Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Cruel & Cool Jokes of Nature

The way I see it, there is a great pair of jokes played by nature on us humans. Tricks of time: one cruel and the other almost cool enough to make up for it.

First of all, why is it that time speeds up so much as we get older? It’s so damned unfair. When we’re young and impatient for the things we look forward to, time crawls at a snail’s pace. A week can feel like a month, an hour can feel like half the day... until school is out, or we can have dessert, or get to see that movie that’s been advertised forever.

We get older and time speeds up. It’s easier to wait for what we want. We have more patience, and more perspective, it seems. It feels like maturity. But then, that speeding up continues. And continues. Even accelerates. We get into our thirties and we begin to want to slow things down a little. We begin to realize that the longevity that has stretched into the dim future all our lives is not infinite. We’re already into adulthood – that period of time we were desperate for as children – and now it’s speeding by. Our twenties are already behind us, and the years are only running by faster.

I’m into my sixties, and every year seems to last about as long as a month once did. Whatever there is still to do in life, I’d better get to it pretty damned fast, because memory and energy are diminishing as fast as my future.

But, there’s the silver lining. It’s how wonderful it is being an older human being. When I was a teenager, I imagined that the best part of life ended by age fifty, if that. People that age and older seemed to be mostly worn out and used up. I didn’t imagine there could be any real pleasure is being alive at that age. I figured that what kept them going was mostly the dread of the alternative. Wasn’t much to look forward to, so I didn’t think a lot about being older. In fact, I somehow didn’t expect to become an old man. Something would surely save me from the fate of being among the living dead.

But it isn’t like that at all. Being old doesn’t feel much different than being younger. Sure, the body doesn’t work as well as it did, and I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to shrink, but there are so many ways in which life is better. That’s the wonderful joke of nature.

The most surprising thing is that I feel like the very same person I was in my twenties and thirties, but all the experience and choices of the past have begun to pay off. They haven’t all been good experiences and choices, of course, but bad ones have led to better ones, and the good ones have given me so many tools for facing the present in ways I couldn’t before. Patience and perspective are part of the story. But there’s also the shifting of priorities and appetites. I want better things than I used to. And my values are an outgrowth of lived experience, and are therefore more solid and reliable than the values that were so much generated by the noise of the world. And these days, the worth of a choice stems more from its generation than from its consequences.

I’m deep into the second half of my life, possibly into the fourth quarter. I don’t project a lot about what the rest of life will be like. Will the acceleration of time continue? Will life continue to feel this good? Experience confirms that projections can be very wrong. And even if they're right, it’s probably best not to live inside of them. I have foreseen so much pain and difficulty where there turned out not to be any.

I’m sure curious though. And I’ll try to make the best of whatever comes. I know from experience that there will be constant surprises. Every day is full of them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Getting ReConnected

     It’s already been a month since our return to the steady and regular lives we lead. We aren’t feeling the physical effects anymore, or the sense of time and space warp from the trip, but we’re still moved by the epic scale of our adventure. We negotiated 14,600 kilometers or 9,000 miles; 29 days; 12 visits including 6 stays with friends in 5 Provinces and 7 States; 18 different motels rooms. It was a month of almost constant movement. Only twice did we spend two nights in the same bed. On four successive Wednesdays, we met up with friends in Calgary, Seattle, Los Angeles and Houston. Ponczka and I had the odd experience of looking backward at earlier events on the trip and feeling simultaneously that they’d just happened and that they’d happened weeks before. And, it was a dream of a lifetime.

     For how many years had I been contemplating this trip? I was so grateful to replace all the vague and shifting notions about what the trip might be, with the vivid reality of it: the sights and encounters, hugs and conversations, meals and walks, forever updating my inner scrapbook of my life. So many people and places, touching so many different parts of my life, even back to my beginnings. I’d wanted this for myself, but I wanted as much to share it with Ponczka, to give her a deeper glimpse into my has-been, even the might-have-beens.

