April 29, 2021 § 34 Comments
By Eileen V. Finley
Remember that feeling of anticipation that crept through our classroom windows every spring when we were kids? Remember how the warm, sweet air taunted us with restless longings for the beginning of summer vacation? Endless days of freedom stretched before us in a boundless field of possibility.
Youth is full of beginnings and recently I discovered the reverse is also true—beginnings are full of youth.
Scientists, doctors and self-help gurus seem to agree with me. For years now, I’ve been reading articles claiming the best way to maintain a youthful hold on life, well into old age, is to stop doing what we’ve been doing, move outside our comfort zone, and try something new. Learn to play an instrument, study a foreign language, master a new skill.
Could this simple advice really lead to the Fountain of Youth we all seek?
After retiring from an intellectually stimulating fifty-year career as a musician, educator and conductor, I chased this question. I looked back on the momentous beginnings of my youth and searched for their commonalities.
—I remember the day I entered my first classroom as a new teacher, aware of the pulse pounding in my ears, the slight tremor in my hands. I leapt with abandon, trusting the chute would open. I was 22 and on the brink of something wonderful.
—I remember boarding the plane for my first overseas trip, after spending months studying city maps, planning, researching, imagining the unknown, until I could think of nothing else.
—I remember the first time I stood on a stage facing the choir. I could feel the heat of the audience on the back of my neck, and the suspended breath of the singers before me. In that moment of silence, I signaled the downbeat and brought forth glorious sound. I trembled at the magnificence of it.
What did these significant beginnings have in common? In each:
—I was undertaking a task for the first time.
—I had a fleeting awareness of the risk, but a reasonable amount of confidence.
—My desire to succeed was greater than my fear of the risk.
The risk, with all its anticipation, exhilaration and awe, arose from a place of beginning, of newness, of wonder, not from the bed of safety and security I had spent a lifetime building.
To stand poised on the edge of the unknown is the essence of youth.
At 72, in an effort to rekindle those feelings, I began again, this time as a writer.
For years my music colleagues had been asking me to write a book. Some wanted a handbook for choral directors. Others wanted a dissertation on classroom management, student motivation, curriculum design, or even a “how to” book for organizing a community children’s choir. My muse wanted none of this. For, me, it would have to be a memoir.
With each page of my first draft, I wallowed in a whirlwind of the unknown, the thrill of a new adventure, the explosion of my creativity. Once again, I leapt with abandon.
“It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing….”
― Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
I wrote every day, willingly submitting to the mesmerizing process as its magic dispelled all sense of time. When I was forced away from my desk by life’s other responsibilities, my mind danced with lyrical phrases, poetic metaphors, and story meanderings as I cooked or exercised or laundered sheets.
During that first year, I completed a memoir, explored various forms of poetry, toyed with writing prompts and developed my voice through personal essays. I took classes online and in person, attended writers’ conferences and workshops led by well-respected authors. I read, and read, and read. The insatiable hunger to learn erupted from some place young and fertile within. I was 22 again.
Tackling a creative passion, a challenging skill or an unexplored talent has the power to increase your energy level, enrich your quality of life, and allow you to see yourself in a new light, but these rewards don’t come easily. You need motivation and desire to sustain you when the going gets tough.
To find your motivation, recall some of the beginnings you embarked upon in your youth—the first day of freshman year, the first day on a new job, the day you decided to make that career or life choice shift—then revisit the full range of visceral sensations you experienced in these moments.
To arouse your desire, make a list of all the things you haven’t done but would love to try—pole dancing or magic, singing or sailing, painting, acting, knitting. We each have a limitless well of untapped talents, skills and interests waiting to be unleashed.
Then step off the ledge.
Do It! You are ready. Don’t hesitate. You are capable. Don’t make excuses. You are at the perfect age to begin again.
And it just might lead you to your own personal Fountain of Youth.
Eileen Finley founded the Pennsylvania Youth Chorale in 1977 and served as its CEO and artistic director for 40 years. Now retired from a music, conducting, and teaching career, she is determined to become a writer. Ms. Finley has attended numerous writers’ conferences and taken several writing courses and workshops with notable author-teachers. She is actively submitting to a variety of literary publications and contests. This is her first published piece! Visit Eileen at http://eileenvfinley.com/