My father lived until a few days past his eighty-seventh birthday.
I am now 84, but actuarial tables suggest that, barring accident and reversion to past bad behavior, I could possibly achieve age 97.
I feel perfectly well. I am quite fit and healthy.
But I am a serious fellow, always have been,
And it seems time to set a general course for my remaining years.
There is a growing dissatisfaction with the way things are going.
I am too much aware of all the ills and distresses of the world.
These have always been with us, but now we have countless sources,
Filling unlimited, unavoidable spaces and pages
With all the terrors and injustices in the world,
And perorations on how things should otherwise be,
And what you and I should do about them.
Among his many admirable and a few frightening ways,
My father was someone who drank in all the injustices of the world,
Spewing vitriol around his home about the evil perpetrators.
But he tried to do something to ease his Weltschmerz,
A word his family often heard.
He did some creditable, palpable things in pursuit of Justice,
Something the gods of the Ancient Greeks reckoned was of paramount importance.
And Dad was, in essence, an Ancient Greek.
It was his mother’s desire and plan for him.
But, in his final years, he turned to his garden, and to music, which was always with him for as long as his failing hearing would allow. Ludvig van Beethoven was his lifelong hero. There was always a picture of Beethoven’s scowling visage in his home.
I, too, now find the garden a place where a great Nothing happens. But, musically, I am more in tune with Johannes Brahms.
I am, in many ways, my father’s heir,
As Brahms was Beethoven’s heir.
But Johannes didn’t try to change the world;
He described it, poignantly.
Brahms was serious, and he was melancholy.
It was not a hopeless melancholy, for there is much joy
And power throughout his works.
Beethoven fought the Fates;
Brahms accepted them.
I spent much of my working life trying to make things right,
But as time progressed, these efforts became exercises
In personal survival.
I have survived well into the years designated for Senior Citizens.
Some years before this attainment
I began writing about the world that I saw,
In poems and essays, and writings such as this.
I began reading all the books my father wished I had read, and more.
I began collecting and listening to all the music my father and I listened to,
I joined a book circle and remain with it, our meetings now ‘online’.
I started weblogs in which I discussed fiction and non-fiction books.
I was accepted into a writing group and retain many friends from this association.
I started to write memoirs, and stories, and novels, as well as poems and essays,
Many of which I published in my weblogs.
I self-published small volumes of short writings, mostly poems.
Now I am here.
One paragraph in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has stayed with me since 1975, an edited version of which is:
If we are going to make the world a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. Programs of a political nature can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first within one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. This has more lasting value.
- I will avoid “The News” as much as is possible.
- I will let poetry and other short creative writings happen.
- I now release myself from expectations regarding my two-and-a-half novels which are “in the drawer.”
- I will continue, during the seasons which allow it, to work in the garden with Eva, a place where everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, is good.
- I will continue to be with family and friends, as much as the current pandemic will allow, for without them, well…
- Finally, I will continue to obey, as I have since reaching real adulthood, the universal imperative: “Clean up your own mess!”
If you haven’t read it here is a little book for your head, heart, hand and health.
It’s a charming little book written by Yukari Mitsuhashi about the philosophy of “Ikigai”, shortly presented by the author in the beginning of the book. Yukaris words: Ikigai is traditional Japanese concept that embodies happiness in living. It is, essentially, the reason that you get up in the morning. This book is about finding your Ikigai – identifying your purpose or passion and using this knowledge to achieve greater happiness in your life. Your Ikigai doesn’t have to be some grand ambition or highly noble life’s purpose – it can be something simple and humble, like tending your garden or walking your dog.”
Yukaris book is called “Ikigai – giving every day meaning and yoy”. And when I read your text Ron I saw your Ikigai shining right through. Your passion for writing, your passion to ponder about life, your passion for sharing all this, your garden, Eva, family and friends.
I stumble over Ikigai a many years ago when Jessica and I was on a spa reatreat in Varberg (Asia Spa which I can recommend!!) and fell in love! Ikigai is very much “Zen” and celebrates, not the bombastics peak moments in your life or career, but those daily things that brings a smile upon your face and happiness in your heart. To me this is a pragmatic way to influence and designing a good life. Finding those things, cherish them, and perhaps also sharing them. Like you do Ron in your thoughtful writings on “Being Old”…
Much love and I hope to see you and Eva soon again, maybe in the late spring or summer – somewhere…
Thanks, Tony, I’ll order it now! By the way, I am not ‘suffering’ in old age. I rather enjoy being old (and healthy). Love to you both,,,
So nearly a year has passed since you wrote your to do list. How’s the follow-up going?
Yes, lots of awful things are going on in the world. Something that works for me: I try to do something about it e.g. through Democrats Abroad while putting these challenges in perspective. I recognize that there’s much hype in the media which focuses on conflict. Having been a journalist and taught journalism, it’s easier for me to separate the truth from fiction and the entertainment from the news.
I recognize how fortunate I am to be in good health (a baby at 76) with good friends, a loving wife, and stimulating (mostly volunteer) work. In other words, I try to maintain a balance between the private and public spheres. I am undergoing the usual ramifications of getting older: recent cataract operations for both eyes, fewer teeth, reduced hearing etc. But I stay involved mostly avoiding stress. And yes, I am more involved in contemplating life’s experiences, values and purposes.
Well, old-timer, since you have asked, I’ll recap and answer:
I will avoid “The News” as much as is possible. [Easier said than done]
I will let poetry and other short creative writings happen. [Not much happenin’, man]
I now release myself from expectations regarding my two-and-a-half novels which are “in the drawer.” [Done]
I will continue, during the seasons which allow it, to work in the garden with Eva, a place where everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, is good. [Yes, during the proper season last year; currently awaiting early May to arrive at 59 degrees North Latitude]
I will continue to be with family and friends, as much as the current pandemic will allow, for without them, well… [Yes; I visit wit family and friends often in Sweden; I visited family and traveled in the USA for 2 months last year, and am about to embark on a similar trip in a month]
Finally, I will continue to obey, as I have since reaching real adulthood, the universal imperative: “Clean up your own mess!” [I’m getting better and better at it–it’s pretty much automatic]
I give myself a solid ‘B’.
Thanks for asking…
Congratulations Ron! You’ve done considerably better than others with resolutions. You are braver than I am about visiting the States. But we’re hoping to fly there in May. Official Sweden announced that the pandemic ends this Wednesday.
I’ve figured all along this way: If I get infected, I’ll get ill and recover (I’m very healthy with no important chronic conditions) and I’ll have achieved immunity. I’ve been ill before, many times since childhood with the usual childhood diseases and the seasonal ‘flus’. I get all the current inoculations just to maintain maximum freedom from authorities. The global death rate seems to be about 2%, mostly in older people with important co-morbidities. I will not live in fear.
Thanks for leading me once again to your blog. I especially like the title of this post…What to do with the rest of my life”
It’s something I also think about a lot. Now that my professional working days are over, I guess I solved the question of ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’
Now it seems that the question I’m asking myself is ‘What do I want to be when I’m old?’ I’m till working on trying to find an answer to that question. Like you, however, I seem to find hanging out with the plants in my garden at our country house, watching them grow and bloom, an enjoyable activity. One which I never really was interested in when I was younger. But, there it is…proof that I’ve changed quite a bit as I approach my dotage.
Anyway…thanks for letting me read your posts. (Say hi to Eva for me)
Thanks for reading and commenting, Hilarie. Eva returns the greeting…
How about a fika wunna these days?