You have heard the saying: “Curiosity killed the cat.” I beg to differ.
Richard and I once had a delightful cat. Her name was McGonagall, called after Scotland’s worst poet, William Topaz McGonagall. She lived to be 17 ½ years old, dying in old age and from natural causes. She managed to survive four busy toddlers and as many manses, all built across from high traffic roads and highways. She always went out every evening to explore the great outdoors, not returning until the sun came up. On two occasions only did she stay away longer than one night. Although she played her cards pretty close to her chest, it seemed to us that she enjoyed a pretty exciting night life, certainly far more riveting than anything we were getting up to with four small children in tow!
McGonagall definitely did not die from curiosity! But a lot of people do and that’s a tragedy.
Many years ago when my mother was a very young woman trying to make a living during the Great Depression, the company she worked for finally decided to shut down the plant and give its employees a week’s paid holidays. Everyone was over the moon. Everyone except one ornery Scotsman. (I know the Scots are not faring well in today’s blog!) He was furious about being forced to take a week’s vacation. When everyone returned to work a week later, filled with stories of what they had got up to on their holidays, he did not. It seemed he had died during his week off work. Sadly, my mother said that she suspected he had died of boredom.
We see this frequently when people retire. I remember an old school principal in my congregation warning another parishioner who had just retired from teaching, “Be careful. Many teachers have a heart attack and die after six months into their retirement.” What he should have said was not “Be careful,” but rather “Be curious!” Fortunately, his younger colleague is a very curious man and his curiosity has led him to meaningful pursuits with Big Brothers and Big Sisters and also to places as far away as China, where he taught English for several years.
After interviewing a variety of individuals for his illuminating study on finding your vocation, author Gregg Levoy, concluded that the people who are most responsive to their calling are those who have a high level of curiosity about their world, other people, and their own selves. They are also happier and healthier. “Curiosity is the cure.”
So if you are struggling to find a calling or purpose in the second half of your life, consider those things about which you are curious. Not really curious about anything? A good way to hone your curiosity skills is to “pay attention” to what is going on in and around you. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell, whom Levoy quotes, said that often our problem is one of “inadvertence, of not being alert, not awake.” Start by looking around your neighbourhood to see what the needs are.
Get curious. It just might save your life!