What Was It All About?

The existence of this blog coincides with the retirement phase of my life.  I started writing here in November 2013 when I had been retired for 10 months.  I am in my seventh year of retirement, and this blog’s sixth birthday is coming up soon.  I marked my own 70th birthday earlier this year.  Writing these words, I feel astonished.  So many years.

I have not written anything remarkable here.  The numerous blog entries—nearly 130 posts so far—represent many hours that I have sat before a computer screen.  Too many to bother calculating.  I would like to say that in those hours I produced something insightful or inspiring, or at least something clever and entertaining—in a word, something valuable—but I realize that is not the case.

It would be easy enough, I suppose, to delete it all.  That would be the ultimate acknowledgement that everything I’ve written is ephemeral.  One day in the future, even if it is not my doing, it will all go away when my lease on a tiny portion of the Internet world expires.  Whatever I write here means little and counts for nothing in the long run.  It is a metaphor for my life.  Nobody will write my biography.

At best, what I have written here is a record—however short-lived and episodic—of thoughts that have occupied my mind from time to time.  These electronic scratchings have been of interest to me and, much less so, to those few curious others who have bothered to read my words.

The thought of aging is one recurring subject of interest.  It has been all along, of course, but marking seventy years on my calendar has put it into boldface on any list that I could make of subjects to think about.  What is the best way to live with the relative nearness of death?

I am seeking comfort and lately finding little.  I am not comforted by considering the odds.  The odds are that I will have another decade or two before I run out of time.  Thinking about the odds only teaches me that I had better take care of myself—and I do, but it is not enough.

Nor is it comforting to accept the notion that we all have to die sometime.  I gain nothing from this idea.  It is not instructive or helpful.  It merely restates the problem—as if I didn’t get it the first time.

For some people there is comfort in what they have accomplished.  There are great authors, great musicians, great mathematicians and physicists.  There are great explorers and inventors and great artists of all stripes.  Indeed, the list of greatnesses seems endless.  I do not know any people who are great like that and so I am speculating, but in their last years, I think that great people must have a sense of satisfaction about the great things they did in life.  Next to theirs my accomplishments are puny.  I’ve done some good things, but no great things.

I find that thinking about my life’s accomplishments only makes me less comfortable because I tend to remember my mistakes, my regrets, my errors in judgment.  It seems that the negative memories have a kind of adhesive quality.  They get stuck in my mind when I am trying to remember the good things that I have done.

Some people who cannot take comfort in great accomplishments, can yet find comfort in having great numbers of children and grandchildren—and even great-grandchildren!  It seems likely that having a large family would be comforting for some because they might imagine living on vicariously through their multitudinous offspring.  It might be comforting to think that they would be remembered more or remembered a little longer.

The quality of such vicarious life and legacy would depend on the quality of a person’s relationships with their offspring.  The odds of having good relationships and a positive legacy increase as the number of children grows, or so I presume, but even for me and my wife and our only child there is hope.  And there is some comfort for me in that.

Some people shaken by thoughts of death’s approach turn for comfort to religion or spirituality.  In my experience, though, religion promises but does not deliver.  When I retired, I started going to a church on a regular basis, but for most of my life I had very little to do with religion, and I have never felt comforted by it.  To the contrary, when I think about religion—and spirituality generally—I feel disquieted and uncomfortable.  I feel that I am alone on the outside of religion.  It does not speak to me, nor I to it.  I don’t know its language.  Maybe I am too old to learn.

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