"The Last Thing"
Who'd be afraid of death?
I think only fools are.
For it is not
as though this thing were given to one man only,
but all receive it.
The journey that my friend makes,
I can make also.
If I know nothing else,
I know this,
I go where he is.
O Fools, shrinking from this little door,
through which so many kind and lovely souls have passed before you,
will you hang back?
Harder in your case than another?
And too much silence?
Has there not been enough stir here?
for where so much greatness and gentleness
have been already,
you should be glad to follow.
(Discovered in Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir by Stanley Hauerwas, a fine book if there ever was one.)
I'm not sure why people ask me about the secrets of happy retirement. Probably because of my former occupation which supposedly qualifies me as a bona fide "wise man", though, if truth be known, I don't know much more than the next guy.
Anyway, I usually give the classic new age reply; "follow your bliss" - but with slightly different wording. Many of my former parishioners advised me during my final year of work, "learn to say "no", then say it. Very good. Very wise. But not always that easy to pull off.
But those are the two principles I have followed in the "golden years". Bliss and thoughtful discipline.
As far as the bliss part is concerned, I have been blessed with several passions that consume my waking moments. Home and family come first, and easily so. Church, of course, remains vital, though I find it easier now to pick and choose when and how I participate. Very nice!
Writing, making pots, cooking good stuff, reading, photography and exercise are consuming passions that jostle each other for a portion of my soul and daily schedule. Not a single one of them fails to create excitement and fascination. They do have to take turns. I'm a bit like a hungry mule standing in a barn between several bales of hay. My chief problem is which bale to nibble on.
As far as the saying "no" is concerned; this is complex. I've never known an activity or a passion yet that didn't want or sometimes demand your whole loyalty. Communities are notorious for claiming to be "family" and setting forth agendas that subtly require one's presence and loyalty. The key guilt producing phrase is "I haven't seen you lately!"
Then, aging itself builds certain demands into one's life. Doctors appointments, forms to be filled out, strategies to be revisited, contacts to be made. Examinations and treatments, of course. Getting old isn't for sissies and one must keep those demands in some kind of balance as well. A huge percentage of one's time can be spent on the whole matter of getting old!
Balancing the positives and negatives. Keeping a sweet spirit while coping with the reality of life's negatives. Living with other people's expectations without losing one's soul. Being able to converse with people without fixating on one's health problems. Staying out of arguments about politics, even when you have strong political leanings. These are just a few of the elder's challenges.
Then, sometimes we just get tired.
Oddly, I've found these days to be the happiest of my lifetime. Appreciating the past, enjoying the present and joyfully anticipating what comes next, whatever that may be - that's the best I can do with the aging riddle.
2009. Bad year in many ways personal. Lost a son. Lost a dog. Daughter gone.
Still, it was our 60th wonderful year of marriage and today we can't imagine how life could be much better. We go smiling through - regretting the bad things we can't control, celebrating all the rest, looking forward to whatever the future holds for us. We love each other and life as it is.
The best of all; God is with us!
Maybe it's just cranky old me.
But something funny happened yesterday. We go to this monthly get-together that keeps the residents of our community informed on what's going on behind the scenes. It isn't exactly the high point of the month for me, but I go because I don't want to miss anything.
Yesterday everybody seemed upbeat and positive. The atmosphere was relaxed; fun. Folks were hanging around the refreshment table - even going back for seconds. I did too. Lots of laughter. Then I realized what had happened. Someone on the staff had stopped by Dunkin' Doughnuts and loaded up with freshly cooked donuts. Then on to a New York bagel shop for freshly cooked bagels. The atmosphere and the food were electric!
The breakfast goodies generally consist of somewhat stale rolls from the day before - still cool from the night in the frig. I'd never given it much thought. Isn't that what happens? Besides, it gave me an excuse for not eating anything on top of our own breakfast of a few hours before.
It also started the meeting on the wrong foot.
But that's the way it is and isn't the type of thing that folks talk about. Who wants to be a grouch?
