The Elders and the Youngsters

I just saw an animation that brought tears to my eyes. It was the song Father and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Yusuf sings the father’s part and the younger version of himself, Cat Stevens, sings the son version, taken from a recording of himself from decades ago, obviously.

In the song, the father is trying to urge the son not to go off and do something impulsive that will potentially alter his entire life. (At the time he wrote it, he was imagining a boy who wanted to run off and join the Russian Revolution, but really any scenario will do.) The father says, basically, stop and think. Take it slow. You still have a lot to learn. Be calm. Think of the consequences. “For you will still be here tomorrow but your dreams may not.”

The son, on the other hand, says that he’s been ordered to listen his whole life, but he doesn’t feel like he’s been listened to. He says he knows himself, and that it’s time to make a change. His part is all about the frustration of not being heard and not being taken seriously, and the desire to make his own way.

The reason this animation struck me to the core is that I think, for the first time, it really hit me that I’m not young anymore. That’s a really hard pill to swallow. It took me long enough. I’m 55. (And I know the older readers will say that 55 isn’t that old. I get that. Everything is relative.)

I think everything is getting more poignant with me over time, because we are all on the cusp of radical, terrifying changes, and no one can predict what’s going to happen next. It feels as if the sand is shifting beneath our collective feet, and that’s unsettling at the best of times. It feels like things that used to be just slightly risky are now becoming a matter of life and death. I’m profoundly scared.

It’s really stressful, in particular, to watch the younger people in my life right now. (And by younger, in this case, I mean 40 and below.) So many of them are making crazy, impulsive decisions and not thinking about the long term impact. They are speculating based on a world that no longer exists. They’re risking their lives. They’re settling for relationships that aren’t the best for them. They’re tying themselves down to parts of the country that aren’t politically and/or economically and/or environmentally and/or socially feasible for the people that they are or will become.

I’m frustrated because I see so much potential in these people, and I know they are capable of so much more. I have to resign myself to the fact that their choices aren’t my business, really. I just see them making many mistakes that I have made, and I want to save them the agony that I know they’ll be going through. But in life, there are no shortcuts.

Add another layer onto the anxiety cake by realizing that I’ve had someone die quite expectedly on me in recent years. Poof! Gone. Just like that.

That changes you. It forever colors the way you look at the world. And it makes you realize that no one can fully understand your point of view until they’ve had that sort of experience themselves. People think they can imagine what it’s like. They haven’t a clue.

Life is so precious. It’s so fragile. It’s like a soap bubble. It can all be gone in a pop. Everyone knows this, but those of us who’ve seen that moment of pop are not allowed the luxury of forgetting it. And it truly is a luxury.

Yes, everyone has to make their own mistakes, and also have their own triumphs. But there are so many people that I’d like to shake (and hug) right now. And I can’t.

At the same time, to add complexity to the situation, I am really proud of some of the things the younger people are doing, attempting to make lemonade out of the lemons they’ve been handed. I’m impressed with their innovation and their ability to think outside the box and come up with something different. Even though they’re making a lot of mistakes, they’re also making progress. I just have to remember that the world will keep revolving and evolving, with or without me.

But I can’t say this enough: Life is a gift. It should never be squandered. It shouldn’t be risked. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially now, in the midst of a pandemic with a heaping helping of political unrest.

Good God, am I becoming conservative? Please, no. Anything but that.

I think I’m just valuing things much more than I once did. It’s all so fleeting and final. It’s all so slippery and hard to grasp. Odds are extremely good that I won’t live until I’m 110, and I really don’t want to, if I’m honest. But that means I’m on the downhill slope. And as hard as I’d like to fight it, the slide is inevitable.

But, having climbed up the other side, I would very much like to show those who come behind me that there are easier trails. I want that with my whole heart. At the same time, I understand that blazing your own trail is the whole point. But until you get to the other side, you don’t quite realize that the hill is made up entirely of the consequences that are occurring because of your own actions and choices.

I carry with me a wealth of life experience, as does everyone on my side of the hill. And that experience includes both success and failure. But when you’re young you don’t see that as valuable. You’re too busy making the climb for yourself. It’s a waste and a shame to not learn from others, but everyone has their own hill to climb, and it’s time for me to accept that it’s high time to let go and focus on my next phase in life.

