An Avenue to Find Meaning

"The year of 1926 arrived in Peoria with a terrible blizzard. The sounds of tree limbs breaking with the heavy frost could be heard everywhere, and the temperature hovered around minus 10 degrees.”

Even as I read this excerpt from Jo Fredell Higgins’ A Song for Cecilia, a forthcoming work of historical fiction set in Peoria during the 1920s and ‘30s, the snow was once again blanketing our fair city, 85 years later. As the Blizzard of 2011 buried us indoors, the cold, gray winter prompted a bit of introspection.

Many of the articles in this issue were suggested by friends and readers who were inspired to try something different. What about you? Are you considering a new hobby? Or even a new career? What’s on your “bucket list?”

I have a fear of heights, so acrobatic circus acts have never been high on my list, but the students at ISU’s Gamma Phi Circus have no such fears. One of just two collegiate circus programs in the country, their story is a fascinating one, and I’m sure their annual show is even more so! And despite having lived in the area most of my life, I had no clue about the long, storied history of circuses in Bloomington and in other central Illinois towns. It’s true—you learn something new every day.

And that’s part of what makes life an adventure! The concept of “lifelong learning” has come into vogue in recent years, and for good reason. The changing workplace and the pace of technological change have made essential the need to continually upgrade one’s skills throughout life. It also happens to be a powerful force for transformation, good for the mind and spirit, an avenue to find meaning in our lives.

I have friends who learned to pilot an airplane for the first time in their “adult years.” One of my sons went skydiving last year for the first time, and, he says, not the last, which made me think of former President George H.W. Bush, who famously celebrated his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays by doing the same. "I don't feel a day over 84," he joked after that last jump.

I’m no daredevil, so skydiving is not exactly my thing. But I did hold a giant python in my hands at the Boy Scouts dinner last September—see the Nov/Dec issue of this magazine—and that was enough of an adventure for me!

Other articles in this issue tell the same story, that of continued learning over a lifetime. The three founders of the Three Sisters Folk Art School in Chillicothe are staying young by keeping alive traditions that might otherwise be consigned to the dustbin of history. The member potters at Wheel Art Pottery Studios in Peoria are building a community around their collective interest, sharing a creative space and learning from one another in the process.

There is no age limit when it comes to learning. So what will you try this year for the first time? a&s