There's a lesson here. For businesses, churches, clubs, etc. - any organization that starts things off with refreshments in the morning. There are few things as soul-satisfying as fresh, delicious, thoughtfully served donuts and coffee. It says to people in delightful terms, "you matter - and what we're doing here this morning matters!" Something like that may involve more effort, more thought, but it is a special gift to those fortunate enough to be there and it pays off in unexpected ways. This is second mile stuff.
I look forward to next month's meeting. Yes. I said that. I did. And I do.
Over the years, three of our five grown kids have come back home for short healing spells when life in the grown-up world got a bit heavy for them. Kind of a retreat, maybe. These times are a mixed bag of honest sharing, a bit of tension, home-cooking, laughter, nostalgia, some tears, and then a return back to their unique lives.
Times like these are generally unexpected and not always at the most convenient periods of our own lives, but they are a part of what we call "family." They are hard to evaluate from the perspective of aging parents. We kind of muddle through, welcoming them back for a time and hoping that for them, the return to parents of old times had some value. Our home has always been open to our birds that have flown the nest. At least for a while.
One was a young guy who had lost his job and thinking out what to do next, maybe find something in Phoenix. That didn't work out and we probably weren't much help, but he went back home to his family after about a week, renewed and rested and with some new ideas and he went on to build a very successful career of his own. It was a good time.
The second was a severe health problem and a need to escape the frozen north for some sunshine, relaxation and maybe some parental love. He died a decade or so after his return home. This year, as a fact. He was with us a month and it was a difficult time, full of ups and downs and even a time of hospitalization for him. We felt we pretty much failed him as we didn't have the strength or the understanding of his situation at the time to help deal with his severe problems. Still, we were there for him and it was a major event in our family life.
The third was an escape from an abusive relationship. Our grown child had hit the bottom and arrived home pretty much with an empty tank. It only took a little support and honest times of talking out issues for a wonderful transformation to begin to take place. The times ahead for her would be tough, but suddenly she was tough and wise. She faced up to some of her own problems that had led to the situation. We exposed her to quite a few people in our retirement community who were mostly grandparents themselves and were amazed at the way they responded to her and her to them. Healing was beginning.
Last night I crawled into bed after the three of us had watched a baseball game on television. I was patting the dogs and settling in for a nice late summer night of sleep when I heard the sound of two women laughing heartily at something. This startled me a bit. What in the world was going on?
Then I knew. It was "family" going on. Nice stuff for a couple whose parenting these days is pretty much limited to memories. But parenting never ends in some ways. She will be moving on in a few days. I'm happy for her.
I'm happy for us.
If any of you regular readers of "There's Always Something" would like to be added to my FaceBook "friends" list, just make the request at facebook.com/roger.bourland .
I keep the list at 40 people, but prune it regularly to keep it limited to those who put something of themselves into it and participate in some way. Part of my endless campaign to make FaceBook more than just a mechanical pseudo-social list. It is becoming most interesting - mainly because of the interesting people on the modest list.
At least I am finding it increasingly fascinating to explore each day.
I joined Facebook at the urging of my son, Andy.
For a while I just couldn't get into it. Photos of granddaughters and their friends with tongues grotesquely sticking out. Cutesy little quotes from lonely teenyboppers. Risque junk from adolescent boys. Really crappy stuff.
Then I started noticing some really interesting things written by more mature folks - as well as more thoughtful youngsters. Good photos. Shared articles. Personal updates. I found that as my Facebook "friends" increased, the "home" page gave me quick updates on what family and acquaintances were up to today.
Today I look at it as something of a social scrapbook. I put all kinds of stuff on my page. This blog gets automatically posted on it each day. Photos. Articles. Off the wall stuff. No rants lately, but I've been in a pretty good mood. 70's weather and all.
Then there's those "friends". Family, of course. A few old potter friends. Blogging buddies. Even a few people I don't really know. Yesterday I even got an invitation to be "friends" with a wonderful young woman who went to school with our two youngest sons. That was heart-warming.
One has to customize Facebook - make it your own. Then it begins to make sense.
So Facebook gets a half hour or so of my mornings, day after day. I rather like it.