“Hey! You there! Watch out! That’s the exact spot where I tripped and broke my leg! Can’t you see that if you fall, it hurts me, too?”

Oh, never mind. You’ll figure it out.

It’s just all so damned bittersweet…

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Plants Are to Humans as Humans Are To…

I just read an article that completely blew my mind. It was pure speculation, yes, but it certainly made me think. Entitled “Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?” it discussed how advanced technology, as posited by Arthur C. Clarke, would seem like magic to a less advanced civilization.

It made me think of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain. Of course a 19th century man, if sent back to the time of King Arthur, would seem magical to many. Any time you have advanced knowledge, you’ll be a source of fascination to those who do not.

But the article above takes it even further. What if the technology is so advanced that we can’t see it or conceive of it at all? What if there’s actually intelligent life out there that’s so developed that it manipulates the universe in ways we’ve yet to explain, but have been actively confused by?

As I mulled over this article it made me wonder how beings like that would perceive us. Maybe we’re so primitive that they don’t see us either. I thought about that as I watered my tomato plants.

Do tomato plants know when they’re being watered? Do they know what the source of this water is? Can they distinguish water from my hose from water that comes from the sky? Do they care?

The fact is, I don’t understand tomato plants. I don’t know what makes them tick. I don’t comprehend a living thing that can’t focus outward, or for that matter, focus at all.

But as speculative as that article is, it made me think about how arrogant we humans are, believing that we’re at the top of some pyramid, and that all life must be somehow inferior to our own. It’s just as likely that that’s not the case.

It’s rather unsettling, though, thinking that in the cosmic scheme of things, I could very well be your basic tomato plant. It sure makes me think twice about the tomatoes in my salad.

tomato_plant2

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Revel in the Abundance

I have a friend who will not go to restaurants that specialize in food from other cultures. He’s perfectly content with his hamburgers and his French fries and his macaroni and cheese. He likes his vegetables plain and unseasoned, with no fancy sauces, and his salads should only contain lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. He can’t imagine how a vegetarian entrée could be as satisfying as steak and potatoes, and he certainly won’t try something that he couldn’t figure out how to prepare himself.

I weep for him.

Eating like that would be akin to living in a library and only reading The Great Gatsby. Great book, and all, but oh, what you are missing! What adventures, what knowledge, what delights are set before you! How can you ignore them?

I also have friends who have never bothered to get a passport. What would be the point? They have no curiosity whatsoever about the wider world. And it’s not a financial issue. They can afford to travel. They just choose not to. It’s maddening.

These friends appear content. And I do envy the fact that they seem to be convinced that they’ve found everything they could ever need or want out of life. That confidence is not mine.

But I think I’d find their lives extremely boring. I enjoy having new experiences. No, I don’t love every single thing I try. (One word: Wasabi.) But I never regret trying.

I like to go places where I’ve never been. I love learning about different points of view. I adore new sights, sounds, tastes.

Life is a fully stocked buffet laid out before you. What a gift! Revel in the abundance! Don’t just stop and smell the roses. Check out the corpse flowers, too, if you get a chance, just to see what their stinky smell is like.

Be adventurous. Eat life! Because this delicious buffet is only opened to you for a finite amount of time. And there’s nothing worse than wasting food.

Thai Elephant Day

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The Book of Our Lives

I was feeling a little nostalgic the other day, and decided to listen to Longer, by Dan Fogelberg. I love that song, and it’s been ages since I’ve heard it. I was particularly struck by one portion. “Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow, burning lines in the book of our lives, though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow…”

What imagery. We all are writing books of our lives. No two books are the same.

Mine would say things like, “She went from a mansion to a tent in less than 3 weeks.” “After falling in love for the first time in Holland, she then moved to Mexico and had adventures while her heart broke into a million pieces.” “At the age of 49, she started life over by moving across the country to Seattle, a city where she knew no one.” “She published a book.” “She was married for the first time at age 53, and it was right and good that she waited, because she found the perfect person for her.”

No one in this world ever has, or ever will have, those same sentences written in the book of her life. Our books are precious, and we have a responsibility to make them as amazing as we possibly can.

In the process of writing our lives, we can follow our hearts, take chances, do our best to make the world a better place, or we can be cruel, heartless bullies. These are choices we can make. We can be forces for good or evil. We can help others or ruin them. There are so many plot twists that are possible.

