I was once told that there are two kinds of souls, the old and the young. I used to doubt that a soul – the core of our being, that repository of our hearts, heads, and dreams – could be measured in age, but time has proved me wrong. The soul in each of us morphs and colors, expands and diminishes with everything and everyone that we encounter. Young souls seek practicality, convenience, and progress, and this shapes their understanding of the world. Old souls, longing for beauty in all of its forms, have a more natural view of things. They are connected to the past, present, and future of mankind in ways that younger souls fail to comprehend. The ripening of the soul creates vulnerability to the heights of happiness and the valleys of grief in equal, deeper capacities. There is greatness in the old soul – a greatness that is threatened in this age of new souls.
They are a separate race, the old souls. I have met a handful over the years: they are more than friends, slowly becoming a fixture in life like gray hairs or scars and marking you forever. They grow accustomed to each other, to their love of the past, to their intentional slowing down in a world constantly pressing forward at an alarming, uncompassionate rate. The old souls bind themselves together, refusing to let a companion be swept up by the tide, by the current, by the drowning. A fellow old soul is a buoy to cling to, a marker in the turbulent sea of our times to sustain and guide you. Young souls are unable to achieve these kinds of ties: it takes an aged soul to know and cherish another person over periods of separation, distance, and even death, and to attach yourself to someone who, like a scar, reveals to the world that your heart is old, refined by your exposure to another era. Yet old souls are not “old-fashioned” in the modern sense of the word. They are, in fact, timeless in their ability to discern what of the past rightfully has a place in the present. They know quality, class, comfort, necessity, and significance, but, the challenges they face in moving through the present are significant. The power of public opinion, the brutal advance of technology, and the pace of life are nearly stifling. The old souls must rely on each other to keep afloat; their insightfulness is protected from the persecution of new souls only by the company of comrades.
This knowledge, this ability to see through the cracks of infinity and comprehend the true nature of things, is natural to an old soul. A song, a teacup, a book can speak to them in a near-forgotten language and touch their hearts. Old souls have very impressionable hearts: each moment, each experience, each sensory arousal leaves an indentation. Their hearts remember, often with more clarity than their heads, and elevate anything deserving of preservation or revival. This ability to discern specific objects, ideas, places, and people that should be remembered reverses the efforts of time to decay and the roughness of life to destroy. Old souls magnify all good things, even those that younger souls find out-dated and deliberately replace due to the foolhardy notion that “convenience” and “efficiency” and “latest” make for goodness. The hearts of old souls become a living storage space for the customs and creations, the possessions and the practices, the triumphs and the tragedies of those who came before us. Their unusual wisdom sparks an enthusiastic appreciation for anything that speaks great truths about humanity in its simplicity, beauty, endurance, and universality.
Beyond this recognition of goodness, old souls also register the depths of darkness in an imperfect universe. Goodness takes time for a heart to magnify while the bad has the explosive powers of doubt and despair. In letting the past speak to them, they open themselves up to the betrayals of their forefathers as much as they embrace the victories. Old souls can be haunted by dreams and nightmares not their own. Like Miniver Cheevy, they may feel born too late and out of place. The ambitions and hopes of centuries ago can infect them and drive them into destructive habits as they mourn endlessly for the condition of the world nowadays. Old souls must remember that there was no “golden age,” no era without its flaws. They must find strength inside of themselves and sustenance in their companions to fulfill the good dreams of their ancestors and to eliminate the nightmares that have plagued human hearts since time immemorial. History can be as burdensome as modernity sometimes: old souls grapple with age-old demons as well as the vices of our time. They can as easily die from being old souls as they can fully live: impressionable hearts can be bruised and crushed just as easily as they are filled with joy.
I do not know if the race of old souls will survive, as its numerically “younger” members face the difficulties of the past and the discouraging reality of living in an age of new souls. Our longing for beauty is persistently attacked, and we are accused of “weirdness” and “aristocratic tendencies” by those who do not understand us. Some hearty old souls tirelessly aim to bring back the bits of gold from the caverns and mountains of bygone years while battling the empty energy of young souls lacking the discernment and depth of heart to know what is worth saving. Despite this persecution, the old souls – if we band together – have hope. We must focus our efforts on the simplest things, to dwell in the good and the bad of the past as much as we can possibly bear.
This is my letter of support to all old souls, as well as a manifesto for a group of men and women largely ignored in a world seeking to get ahead of itself. As those around us gather speed in preparation of what promises to be a ferocious, clumsy trip, we walk slowly and steadily, taking in the view of the vast expanse of human achievement. What do we see? What do we hear? What do we smell and taste and touch? Old souls have the capacity to teach mankind of the little things that add color to a gray existence. Old souls, quiet as we may be, have life-giving truths to share. Listen.
Lindsey Grudnicki is a senior from Westland, Michigan majoring in History and English.