Passing the milestone of seven decades of life felt like awakening in an unfamiliar abode. I now find myself in a strange house. The foundation is questionable, the wiring suspicious. It is the house of the setting sun, where every random pain, every unexplained new blemish, feels threatening, as though it may portend a dire diagnosis. Are these the early warning signs that I had better not ignore?
The blues ballad advises us to shun the house of the rising sun—evidently a New Orleans brothel at the dawn of the Twentieth Century—a place that had been the ruin of many a poor girl and boy. Unlike that storied residence, the house where the sun will set cannot be avoided. No amount of shunning will keep us away from that place and whatever ruin might befall there.
The danger in this time of life—or one of the dangers—is becoming overwhelmed by thoughts that any next moment may be my last. When might I learn that I have a condition that can only grow worse and more and more debilitating? Or will I decide one afternoon to go for a walk only to collapse and die just there on the ground less than a half-mile from home? That is the story of my father’s death, a heart-attack without warning (or with warning unheeded) ended his life at an age much younger than I am now.
I don’t know what the future holds aside from the certainty that it will end for me one day. My aging body may already harbor the malady that will be fatal to me even though I am as yet unaware of its symptoms. I am feeling fine, I think.
Thoughts such as these unsettle me. If I dwell too much on them, my dwelling becomes a scary place at times. I can handle the present. What frightens me is what might happen to me in the future. I can neither know nor control the future. I cannot prepare. I cannot be ready.
What unsettles me even more are thoughts of what the future may hold for those closest to me, those I’ve had the privilege to love. Their future is part of my own, as unpredictable and as unavoidable. Their future is just as much beyond my control or readiness as my own. Even more so.
My perception of the future was not always like this. There was something about crossing that threshold of seventy years lived that has re-arranged the furniture in my mind. My home is not the same as it was. Before, thoughts about the future did not spook me so much as they often do now.
There was a time when the future was something I looked forward to with hope and confidence. The uncertainty was manageable. It was all part of my great adventure. Yet the future was as much of a mystery then as it now is. I made it through. Death or disaster could have happened at any time. But of course, neither death nor disaster happened then, nor has either happened yet, which is something worth reminding myself of from time to time.
For me now though, the past is no refuge from what has yet to happen. I have found that it does not do to think too deeply about where I have been or what I have done. I have more than enough regrets. If I try to relive the past in my mind, I am soon berating myself for mistakes made years and years ago. Why can’t I forget these things? I have forgotten so much else. I should focus instead on the good things I have done.
Still, the sun is setting in this house. I have lived here a few years now, and I have not gotten used to its unfamiliarity. There is no safety within its walls. For now, it seems wise to live one hour at a time, and to fight within that hour for the best hour that life can give me.
All I should ask, when that hour has elapsed, is did I find the strength to live fearlessly?
It matters not to inquire whether I could have done better. It is to no avail to let any newly discovered regret of that hour shade the living of the next. Keeping score is a waste of time. The better use is to release the past. Let it go. Let it go while in this new hour there is time yet to dream.
Some other stuff for later,
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