And yes, if we’re lucky, we can live long enough to see our pages start to yellow. Hopefully we will be remembered after we are gone. But the fact is, our books are written mainly for us, and for the people that we love. And while centuries from now, most of our books may have crumbled to dust, the generations that follow will have started creating their own chapters, and perhaps they’ll have been influenced by the echoes of books past.

I hope you are writing the best book ever, dear reader.

pages_of_a_book_folded_in_to_a_heart_shape

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The Ultimate Zero Sum Equation

It’s rather interesting, when you think about it, how much time we waste worrying about how much time we’re wasting. I mean, what a waste! That time would be much better spent being wasted in some other way.

Time marches on. Life is the ultimate zero sum equation. You can expend all the energy you want in trying to be efficient, trying not to waste time, working, planning, plotting, organizing, or watching cat videos on Youtube, but in the end, time is going to pass regardless. It can’t be stopped. We’re all going to get older and eventually die.

Am I suggesting that we should just give up and give in to those cat videos? On the contrary, I think the way we spend our time is important. If we focus on giving joy to others, and trying to make the world a better place, and doing the things that we love the most, then it will have been time well spent.

But stop beating yourself up over it all. Just be in the moment. Just live.

Because you can’t control time. You can’t “spend it” or “save it”. You can only experience it. So make it the best experience that you possibly can, and stop stressing out over it all.

time marches on

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Auld Lang Syne

It always struck me as kind of amusing that many of us say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new by singing a song that we find incomprehensible. I mean, if you took a poll of 100 people, and asked them what Auld Lang Syne means, the most common answer would be, “Beats me.” And yet we sing it, with feeling.

The best translation I’ve found for Auld Lang Syne is “Days Gone By.” And that’s all I need to know, really. It’s a song about nostalgia.

Should we forget the days and people of old? No. We should appreciate them. We should be grateful for our past, because it has made us who we are today. We are the sum total of our experiences, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.

Hard or easy, cruel or kind, we are here! We’re here, and we can look forward to the future. We build upon the foundations and lessons of days gone by and that allows us to reach higher heights in the days to come.

Life! What a gift! All of it. Even the not-so-good stuff. It got us here. We may have not had control of all of it. It might have been messy sometimes. But how we cope, how we plan, how we dream… that’s entirely up to us.

So let’s take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

http _www.janegoodwin.net_wp-content_uploads_2015_01_auld-lang-syne-400x224

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Making an Entrance

This is probably rather short notice, but have you thought about how you will be entering 2019? Think of it as a crowded room. How you enter it will make a difference as to how the year-long party will go for you.

Will you enter with energy and enthusiasm, or sneak in the back way and hope no one notices you? Both are legitimate ways to get from this year to next, but they’ll probably yield wildly different results. I suppose it depends on what you want to get out of the months to come.

Personally, I’ve never seen the point of getting roaring drunk and entering the year with a head splitting hangover. To me, that seems like starting yourself off thirty yards deep in your own endzone. But hey, we all make choices.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that you attend a great big New Year’s Party if you don’t want to. I never have. I’m a lot more low key than that. I’d rather not walk into 2019 feeling awkward and uncomfortable. That’s not a precedent I want to set.

No, I’m talking about the party of life in general. Do you have a plan? Do you have goals and intentions? (Forget about resolutions. How many people do you know who have stuck to those?) No, I’m talking about attitude. I’m talking about expectations. I’m talking about seizing the year!

I plan to enter this year with gratitude, joy, and anticipation. I want to have a wide open heart so that all my hopes and dreams can flow freely. I want this year to be one of hope and happiness.

So, Carpe Annum, dear reader! I hope you enter the year with a clear vision. I hope that you take some (measured) risks and have some adventures, and that this year yields everything you wish it will.

wicked_witch_of_the_east
Talk about making an entrance.

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Time’s A-Wastin’

His Facebook page is full of lighthearted posts. Funny things he felt like passing along. Videos of cats. Smiling selfies. Humorous observations. The next post is bound to pop up any minute.

I barely knew him. He was a friend of a friend. We had pleasant exchanges in the comment section. I knew I’d like him. We’d yet to meet face to face. Vague plans had been made, and had yet to be carried out.

