OldAFSarge over at Chant du Depart has written a very thoughtful piece about the changing seasons in Where Did The Summer Go, which he very cleverly (and subtly) transfers over from the actual seasons to the seasons of life without letting the reader know until they are already engaged (well done, Sarge). In it, he transitions from the changing seasons ("It hit me Friday morning, well, it was close to morning, when I awakened from an exhausted, dreamless sleep. It's mid-September, past mid-September really.") to the changes in his life from the passing of his beloved companion cat to upcoming changes in his career that he may be considering (Yes, I know - I just summarized it in one sentence. You should go read it anyway.)
It is an odd thing, to wake up - as he did, and I did recently - and realize that the year is already effectively 75% over. And then to start doing the math and realize - like every year - that it only picks up speed as one gets closer to the end of the year: At work, everything that needs to get done for the year suddenly is compressed into the fourth quarter; at home and in life, the competing realities of a change in season (here in the Northern Hemisphere, from Summer to Winter) means that many outdoor projects and activities will wind down even as time for those activities competes with the upcoming rush of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Life in these last three months picks up speed, and that rather precipitously.
Add to that the math (for me) of travel, both to The Ranch and (hopefully) vacation, and the year is closing down very quickly indeed.
Last night at dinner with Uisdean Ruadh and The Accountant - both friends from High School - I made the comment that, statistically, if we had 30 more years of relative active and health, we would all be beating the curve. There was an awkward silence and then a reluctant acknowledgement that yes, this was likely true.
And that is given current history. What I know of my own family, at least, is that it is probably shorter than that.
In light of all that, as Francis Schaeffer might ask, "How Then Shall We Live?"
It is not just in the realm of what we do, but how we are.
For most of us - myself included - something like an "early retirement" is not possible in the way that we imagine. That said, neither is the concept of continuing to work in a career field or job field which, at some point, bears no evidence of ultimately getting us to where we would like to be. If you do not enjoy work your work at some fundamental level, continuing to climb the career ladder in your 50's, 60's, and 70's offers little to no incentive. That is not to say that most would -or should - just "drop out"; research is pretty clear that some level of involvement is necessary and beneficial. But at some point, one would like the option to choose or to work in a job which keeps the hands busy and the mind active, but does not necessarily require meeting quarterly and year end deadlines.
But such a change should not be limited to only what we do.
A tendency - I can see it in myself - of getting older is locking one's self into patterns of thought and patterns of behavior and belief. We do what works of course, and when one enters the Autumn of a life, the fact that one is still above ground and functioning in society gives us a sense of "Yes, that worked - because here I still am."
I am not suggesting merely jettisoning all our accumulated thoughts, behaviors, and belief because it will make us more "hip" or more able to communicate with the young - if anything, I would argue that those patterns are in many ways more necessary than ever. But what I am suggesting is that we need to get into the habit of examining ourselves - our thoughts, emotions, practices - and see what needs to change.
I have more than a fair list of issues. I am too often proud, too often fearful, too often motivated by things that are base rather than noble. I too often focus on myself and my plans for my life and my world. As a result I struggle with apologizing when I should and confronting when I should. I will avoid conversations that may be difficult but necessary or present a plan and proposal as if it is a done deal. I worry a great deal about making things convenient for my life; I worry not so much about making things convenient for others.
This is hard work - harder when one is in one's mid 50's and uprooting what amounts to decades of behavior in some cases. But we cannot simply be satisfied with ourselves as we are, anymore than we can or should be satisfied with our outer lives as we are.
My example is old acquaintances.
When one is with old acquaintances - from high school or college or previous work experiences - one sees a pattern of behavior that is not present in the friendships that are current and living. In those friendships there is indeed the joy of old memories and old jokes - and nothing is funnier than 30 year running joke! - but there is also the discussion and interaction of things that are happening recently.
In old acquaintance encounters, this hardly seems the case. Yes, there is the initial catch up - friends, children, relationships, careers - but after this it seems very often (at least in my experience) that the interactions seems to devolve to what they were in the past. We act out those roles of high school or college or previous jobs because that is the only touchpoint we have to deal with the encounter. Too much water has passed to quickly build up points of reference in the recent past and, frankly, we at least subliminally recognize that it may not be worth the effort as how likely are we to see his person again?
Not everyone can make this transition - not everyone I know has. For those that have not, they become locked into a way of looking at the world that by default keeps many others out - the old cranky man shouting "Get Off My Lawn" is funny because there is truth to it. And it is hard to accept and realize that one needs to work on one's self, perhaps even harder now as things start to wind down.
But I would argue it is important work none the less because - based on the increasing speed of the years and change of the seasons - things are winding down more quickly than we know.