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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Late Bloomer

I often wonder what people mean when they use the phrase, "late bloomer."

Poet Sharon Olds once said, "I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky." It sounds like she believed herself to be thus because she didn't get her first collection of poetry until she was almost 40. I understand what she was saying, but I'm thinking about the concept of being a late bloomer on a deeper level--beyond vocation.

The New Yorker magazine published an article last year called "Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?" by Malcolm Gladwell. In it he quotes an economist named David Galenson who did a study titled, "Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity" as saying "Their [late bloomers] goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental."

Like Olds, Galenson was referring more to the arts than life, so I'm not going to necessarily tie his comment to what I'm about to say, but I do think there's a hint of it.

There seems to be a stigma stigma attached to those who are deemed late bloomers; as if they couldn't quite focus hard enough at the stage in life they should have been able to and therefore they drifted and wandered until they finally stumbled on their purpose or calling in spite of themselves.

I don't buy that. Maybe it's because I consider myself to be a late bloomer (minus the stigma) of sorts, in more ways than one. But I think it has more to do with life being a road with differing winds and bends and even surfaces for each of us. Along those roads are differing experiences, understandings, and perceptions.

One of my grandfathers spent the final couple decades of his working years as a foreman in a factory, but you've probably never met a man who was more committed to being a loving servant to his family. That was his legacy and it's something I aspire to nearly 25 years after his death.

He wasn't always the man he should have been. He was a late bloomer when it came to the role of loving servant. But I don't think it was a result of him drifting through life without any direction. Instead it had more to do with his perception about how a man was supposed to express himself.

When he was growing up, expressing any emotion other than anger or happiness wasn't seen as masculine. If a man shed a tear, it better be over the death of a loved one, because anything short of that would have been viewed as weakness. If a man provided for his family, it was his way of saying he loved them. Actually saying it, unless circumstances were dire, just wasn't done.

So, he entered adulthood exhibiting all of those characteristics--characteristics he believed to be virtuous. But something changed. I was too young to know what it was, but by the time he had grandchildren, he was a gentle man who spoke softly while at the same time authoritatively.

He became less about demanding action and more about taking action himself, quietly, behind the scenes. He helped neighbors. He spoke loving truth to family members. He opened his wallet when he saw someone in genuine need and he closed it when he saw someone who needed direction more than money.

Did he come to such realizations later in life than he "should" have or than other people do? I don't think so. In fact, I'm not sure many of us ever live the way he did over the final twenty or thirty years of his life, let alone the first twenty or thirty.


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