Monday, October 29, 2012

Dying as an Exercise in Futility

My friend is thinking about death and dying. Not in a fatalistic or pejorative way but rather as an objective and reflective exercise in self-examination and future planning.

He’s going on a retreat this weekend. He’s been doing it for over 30 years. It provides him the perfect environment to help cleanse his brain of sundry matters and just focus for a long weekend on those issues in his life that really matter.

He’s been very successful in business, has been married to a wonderful woman for over forty years, great kids and grandchildren. He mentioned just casually he is also thinking about his life; taking a personal inventory and recognizing that there are less years left than when he was younger. He isn’t being fatalistic or a downer, just being realistic about his life as it is.

We agreed that we’re both at that stage in our lives where we don’t have much if anything left to prove. We’ve either done it or we haven’t. I wish I had done a few more things in my life but I didn’t. I wish some things had turned out differently but they didn’t. So be it. No apologies are necessary.

We agreed that we’re both old enough to see some things cycling around, coming full circle back into our lives. It’s really true that over time what goes around comes right back again. I guess it’s all part of that circle of life.

There is a movement in some of my city neighborhoods to bring back chickens. And chicken coops are sprouting up in a number of backyards. My friend has a picture of his father in his old neighborhood back in the 30’s standing around a backyard of chickens.

We talked about streetcars coming back and new-fangled contraptions called streetlights to brighten our downtown streets at night. A new University open-air stadium was built on campus last year. It replaced the domed stadium which only 17 years before had replaced an open-air stadium at the same University

I was raised in the city and couldn’t wait to get out of it. Now young couples are flocking back to the very neighborhood I fled forty years ago.

It got me to thinking. Does that mean that my circle of life is almost complete? Is my thirst for….just an excuse in futility because who cares anyway? I hope not. There’s still so much to do and who knows how much time to do it.

I’ve talked about meeting my old high school classmates in my blog “In the Company of Old Men.” I mentioned how shocked I was to see that a number of them had passed on. It feels very strange to look at an alumni picture book, spot an old high school chum and then read the caption: Deceased. It leaves an unsettled feeling in your stomach. And you don’t know if you should be looking over your shoulder for that shadowy figure in the black shawl anyplace close.

There are so many inconsequential ways to spend the rest of one’s life. I don’t want to spend countless hours shopping for groceries just because I’ve got the time to do it. Or sit with other old men in the coffee shop, bitching about anything and everything. I don’t want to travel just to keep moving or get a job just for something to do.

Role models are hard to find. I only know of a couple of older folks who are still active and alert and pleasant to be around. But the few I know are an inspiration for someone anxious to ‘do what I’ve always wanted to do’ and then some.

There are thirty plus books in my office that I haven’t read yet and if I count those books in my library that I’d like to revisit again or just review, I’d be page-locked for the rest of my life.

I will continue to seek out and welcome past acquaintances who want to share the good and sometimes not so good memories of a time since pasted. I’ve done it with several high school friends and it’s brought laughs and sighs and subtle nods.

Both my kids have promised to tell me when I’m acting like an old person. The trouble rests with their definition of getting old. Melanie thinks that my blog ‘Growing old with out underwear’ was simply TMI (Too much information). I guess I’ve failed to make my case to her. She says the first thing to go are the social graces.

So either my assumptions are correct and I just haven’t yet been able to communicate my thoughts and ideas in that area. Or my kids are right and I am getting old without even realizing it. In either case, as I ponder my predicament, I found the following quote that pretty much says it all for me.

To reach out is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to
risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life
is to risk nothing
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing
is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow but he simply cannot
learn, feel, change, grow, love, live…
Chained to his certitudes, he is a slave
He has forfeited freedom
Only a person who risks is free


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