Tag Archives: happiness

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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Old Age

I am handling old age pretty well. Yes, I know that some people would say that sixty-eight is “not old.” Some would tell me with reassuring certainty “age is just a number.” Like hell. At sixty-eight, I am not a young man, that’s for sure, and I am pretty sure that I no longer qualify for the category “middle-aged,” though possibly some might quibble.

I feel that I have entered the terminal bracket of “old age.” I don’t know when that happened, exactly. I’ve had a creeping suspicion for the last year or so, at least, that I was getting there. Well, I think I’m there now, and I’m doing okay.

Someone asked me recently whether I was enjoying retirement. Yes. What do you like most about it? How do you spend your time? I can never think of an impressive answer.

I know that old age is not the same thing as retirement and that some people who haven’t retired find themselves in the old age category. I chose to retire five years ago, and old age happened more recently, but that is a technicality. When people ask me now how I am enjoying retirement they might as well be asking how I am enjoying old age. What do I like most about old age? How do I spend my old-age time?

Well, I am enjoying old age so much I don’t want it to end.

I have been taking a mental inventory of the things that I do these days. It is not an impressive list, and I doubt that anyone would feel inspired by my example. Still, I feel that I am doing pretty well. To some extent, old age offers liberation from the desire to impress.

Exposing how I spend my time may serve some educational purpose for those in or near the “old age” category who want to feel they are doing pretty well. To that end, the less impressive what I do with my time the better for others, who may be doing more interesting things by comparison.

This inventory is no doubt incomplete, but it accounts for most of my old age time:

  • I have acquired the habit of taking a walk every day, unless the weather is crappy with rain. I walk about two miles. It is my primary form of physical exercise, along with a morning jaunt on the treadmill and a weekly yoga class. In summer, I go on bike rides.
  • I have more time to read books in my old age. Detective novels are a favorite (James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin, Walter Mosley, Karin Slaughter, Liza Marklund, John Harvey and Tony Hillerman, to name a few favorite authors). I also have read several epic biographies (Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin) and other books about history.
  • I read the local newspaper (old-fashioned print version) every morning. I also follow the news on NPR and PBS—on television and online—and other news programs, such as Meet the Press. Sometimes I search the Internet for more information, and I have written posts for this blog on political issues that I care about. (See the “tag cloud” in the left side-bar for links.)
  • I have been teaching myself Spanish for the last nine years or so, and I spend time every day practicing the language. From time to time on this blog, I post translations into Spanish of earlier English language posts. (See posts in the “Later, in Spanish” category.)
  • Aging in place—in my case, in the house where my wife and I have lived for more than two decades—means time spent cleaning, shopping, handling bills and bank accounts, doing yard work, making minor repairs and so forth. We have done several home remodeling projects (this year we are remodeling a bathroom), and we do a lot of the work ourselves.
  • We take turns cooking dinner, but there is time in my old age to take my turn more often.
  • We watch an hour or so of television on most nights. Because American network television programming is so dreadful, we use streaming services (Hulu, PBS and Acorn TV) and DVDs from Netflix (now DVD.com). We have particularly enjoyed several excellent Swedish drama series (The Bridge, Beck, Rebecka Martinsson).
  • I volunteer some of my time each week in various activities at a community theater and at the local Unitarian Universalist Church. I have been involved with the theater for thirty years and with the church for about five. Two years ago on this blog, I wrote about my most recent acting role at the theater in a post titled Becoming Neil.
  • We have traveled a little bit in the last five years. I have written about our travels on this blog: Savannah, New Orleans, Costa Rica and the American West.

I suppose the point here is that there is comfort in the humdrum. For me, if not for others of old age, doing well does not require doing a lot. But this is not to suggest that the key to old-age happiness is retreat, disengagement and idleness. Old age can be a time of quiet but heightened awareness. It is a time to strip away the need to figure things out so much.

My yoga teacher has a phrase that she uses to guide the class into savasana—the final pose of rest at the end of the class. The purpose of savasana—also inauspiciously but misleadingly called “corpse pose”—is to relax the body and the mind after a series of more challenging positions. The idea is not to go to sleep, but rather to remain fully conscious but completely relaxed, to allow thoughts to flow in and out of your mind while becoming aware of the quiet conscious moments between thoughts. As our teacher says, it is a time when you have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and absolutely no one you have to be.

It is, I think, an apt metaphor for old age.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 77
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