Did you hear the news item about Leo Plass? He’ll be turning 100 years old in a couple of months but he hasn’t been spending his time in a rocking chair waiting to die. He’s been going to school and just received his college degree!
Leo was finishing something he started back in 1932, when he left college just shy of graduation to take a job offered by a friend in the logging industry. The job paid $150 a month, far more than he was making as a teacher. “It was the Great Depression,” Plass said Tuesday. “That was a lot of money – a lot of money.”
He went on to have a “good family, good life, good food,” he admitted, but finally decided to get the one thing he missed out on: his college degree. He returned to school at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande and earned his associate’s degree.
“Never dreamed of something like this happening to me,” said Plass. “It’s out of this world.”
Most of us can’t imagine living until we’re 99, let alone returning to school at that age. But Leo serves as a reminder that we’re never too old to learn new things and have new adventures.
Learning truly is a lifelong process, and thankfully most of the learning we do as adults isn’t in a classroom. The whole world becomes our school and we pick and choose our topics. Best of all, no one’s going to grade us!
I’ve always been in awe of people who learn a new language, start playing a musical instrument, or begin a new career in their adult years (and the older they are, the greater my ‘awe’ level is). I’m not sure if I’m ready to take up the trumpet or study Chinese at this late date, but I’ve decided to keep an open mind about everything else.
An open mind is definitely a prerequisite for lifelong learning, as is a “half empty” one. When we think we already know all there is to know about something, that we have the total truth, we’re like the guy with the teacup in the Zen story about the student and the monk. You know the one. The student goes to the monk and says he wants to learn but all he does is talk and talk about what he already knows. All the time, the monk keeps pouring tea into his cup, until it overflows and spills onto the floor. Finally, the student notices the monk, who’s still pouring, and asks, “What are you doing?” The monk stops pouring and tells the student, “You are like this cup – so full that there is no room for more. To see the light of wisdom, you must first empty your cup.”
Our mental cups should never be so full they can’t hold more knowledge. Like the 99-year-old Leo Plass, we can always learn more, achieve more, have more fun. Every morning, we should jump out of bed thinking, “What new things can I learn today?” What a way to start the morning!