I started writing this blog in November 2013. This year, Later, Comma will reach its ten-year anniversary. In that decade, I have shared 166 posts with the world, not counting some 46 Spanish-language versions of posts originally published in English.
The posts have been a meander through commentary, narrative and information. Early posts often addressed retirement and aging. Other posts commented on contemporary policy issues in the United States such as health care, immigration and presidential politics. My photography has appeared in posts documenting trips to Savannah, Georgia, to the Pacific Northwest, to Costa Rica, to the Western United States, to Washington, DC, to New Orleans, and to Oaxaca, Mexico1. A series of posts from “a strange land” were fiction, mostly about aging.
In “The Pursuit of Awesomeness” (January 2017), I noted that the awesome experiences of my life have been moments when I have encountered something of surpassing beauty in nature, in art or in music. We are connected to the awesome, I wrote, because we are its witness. Our emotional response to it is the awesomeness. Time grows without seeming to pass at all. Indeed, time seems to stand still. We are “in the moment,” and the moment is timeless.
Some posts have explored my thoughts about death. In “Now a Pinion, Next a Spring” (January 2015), I wrote that death is not a confrontation. I conceived of death as an event in the sequence of nature’s ongoing rhythms that have brought me so far and will carry me to the last beat. Any dignity in dying is to be found in how I have lived.
In the April 2014 post, “Believing in a Natural Purpose,” I wrote that having a purpose may be an essential ingredient in the mix that makes retirement satisfying and ultimately enjoyable. Finding a purpose in life not only contributes to successful aging but may also help you live longer, according to one researcher I quoted in “Living Longer on Purpose” (June 2014).
But I questioned the value of purpose, suggesting that aimless wandering is not necessarily a bad thing. Wandering can help us see possibilities and can lead to new discoveries and stimulate creativity. Sometimes it is better to be aimless.
Yet, in the post “It Ain’t Heavy” (July 2015), I tried to define my purpose. It was, I wrote, to make my world a little better in some way. Elsewhere, I wrote that I lacked a consuming passion or inspiring mission that would provide a meaning for my life. Instead, I felt that my purpose was to find a kind of joy, to delight in beauty, to be interested in what was new to me, and to pursue what I did not know. It was simply to feel what it was to be alive.
Happiness is not a random event, I wrote in “The Pursuit of Happiness” (May 2014). Happiness can mean learning something new, mastering something difficult, acquiring new insight, or being moved to joy in some inexpressable way by a work of art or piece of music. It can mean developing physical strength, health or endurance. It can mean achieving a higher level of emotional or spiritual connection with another person or with the natural world.
In “Becoming Neil” (March 2016), I wrote about having an ethical will, an expression of values to be passed down from one generation to the next. What would be my ethical will? Elements of what I value can be gleaned from my Later, Comma writings. Being kind and being thankful for the kindness of others is important. You have a responsibility to try to set things right if you have wronged someone with an unkind word. Though there is pain, there is beauty in life. Delight in the beauty and take joy in the gifts that beauty brings. There is hopefulness in life as well as grief. Grief is what makes life dear.
Considering purpose, happiness, and quality of life led me to the question of spirituality. In “An Expression of Spirituality” (March 2017), I wrote that spirituality is both personal and transitory. Religion is certainly one expression of spirituality, but the tribalism of religion makes me uncomfortable. I do not believe in God, gods or goddesses–unless gods and goddesses are never more than metaphors, I wrote in “The Question of Belief” (August 2017). I do not believe in heaven or hell as destinations in an afterlife. For that matter, I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife.
I am a spiritual skeptic. I believe that spirituality is a process not an accomplishment. I suppose I am looking for my own form of spiritual expression, an expression that feels genuine and that connects me to something larger than myself. I look for a spirituality that motivates appreciation, generosity and finding humor in life and that teaches compassion and kindness. I believe in the simple ethics of right and wrong and the Golden Rule.
In “Casting the Elements” (December 2018), I introduced the idea that there are elemental structures of thought that affect what we think about, how we think, and how we respond to our thoughts. I wrote about the four elements of Spirituality, Imagination, Purpose and Mundanity. Spirituality, I wrote, is contained within the expansive moments of our lives, the moments of transcendence. Spirituality is also present in simple conscious awareness, such as the awareness of gratitude, satisfaction or affection. Imagination is the element of art, creativity and invention. We experience excitement and the sense of wonder through Imagination. Purpose is about passion. Purpose takes us beyond the status quo and leads us to exploration. The element of Purpose is behind intention and learning, compassion and justice. Purpose defines our sense of self. It is both mirror for self-reflection and lens for looking inward. The element that I called Mundanity is about day-to-day survival. It is the thought structure that acknowledges and celebrates the commonplace.
Some have said that successful aging involves life satisfaction and finding meaning in life, but in “Optimal Living” (January 2016), I wrote that aging should not be about success or failure and that I preferred the goal of living optimally. Six years later, in “Success Does Not Matter” (January 2022), I wrote that “optimal” is too precise. Aging is trial and error. I haven’t found the meaning of my life, but it is not about being optimal or successful. I look at life and see a beautiful fractal image.
Amid my ponderings about my life and whether it has been successful, optimal, or merely beautiful, I cannot avoid an awareness of the brokenness of my country and the global brokenness of the times in which I live. In “Truth or Consequences” (April 2022), I confessed to feeling weary. I said that I was tired of all the lies and tired of the world’s disasters. I spoke despairingly of a liar culture that now characterizes our national discussion, and I suggested that there are two kinds of lies. Ordinary lies are untruths based on reality. In contrast, phantasmagoric lies are untruths built on a false foundation of a dark, imagined world. Skilled liars can manipulate the gullible into believing all sorts of things that didn’t happen and disbelieving things that did. Climate change is a hoax; the election was stolen.
It is not enough that I believe in what is real. My life is not disconnected from those who believe otherwise. The prevalence of so many lies begins to distort reality itself. Such is the condition of the world in which I struggle to find meaning, purpose and happiness. A quest for meaning is an anachronism in an era of artificial intelligence and search engines.
In “In the House of the Setting Sun” (January 2023), I wrote about the danger of becoming overwhelmed by the thought that any moment may be my last. I don’t know what the future holds aside from the certainty that it will end for me one day. There is value in living fearlessly. I can only live one hour at a time, fight within that hour for the best hour that life can give me, and let go of the past. There is time yet to dream.
Some other stuff for later,
- 78Passing 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…
- 77There were benefits that came with my exile. Among the benefits was the freedom to go places. A strange incongruity was that the more I thought about going places, the more aware I became of my home and its importance to me. I wanted to go places. I wanted to…
- 76In this blog’s early life, I was preoccupied with the notion that retirement was not a static condition but rather a process of transition consisting of distinct phases. The concept of retirement phases was proposed by noted gerontologist Robert Atchley. It seemed to me a useful framework to think of…