One of my concerns for starting my MFA at 50 is that I would end up being a) older than every single student and b) older than my teachers. Older than all of the students, I pretty much expected, but older than my teachers, I mildly feared.
In the end, while I am much older – twice as old in many cases – than the other students, I am certainly not the oldest. Indeed, there are many students about the same age and even a few who are older.
And the great news is that, so far, my teachers are all older as well. Not by a lot in all cases, but at least by a bit and so, I am not feeling out of place. Clearly, this makes no difference to my own learning, but it is comforting to know that I am not alone in my desire to try something new at this stage in life. And, of course, having other older students in our cohort brings a richness to our interactions that might otherwise be missed if we didn’t get to benefit from everyone’s collective life experiences.
On Tuesdays, for example, I share a corner of our conference table with Syma. We are by far the oldest students in our class and without wanting to pry, I would guess Syma. to be in her 60s. Fit, gorgeous, full of life and always busy, my guess at her age is based on her white hair, a few wrinkles here and there and mostly her stories that set her history as having started at least a decade before my own.
Because of our seating proximity, I was tasked with introducing her at a session where we did a small “reading” of our work. According to the professor, I did a fine job because I highlighted a bit about her background, but focused more on her writing and personality to show that I both knew her style and also her, as a colleague. Syma is a lovely woman and easy to talk about. After hearing the other student’s introductions, however, I realized that I hadn’t probably asked Syma enough in-depth questions – where she was from, where she’d done her undergrad, her hobbies, etc. – but I still managed to pull it off.
The following week, Syma paid me a huge compliment and said that the story I had read had stayed in her mind and she’d even discussed it with her husband. It was the account of a story I’ve heard several times from a friend who grew up in Siberia and chatting about it got us on to other topics about the former Soviet Union, Russia today, our lineages and a long string of things, meandering as conversations often do.
Other students joined in as we waited for our professor and we all enjoyed the lively discussion. And then Syma said something that shut us all down in astonishment. The room was silent as her words echoed in our minds.
“I’ve learned a lot in my 80 years…” she said.
Syma is not only older than me, she is 30 years older than me. I would never in a million years have guessed her to be in the generation of my parents. That said, my parents also both have remarkable minds that, even well into their 80’s, are sharper than many younger people I know. I have tremendous admiration for all of them and their determination to stay present in life and continue to learn and grow.
I am inspired by Syma and hope that in another 30 years I’ll be even a fraction as interesting as she is. I have a lot to learn.