     I love cities and I love the in-between places. One of the disappointments was to find that all the cities that I’d known before (but hadn’t visited in twenty-five years or more) have become bigger, busier and more alike. It was harder detecting that West Coast vibe – if it still exists. We were in such a flurry of movement and meetings that we didn’t give ourselves time to notice.

     The rubbing up against technology was an interesting experience, as well: the ease of taking photos and videos, then posting them that same day, to share with friends scattered around the world; using AI to handle so much of the navigation, not only guiding us to motels, but comparing rates and amenities; and of course, communicating while on the go. The last time I did a cross-country trip, none of this was possible to do in the way we did it, not even simple phoning ahead. It changes things enormously, this connectivity. The ability to pay for things, and to withdraw money effortlessly, changes the ways of travel as well. Because there was a time when one was wise to do a rough calculation of expenses in advance, then to carry that along on the trip, maybe investing in traveler’s checks to protect against theft or loss.

     I’m putting up videos and photos in an attempt to share some of it all. Impossible to ‘capture’ it. It was such a unique ride. Already, I’d like for us to do it all again, but to take more time – three or four times the time. Because, for everything we saw and did during our trip, we passed on three or four things we’d like to have seen and done. It was all more than worth it.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Growing With Purpose

I’m reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, and it’s making me more conscious – and self-conscious – about the ways I think, the ideas I have about life, and where it all comes from.
Among other things, it led to thoughts about what I live for. And it came to me that, if I were to choose a motto, I could do a lot worse than this:
Living Well
Living Well with others
Supporting the striving of others to Live Well
If I adopted it though, I’d have to admit that it’s more of a summary drawn from looking backward than it ever was a mission statement as I moved forward. I haven’t been as intentional in life as I once aimed to be. Now, that seems not such a bad thing. I’ve repressed, edited, muted myself in lots of ways. But this has stemmed, in part anyway, from wishing never to cause harm. I’ve been careful.
And, I’ve been afraid. I’ve feared the potential, unrealized repercussions from a world I haven’t easily allowed myself to trust. Only gradually have I realize that I belong here, that Earth, life, this moment are where I belong, where I was created, designed, or simply evolved to be.  There’s no escaping the harm. It’s built into the Living.
So my intention has always been, in part, to hurt as few, as seldom, and as lovingly and humbly as possible. And I believe I’ve done alright by that. I’m also aware that my own share of hurt has been relatively small, and that so, so much has gone right for me, all my life long. So much love and consideration has flowed inward. And so often from souls who didn’t owe me a thing, who maybe didn’t even know me.
A plane on which I’ve been a failure so far is in creating something that in and of itself shifts living toward the good. A book is such a thing. A food bank is another. A child, however it may seem to turn out. Some forms of creation are indeed abandonment to a creative power that is beyond us, that we cannot wield like swords, or pens, but which we can only aspire to be the swords and pens of. Yes. Good. Or God. Even Science, if you refer to that science beyond what we think we  already know, the science that pulls us forward, into what we haven’t even imagined.
In keeping with my motto, I’ve been trying to reconstruct myself. Sounds brutal, but it’s not. But I do mean a repairing, a cleaning, the tossing out of some junk. About time. And just in time for a last act, if the Good be willing. I intend to repair my relationship with time, that I’ve abused and blamed for so much that burdens me. I’ve always made it time’s fault, even to the point of sometimes wishing it would just go away. Now, I’m learning to cherish every minute. Still learning, yes. And trying to make amends to this ally of all my life.
And I’m wanting to relieve myself of all the things I’ve clung to and used, in hope that they would soothe the hurts and dispel the fears in me. What are all these things? Too many to name. Too limiting to name. They are everything under the Sun, all that it provides that nourishes and enhances, and wanting it all too much. Love, sex, food, control…..oh, why do I even start!
I want to stretch open a space that’s always been there in me. It’s a space of total connection to life, of freedom so complete that it makes the word superfluous, a space in which being me stops being a protection against life, but a submersion into it: like that very favorite experience of mime – floating on the skin of a lake, muscles completely relaxed, face turned upward toward the infinite sky. Kissed by Earth, on the tip of the tongue of the Universe.