Wait, There’s More …
Five years ago, I wrote a piece in Warp & Woof with the morbid title, “When It All Comes to an End.” Granted, my intent then, while ruminating on my milestone 70th birthday, was to celebrate the new turn my life was taking – mature retirement, and a very young grandson!
I’ve now passed another milestone birthday, have two grandchildren, and I’m not much worse for wear. While I’m sure the clock is ticking, at least I can say no COVID so far, or any other debilitating condition. My biggest challenge may be flexibility helping steward 6-year-old Owen’s Lego projects on the floor. Getting down is easy but getting back up is another matter! His 4-year-old sister, with sunny disposition infecting everybody around her, can usually deflect his often mean big brother comments. She can throw counter-assertiveness back at him in a healthy way; if Owen insists “I am the king, I get to make the rules,” Mira will retort “I am the queen, you go to your room!” It seems to work.
Compared to the Before Times, we all live in a shrunken world. It may affect us oldsters more than our kids or grandkids, whose world is still expanding. But we’ve mostly adjusted to reduction of travel, restaurant eating, and wearing those darned masks in indoor public spaces (prevalence noticeably falling off – even in our high incidence area). Owen wore a mask all last year in kindergarten, not sure he will this year in First Grade. But Mira remains masked all day long in day care/pre-school. These kids are so used to masks now, it’s just part of getting dressed. And they’re too busy learning and experiencing new things to much care, anyway. Mostly, it’s we oldsters who yearn for the Before Times when we could go anywhere with abandon. Perhaps it’s more than just the pandemic?
Perhaps I have changed over the last five years since I wrote that first piece. I can sense some things: my attachment to daily routines, or being less excited about things in general, less obligated to do anything. I feel like I’m waiting for something. Is it the prospect of a new family unit for my second son? Our planned basement renovation? The change of seasons? Or maybe just going to bed tonight? These are the things my future has in store. Nothing very substantial, mostly boring.
I’m not panicked about my legacy. The grandkids seem to like me – that’s enough, I guess. Since we have no travel plans, or anything beyond that basement renovation, and maybe one more attempt at landscaping, the financial side of my legacy will likely remain relatively intact. But my world is contracting, even as my grandchildren’s world is growing exponentially. I’m gratified to be able to share theirs for a while longer.
My addiction to routines does bother me, compulsive routines like opening and closing certain venetian blinds at specific times each day; which lights to turn on, which to leave off, on a daily schedule rather than how much sun is coming in the windows; which exercise regimen I follow before my shower on which days; the number of times I go to the gym each week, and which workout for each day; which grocery stores for successive trips, always Thursdays and Sundays. These dominate my life, my survival seemingly dependent on a precise ritual, much like a prisoner. I am a prisoner. Is it my mind or my body which imprisons me? I have no physical diagnosis to blame. It must be my mind – is there a way out? Writing certainly helps.
Also, I wonder if others need me. That may be key. I imagine being needed by elder son – for babysitting. What about younger son? He’s quite independent, as shown by his personal life! Well, at least wife keeps insisting she needs me — for laundry, doing dishes, yard work, helping plan our life. Then there’s one ministry at my church that I’ve taken upon myself — a volunteer and contractor coordinating function — but it does generate a thank-you from people. Retirees need such things. Indeed, all work should involve doing for others – but in old age doing only for yourself is even less viable than it used to be.
In old age survival, where does learning fit? I maintain that a life of learning, even in senior years, is critical. Reading (primarily non-fiction) is one of my greatest pleasures now. I tackle philosophy, sociology, politics, anthropology, economics – most of the dimensions of Warp & Woof. I wouldn’t call myself a polymath, but I continue to write on all these topics. It helps. Too bad nobody wants to engage with me on any of them. (I refuse to indulge in Twitter!)
At this stage of life learning carries greater weight than action. Much like those grandkids, my learning contributes to meaningfulness for me. Their learning fills much the same function for them. Action is for a middle stage – when you can be most effective. (Notwithstanding, of course, the old-timers that seem to have a lock on American political institutions!) Mostly, we oldsters ought to focus on meaning and enlightenment – communicating it where possible to others in need of same. And the young ought to focus on learning for both skills AND meaning – they need to prepare themselves to be effective when they are older. My sons are both in that “effective” stage of life – they are parents, teachers, leaders – working for others. Or so I hope!