And now he’s dead, in his 50’s. Natural causes, they say. But there’s nothing natural about dying in one’s 50’s.

It’s all so fleeting. So unexpected. One day you’re taking a selfie, and the next you’re gone.

Life is precious. Don’t waste time. Savor every moment.

Wasting Time

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Contemplating my Death

Having recently gotten married, and having comingled our assets and combined our bank accounts as one does, it was time to update our wills. In my case, this was long overdue. My old will was all about assets I no longer have and people who are no longer in my life.

Writing a will is the responsible thing to do. It takes a great deal of pressure off the loved ones you leave behind, and it helps to ensure that your wishes are carried out. No sense in causing a familial World War III when you don’t have to. You’d be amazed at how petty some people can be while picking over your leftovers.

But contemplating one’s own death is no fun. Looking the grim reaper square in the eye and acknowledging his or her inevitable visit is a bit unsettling. I greatly prefer pretending that I’ll live forever. (But then, that scenario doesn’t really sound very pleasant, either, given how often I forget to floss.)

It’s particularly squick-making to have to imagine the whole death process. Do I want to have my life artificially prolonged? No thank you. Does that include withholding nutrition? Images of me wasting away as I circle the drain. Ugh. Yeah. Withhold nutrition unless I ask for it. But that’s a really hard thing to say to future me.

And what to do with the body I’m vacating? Good lord, but there are so many options these days. It’s like shopping for shoes. Except you’re disposing of the shoes. In a really upsetting way. And you’re trying not to freak out your relatives in the process.

There’s a lot to think about while making that choice. I mean, I’ll be beyond caring. But I’ve kind of grown attached to this body. I want it treated with respect. But I also don’t want it to take up space, or get pumped full of completely unnecessary and toxic formaldehyde, or cause undue expense.

I always thought I’d go with cremation, but then I learned what a huge carbon footprint that process places on the planet. So now I’ve decided on aquamation. That’s a new process. Your soft bits get dissolved, and only your bones remain, which are reduced to “ashes”. From an environmental standpoint it’s a much gentler exit from this planet. As this website explains, “Unlike cremation, there are no emissions with  aquamation. It uses about 1/8th the energy. If cremation were a diesel truck, aquamation is a Prius.” If I have to be a vehicle, I suppose I want to be a Prius. (How very Seattle of me.)

But can you imagine the details and descriptions I had to wade through to arrive at that choice? I mean… ugh. Nothing quite like picturing yourself getting disposed of like meat that is past its expiration date.

The next step is writing a personal letter explaining who I’d like to receive which of my tchotchkes. I’m struggling with this. How do you adequately convey how much someone has meant to you with a thing? It just doesn’t quite cut it.

But in the end, that’s all that will be left of me, save the memories. And that makes me want to create as many of those as I possibly can. So now that I’ve mapped out my journey into Death Land (and dragged you along for the ride), it’s time to get on with the business of living.

http _fc00.deviantart.net_images3_i_2004_122_1_e_Death

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Ambition

It never occurred to me that going to college wasn’t mandatory. My mother had been drumming it into my head since the age of six. You will go to college. College was the next grade after 12th. That was what one did.

I don’t know why, but it shocked me that everyone didn’t feel that way. Many of my high school friends never went for higher education. They had other goals in life. Now I know that there’s nothing wrong with that.

It wasn’t until I met someone with no ambition at all that I realized how important goals truly are. This guy will probably always live in the same city. He’ll always have the same job, and the same struggles. He is so stuck in the past that he never looks toward the future. He works toward nothing. He looks forward to nothing. He never gets excited about anything. He has absolutely no imagination. He doesn’t want anything because he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. He never takes risks because he is too afraid of failure.

He is the most boring human being I’ve ever met. Being in his presence is depressing. I feel sorry for him. But I also have no respect for him.

Ambition is what makes life worth living. Striving for something is why you get out of bed in the morning. And your goals don’t have to be financial. That’s no yardstick to use to measure your life. Accumulation of stuff is meaningless. You goals should be about achieving something, or going somewhere, or creating something, or checking something off your bucket list. Those goals should be unique to you.

I’m not telling you what goals to have. I’m just saying, for heaven’s sake, have some. Otherwise, what’s the point?

ambition

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