academic advisor I could overwhelmingly feel the age and responsibilities of life descend on me and I wasn’t sure I could do it. As we got deeper into the long term Educational Plan I felt more and more hopeless until I was bemoaning that I was going to be 45 before I finished my degree. The advisor replied, well chances are you are going to reach 45 anyway so why not get there with the degree? To this day I consider that one of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten. Now an academic advisor myself, I find it is advice I have shared with other students many times.
I finally did finish my Bachelors degree and yes I was near 45 when I did; 46 to be exact. In the interim we moved to another state, I raised my children into grade school then attended yet another community college and finally a private liberal arts university that I chose to be close to my children’s schools. Once again I was in with a
traditional population of students who were young enough to be my children. My parenting instincts were on full mode as they confided in me about their last weekend’s hangover or their latest crush. I was the older confidante and I don’t believe they ever knew how much older but it didn’t matter. I was a fellow student and I was on the same level as they were academically. I learned a lot about college aged children as well as about myself.
I am fortunate to have grown up with some wonderful role models who are constantly learning new things as they have aged. I have an amazing aunt who learned piano when she was in her 60’s and learned to paint in her 70’s. I have a wonderful godmother who took up the clarinet in her 80’s and plays with an orchestra who entertain at retirement homes. Their ages never stopped them from moving forward. In fact I find the older I get the more free time and resources I have to pursue my own interests. What will those look like? Earning a Master’s degree? Writing my first book? Finally mastering the entire Bruce Springsteen song Darkness on the Edge of Town on piano? Yes please! All that and more. I have a thirst for learning that is always burning inside of me. Now I just have to decide where that next lesson is waiting.