Tested by the tenor of life
I just read "The Great Stone Face" by Nathanial Hawthorne. It is a short story revolving around the character Earnest who, along with his village, patiently waits for a promised wise man to bring hope.
Time marches on for Earnest as he lives his whole life in the same village, earnestly waiting for the wise man to come. Visitors of promise come and go over the years, but alas, they are not the ones that are yearned for. The wait takes Ernest to the end of his life, the inevitable progression of age settling in like a deep stain.
The story ends by revealing that Earnest himself is the wise man of hope anticipated by so many for so many years. Through his desire for goodness, hope, and unrelenting willingness to seek it without a position of power, Earnest had become very wise indeed.
This description by Hawthorne of the long journey to wisdom is some of the most artfully crafted prose I've read in awhile, and crackles with hopeful insight on the aging process:
"The years hurried onward, treading their haste on one another's heels. And now they began to bring white hairs, and scatter them over the head of Earnest; they made reverend wrinkles across his forehead, and furrows in his cheeks. He was an aged man. But not in vain had he grown old: more than the white hairs on his head were the sage thoughts in his mind; his wrinkles and furrows were inscriptions that time had graved, and in which he had written legends of wisdom that had been tested by the tenor of life…"
Tested by the tenor of life is an apt description of aging and subsequent wisdom. However, our willingness to seek after wisdom and persist in its pursuit isn't for everybody. Wisdom is a function of aging and aging is a function of time. Wisdom derives from "scar tissue", those moments in life that are painful, agonizing, and often debilitating. Too many people today either try to avoid that pain or stop learning the lessons of its scar tissue all together.
I read a book a few years back that has had a real impact on my seeking after wisdom. It's called "Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations", by Janet O. Hagberg. She says she wrote the book, "to transform the way we think about
power and leadership. It takes people on a journey beyond achievement
and success to a stance in which power comes from their inner core and
they lead from their souls."
She describs six stages of personal power and leadership, which are cumulative, and build upon the other. The sixth and deepest is "Power by Wisdom" and is rarely achieved in this life. It demands going through what Janet calls "The Wall" – the mystic Saint John of the Cross called it the "dark night of the soul". It is a moving beyond your
intellect, letting go of control, embracing your dark side, and going to the very depths of your core.
For those who journey through the "wall" lead just by being, and bring a wisdom to life unencumbered by power or the fear of death. They give everything away because they no longer derive any sense of worth from what is possessed (including power). Known as sages, like Earnest in "The Great Stone Face", these men and women are desperately needed to guide us through the extraordinary moment of change we are facing in our life times. Maybe you are one of them?