“WOOK! WOOK!”, a double exclamation, were my first words. I was mimicking my hyper-observant, deeply curious mother as she pointed out discoveries -“LOOK! LOOK!” – which she found interesting and thought might engage my sponge of a brain. Whether by genetics or pedagogy, her legacy to me was what inventor Buckminster Fuller called “the gift of perpetual curiosity.”
“If curiosity killed the cat, it was satisfaction that brought it back,” winks writer, Holly Black.
Youthfulness is a satisfying combination of energy and curiosity. Forget you’re aging; c’mon get curious. You could load up with buckets of “duckface” Botox and look as wrinkle free as a Kardashian’s behind; however, without living in constant wonderment, you are already old, tired, dull and possibly dead.
S.U.N.S. LIFELONG LEARNING incorporates the four basic elements of the S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring, Spellbinding) acronym we associate with “joyous aging.”
Questions to ignite your curiosity are: What things, thoughts and experiences do I find SMILE-MAKING? Who do I want to know better and what might I explore with them to connect more deeply for greater UNITING? It’s in our nature to want to make a positive difference in the world; how might others best benefit from my skills, knowledge and passions in positive, NEIGHBORING ways? What do I want to study intensely, fully, captivatingly and what would find SPELLBINDING?
S.U.N.S. LIFELONG LEARNING has bright, ever-blazing “stars.” One I am pleased to call a friend is Jay Jones. He is based in Auburn, Alabama, and associated with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). I first knew Jay when he was teaching the history of a religion. Over the years of our friendship, I have enjoyed his guitar plucking, folk singing, stage acting, gerontology counseling, bourbon wisdom and enough bull shot between us, we could fill Jordan-Hare Stadium.
We got together for a bit of Friendsgiving last week and Jay entertained my questions related to S.U.N.S. LIFELONG LEARNING. Days after our exploration for this article and a stadium filled with his insights, Professor Jones communicated, “You gotta get these two in,” so I’m beginning with them:
A favorite poet of his, Anne Sexton, wrote this about learning: “Watch out for intellect because it knows nothing and leaves you hanging upside down, mouthing knowledge as your heart falls out of your mouth.”
“The JOYrontologist” RECOMMENDS this classic navel-gazer (omphaloskepsis in Ancient Greece) for holiday giving since Jay Jones said it is his all-time favorite: “THE BOOK OF JOY: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Now, the interview:
What is your personal motto? “Look for reasons to make things happen!”
What learning experiences do you find SMILE-MAKING? “Three things make me smile: children, music and being at the Altar with Clergy. Likely the most seminal experience of my life was as a camp counselor for the first RR Brown Camp for inner city children at Camp McDowell in Arkansas. We had 70 children, all of whom had to pass the swimming test. Each would jump in and sink to the bottom or fight the water to stay afloat. I don’t think one passed. When they returned home, each had Red Cross Beginner’s Swimming Cards and incredible grins. That makes me smile still!”
What living “seeker of learning” do you most admire? “Bart Ehrman. While his path was academic, mine has been following much the same trajectory but without academic framing. I simply read everything he wrote. That was my springboard to other authors like Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright.”
What subjects have you found the most compelling to study in your life? “Religions and the layman’s understanding of medicine.”
What are three books you suggest everyone study? “Like Stephen Prothero, author of ‘Religious Literacy,’ I find most ‘believers’ know little about that which they believe or other religions. I absolutely encourage the study of the Bible, its history and development. It is surprising how rich and vibrant the color of the palette becomes when one understands why there are duplicate stories in the Hebrew Bible. And, why all the directives don’t line up. That is refreshing. Thinking is required.
“Bart Erhman’s works are highly recommended. I read the first one, ‘Misquoting Jesus,’ and could not wait for his subsequent books to come out. I originally thought he was debunking religions but found him adding significant depth and understanding and ultimately, meaning. The New Testament came alive for me.
“N.T. Wright has a book, ‘Paul: A Biography.’ Much of the Christian belief is Paulinian Doctrine. Here is a man who never met Jesus, argues with the apostles but provides the bulk of our understanding of who He was and therefore what we believe.”
LIFELONG LEARNING standouts from your home state of Arkansas include John Grisham, Alice Walton and Helen Gurley Brown. Who is another you would want readers to know about? “A name that most people would not know, Harper W. Boyd Jr. His enthusiasm and encouragement created a spark that finally ignited my desire to learn. As a former dean at Northwestern, Stanford, University Arkansas and finally UALR, his command of the discipline of marketing was unchallenged. His nurturing style encouraged me to dig deeper for a better understanding.”
