I recently passed one of those “milestone” birthdays divisible by 10. Something about beginning a new decade seems significant – or at least notable enough to merit birthday cards featuring your age in bold letters.
I didn’t feel any different.
If anything, I was a little disappointed that becoming a septuagenarian did not increase my ease in reading the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. It was so named, by the way, because of an old tradition that it was translated by 72 Hebrew scribes. It was easier to round 72 off to 70 than to call it the “Sept-et-duo-gint.”
When I was in my teens, I would have considered 70 to be ancient, and most of my adult life I assumed I’d be retired before reaching the mark, but now I can’t imagine giving up my various jobs to take up golf again, or sit in a recliner watching daytime TV.
A balanced life, I think, includes a lot of the “same old,” but also regular doses of something new.
I’ve lived in the same house for 33 years, and have been in my third career for the past 15 years. Stability is a good thing, but new experiences beckon, too.
Maybe 25 years ago, I took my parents to New York City to see the sights. After a whirlwind tour and a couple of Broadway plays, my mother was so excited that she talked about it for weeks. My homebody dad’s only comment was, “I’m glad I went so I don’t have to do it again.”
This week I’ve had the new and rewarding experience of teaching, worshiping, and making new friends at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ve long known about the church and its prophetic history – it took just one call from Arkansas’s retiring CBF coordinator Ray Higgins to spark an anniversary trip to Hot Springs Village.
I’d never been to Arkansas, so I felt a bit like Tom Sawyer in the musical Big River, where he sings a ditty about wanting to visit the state:
I ain’t never traveled much,
but someday when the money’s such
I’d like to see the world and all,
and take a run through Arkansas.
It’s been a fun run – but new things aren’t limited to new places and new friends.
While grading a student’s last-minute exegesis assignment before sunrise, I learned a new word. The student wrote of the Balaam story’s “intertextual value and metaleptic quality.” I don’t think he had any idea what a “metaleptic quality” is, and certainly didn’t demonstrate how it can be seen in the story of Balaam having a conversation with his donkey.
I didn’t know the word, either: scholars of rhetoric love nothing more than making up fancy words for various types of wordplay or figurative speech, and it’s hard to keep up with them all. “Metalepsis” turns out to have nothing to do with either metal or the metaverse, but refers to taking a phrase or term that’s normally used figuratively, and applying it in a different way.
For example, if I were to sense that something suspicious or shady was going on, I might say, “Something’s rotten in Denmark.” We’d all recognize that the problem area had nothing to do with Denmark or with a literal stink, but the famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet would give a little extra punch to my voiced suspicions.
Clear as mud? If that’s not bad enough, the same practice is also called “transumption.” Go figure, and check off another new vocabulary word.
In a single day, I can learn new words, shop in a new store, eat in a new restaurant, hike a new trail, or meet a new friend.
As long as I can do that, I can grow older without feeling old: I can catch worms every morning and never feel over the hill.
I hope you caught the metaleptic quality of that last statement.