Sunday, September 19, 2021

Seasons Of Change And How Now Shall We Live

 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.

10 comments:

  1. I cannot begin to say how much this is like a group conversation with friends. You have touched another memory and brought more reflection into the forefront of my thinking.

    I knew a lady named Lilly Belle. She was born in 1912, graduated high school in 1928, became a home economics teacher. She was one of the sharpest people I had ever met. She was a home missionary, and I met her when she was 68. She had committed entire books of the new testament to memory.

    In 1986, we borrowed a friends truck for a trip back to Lubbock (Small Dodge diesel). We drove up to visit her and she asked me a question. She was wondering if there was substantial lag on acceleration due to it not having a turbo. That floored me. She read widely, had antique customs and ways of thinking, but constantly kept up to date as best she could. That gave me pause, and set a way point for me. We all want to be like our mentors I guess.

    I like to hang around intelligent people. Not just because they tend to get my sense of humor, but because there is so much to discover and learn from them and about them. Iron sharpens iron...

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    1. STxAR, I consistently enjoy being the least educated and intelligent person in the room - not because I enjoy some sort of self immolation of the intellect, but because I can learn new things.

      Your example is a good one. Right up to the time that my mother developed her Alzheimer's, she was continuing to learn and try new things. When the typewriter became obsolete, she got a stand alone Word processor, then a computer and attended continuing education classes to help her learn how to use it. She never became a technology master, but she could continue to stay in contact with people through the InterWeb as the era of letters passed on.

      But the option is simply to become a fossil trapped in amber. At least if we are active and engaged, we can asses the impact and wisdom of adopting new and different things and modify or reject as needed. For the fossil trapped in amber, it will never do any this, only remaining as it ever was.

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    2. Exactly correct. I just got back from a little parallel parking instruction with my niece. She was tuned in as long as we were in the car working on the points of reference she needed to miss everything stationary and find her spot. 90 minutes instruction at least.

      The next 30 were rehash and after action. She was constantly divided between her phone and our conversation. She managed it pretty well, and I kept myself focused on giving her facts and feedback to make the learning curve easier.

      Just as my eyes have begun to harden where focusing up close is at the limit of my arm, old timers can harden up and demand that folks bend to them, instead of being a bit more flexible and humble in spirit. It's a struggle for me too at times.

      Sun Tzu has been helpful here:

      He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing....

      Flexibility is key. But don't mistake flexible for weak.

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    3. STxAR - I, too, have been re-reading Sun Tzu. Flexibility and learning are key for him. It is a good reminder. The best, most engaged people I have known have been learners right up to the end.

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  2. Funny you should write about this topic. This very morning my youngest did something beyond her years and I told her she could stop growing and I would be a happy man. Of course, that wasn't agreeable to her as she wants to only grow up more quickly. All that led me to quote a lyric from a Garth Brooks song which I will just paraphrase here but went something like, "We come into this world yelling giddyup and go out hollering whoa!"

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    1. Ed, I can only imagine. We have had the same conversation here.

      I have often wondered why we cannot have growing up without the same of level of innocence that we had as children. I realize that does not work in the real world, but it sure would be nice.

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  3. Nine months into retirement has left me wondering many things, and inner inspection of my thinking. It's a constant process, and the more I find, the more I wonder.

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    1. Jess - For myself at any rate, I find that I have to spend time actually forcing myself to think to make progress on such things. I can allow myself to get sidetracked or sucked into other discussion mentally or simply devolve into allowing myself to be entertained. This is critical work for all of us though; I would argue the shallowness, mindlessness, and temporal nature of our current society and culture is a direct reflection of not making and spending the time.

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  4. Do you think the voice you write in betrays you somehow, TB?

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    1. Hmm. It is a fair question Glen.

      The number of people that at some point I have told in Realspace that I write this blog has never been many, and I would bet in the intervening 16 years most of them have stopped reading it - some from being busy, some from simply forgetting, and some from finding that I have changed since I first started. That said, the subject matter I tend to cover here is really not at all like what I talk about "out there", so there is almost no cross-over.

      All of that said, I do not tell anyone anymore that I write here. In that way I have actually found it more helpful to my writing as I continue to subside into the shadows of modern life; the more grey I become, the more I seem to find my voice.

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