Where is a great place for someone who values LIFELONG LEARNING to live? “I am in a place (Auburn, Alabama) where learning opportunities are highly encouraged and available…a community with an open mind which fosters learning at all ages and provides those opportunities. With the internet, even a closed-minded community has some opportunities, but they are more difficult to come by. A mind is like a parachute some say. They work best open!”
LIFELONG LEARNING and OLLI. I know you are an OLLI fan. What impresses you most about this program? “Mostly that it is organized and coordinated by education professionals. The staff pays attention to the details, so you feel like you have support staff. And it can be found at most universities in the U.S.”
What is a regret you have related to LIFELONG LEARNING? “I’m not old enough to have a regret yet!”
S.U.N.S. LIFELONG LEARNING encourages you to “grow until you can’t.” There’s no need to put a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself to learn something new. Learn like kids do best, in low-pressure environments that allow for a lot of trial and error. Pick something that is already SMILE MAKING for you and expand on it; take it to another level. Enjoy UNITING with a study buddy or buddies. Learn new ways to serve others through NEIGHBORING. (Holiday hint: Come join us birders across America for the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count.) Each of us has natural talents and those become better with practice which allows you to get out of the everyday rut and is SPELLBINDING.
S.U.N.S. LIFELONG LEARNING ODES FROM OTHERS
“I think at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
“Don’t go through life, grow through life.”—Eric Butterworth
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”—Plutarch
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of their mystery each day.”—Albert Einstein
“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”—Richard Feynmann
“It is simply this: Do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die.”—Tove Jansson
“A person without curiosity may as well be dead.”—Judy Blume
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”—Walt Disney
LIFELONG LEARNING LAFFS
America believes in education: The average college professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in an entire—day.
The Department of Education is canceling $150 million in student loans. Those are four lucky people.
Alabama was ranked as one of the “Best States for Education.” We made it into the top 50.
JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK
Dec. 3—Amanda Seyfried
Dec. 5—Walt Disney
Dec. 6—Steven Wright
Dec. 7—Louis Prima
Dec. 8—James Thurber
Dec. 9—Emmett Kelly
VIRGINIA HAM-WRAPPED UTAH DATES HOLIDAY APPETIZER
Each week, “The JOYrontologist” shares a recipe which salutes a healthy food produced in America. This week we use both lean, Virginia ham and Utah dates. The delicious and nutritious collection is called, “The S.U.N.S. Longevity Cookbook” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many gerontologists believe holds the promise of a long, healthy, joyful life.
- 30 dates, pitted
- 15 thinly sliced pieces Virginia ham, halved lengthwise
- 2-3 tsp. jalapeno-infused oil
- Place a pitted date at the end of each piece of ham and roll it up. Repeat until all the dates are rolled in ham.
- Arrange the ham-wrapped dates on a cookie sheet, seam-side down. Bake in 350F oven until the ham is crispy and the dates are warm and gooey in the center, about 12-15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, arrange on a plate and drizzle with the infused oil.
“The JOYrontologist” RECOMMENDS pairing the sweet nuttiness of this appetizer with a full-bodied Friulano from the Collio region in northeast Italy. A good vintage, remember some wines like some people are—BETTER WITH AGE—is Gradis’ciutta 2021 Friulano which has delicate aromas of Alpine herbs and peaches.
1,070 JOY-GIVING THINGS FROM MY FIRST 70 YEARS (continued)
991. “School days, school days, good old, golden rule days”
992. Sidney Poitier as schoolteacher, Mark Thackery, in “To Sir, With Love”
993. “To Sir, With Love” sung by Lulu
994. “My Old School,” by Steely Dan
995. “Fe-fe, fi-fi, fo-fo, fun; I smell smoke in the auditorium,” sung by The Coasters
996. Dusting blackboard erasers on the playground
997. The smell of a new book satchel and the big box of Crayola Crayons
998. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
999. “Old School” starring Will Ferrell as Frank
1,000. “The School of Rock”
1,001. Singing the alma mater
HAPPY NEW MONTH AND LIFELONG LEARNING!
Read all the installments in this series at www.cullmantribune.com/tag/odes-to-joy-2022.