Archives for category: Growing Older

This is a week of arrivals and departures, when many of us will be traveling to see family and friends. For some our gatherings bring joy. For others duty dictates that we manage aversive dynamics. Often it is a mixture of both, compounded by delays from traffic or weather en route.

For those of us whose destinations are filled with fun, friendly repartee and abundant food, arrival is a boon and parting a drag. For those who must navigate contentious currents the exit can’t come soon enough.

Either way, if we pay attention to our energy accompanying our arrivals and our leave-taking, occasions like the coming holiday hold lessons for us about being present. Focusing on the jewels of insight in each moment, even when difficult, becomes more and more precious.

Yesterday’s entry from A Year with Rilke titled “Spectators” struck a chord.

And we: always and everywhere spectators, turned not toward the Open but to the stuff of our lives. It drowns us. We set it in order. It falls apart. We order it again and fall apart ourselves.

Who has turned us around like this? Whatever we do, we are in the posture of one who is about to depart. Like a person lingering for a moment on the last hill where he can see his whole valley – that is how we live, forever taking our leave.

How much of our lives do we spend watching ourselves come and go, overlooking what beckons before us? Do we linger over parting, or are we quick to say goodbye? After all, it is the “stuff of our lives” even when it seems burdensome.

My wish is to focus more and more on gratitude each day before the final leaving taking arrives.

 

Reunions are a time when past and present converge. The resulting emotional kaleidoscope requires interpretation. How do we (re) present ourselves to ourselves and those we claim as cousins of distant circumstance?

Living in the decade of the “fiftieths,” I have attended my high school and college reunions. Last week it was my seminary class. Wading into the waters of each gathering I have felt the tugging undertow of questions. What was the reality? What might have been otherwise? What is now the routine? What still may be possible?

Reunions require us to tell a story about how we define ourselves. An insightful lyric from Stephen Stills offers a warning: “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.” Certainly, our experiences have shaped who we are today, but our creativity guides who we become tomorrow. Reunions can re-enkindle the imagination of possibilities.

One spark from last week was the inspiring examples of two women bishops whom our Episcopal seminary honored for their leadership under very difficult circumstances. Women were not ordained as priests or bishops when I was a seminarian.

The second ember to be fanned was a re-ignition of two friendships for whom a fifty-year hiatus was but an interruption. We will likely become part of each other’s narratives in the years ahead.

What is the tale you tell yourself? What do you present to others? Rilke’s words encourage all of us to articulate the truth and promise in our story today.

Here is the time for telling. Here is its home.

Speak and make known: More and more

The things we could experience

Are lost to us, banished by our failure

To imagine them.

Old definitions, which once set limits to our living,

Break apart like dried crusts.

Ninth Duino Elegy

 

Sometimes, when adversity threatens to overwhelm the spirit, focusing on a simple task can bring us back to center.

There is much to weigh us down in life, from personal challenges to the daily bombardment of media images and commentary. The devastation from recent wildfires and flooding is a case in point.

How do we bring ourselves back to center? One dramatic example occurred in the outpouring of assistance in the wake of Harvey. It was an inspiring glimpse of our better angels transcending the demons that normally divide us.

Most of us regain our footing through the routines of nurturing our families, caring for our animals, volunteering for causes we believe in, pursuing hobbies or practicing yoga. I have found another form of meditation.

We heat with wood, and I split most of it by hand, a little each day. One of the storms last winter brought down some trees in our forest. Before the black flies arrived in May I bucked up the trunks and limbs into stove length rounds. Last week I began retrieving them to split and stack on the woodpile. The tractor access stopped 45 yards short. This meant carrying the rounds and returning the same distance for the next load. Viewed from one lens, it was a highly inefficient process.

Earlier in life impatience would have led me to desist. Last week I slowed my pace and coordinated it with my breathing. I lifted only manageable loads. I used the many return trips to appreciate how much joy I felt walking among the trees. I have the time to do this now. The woods nourish me aesthetically, and they feed my provider persona.

Maybe the reset boils down to this: pay attention and be grateful for the abundance in the moment.

 

Have you found your place in the world? A home for your values? A harbor for treasured relationships? Pursuits that quicken your passions?

A few of us know early in life where we belong. The route of others is more circuitous. Count me among those whose paths have taken longer but who now know and embrace the destination.

This week I began the season’s first mowing of our front field, a sloping acre of rough grasses, ferns, and half buried boulders. Exacerbated by recent rains, much of it is also wet, requiring me to trade the tractor for a weed whacker. These days the chore, once viewed as nuisance, affords time to reflect.

Revisiting the past, I realized that each chapter of life fed only some elements of my being. That is, until the last decade, when, as much as they ever will, all the pieces have come together. Up the drive from the mowing field stands the home of our dreams with views of the surrounding hills. Gardens yield food and flowers, and stacks of drying wood stand ready to fuel the fires of winter.

David Whyte’s poem The House of Belonging connects with me here. The images range far beyond his residence. May the closing lines inspire you to read the whole and celebrate your own awakening to your place in the world.

…This is the bright home in which I live,

this is where I ask my friends to come,

this is where I want to love all the things

it has taken me so long to learn to love.

 

This is the temple of my adult aloneness

and I belong to that aloneness

as I belong to my life.

 

There is no house like the house of belonging.

 

Have you been neglecting something important about who you are? If so, this post is a nudge to bring it back into the light.

A few days ago I picked up my guitar. Abandoned in a corner for far too long, it has been with me since 1960. The years of use have chipped its finish but its action is still smooth, its sound resonant. It embodies the gift of music that our parents passed on to my sister and me.

Our family’s means were lower middle modest, but there was always music. A post-war memory still holds my parents dancing to jazz and swing on the radio. I sang in the church choir, the school chorus and the high school’s annual musical. My adolescence accompanied the birth and rise of rock & roll, and I love to dance.

It began when I bought a plastic ukulele for 25 cents (!) and learned to play and sing a pretty good rendition of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. It got my parents’ attention. I came home from school one day to discover a Guild guitar on my bed. Knowing our limited resources, that gift meant mounds of affirmation.

I learned to play. There was plenty to emulate with the popularization of folk music in the ‘60s. I sang at family gatherings and hootenannies and to a special girl. In seminary, I wrote and recorded a folk mass that engaged congregations more actively in worship.

Best of all, the genes have made their way to our children and granddaughter, each of whom enjoys music and dance in their lives too. And so, I return to my guitar and the songs of my soul.

What is one of your neglected gifts? Is it time for you to sing that song again too?

 

I am spending time these days sorting through stuff. What to keep and what to release? It is a worthy task for any decade but even more so in our later years.

The accumulation of what we once thought important enough to lug around collides with the knowledge of the way life turned out. Fewer “rainy days” remain, and what is wanted now, much less needed, may not be what we saved long ago.

As a “Jack” of many trades I have collected much: shelves of books; files of weddings, sermons and eulogies from days of ministry; course syllabi and curricula from teaching; plans, proposals and publications from leadership roles; speeches and correspondence.

To be honest, in addition to easing the load on those who must deal with this stuff when I depart, the sorting provides an opportunity to revisit the story I tell myself. Wouldn’t most of us want to emphasize the times when our better angels prevailed?

Then there are the forgotten jewels. During an unsettling transition in my twenties I bought a pricey camera to explore an interest in photography. Two of the boxes I am culling contain slides, negatives, and photos that I developed and printed from that period.

There are family members, friends and landscapes; moments of play and laughter, music and fellowship – images of my life frozen, preserved and now re-presented to delight and refresh an aging memory.

Each still-life frames a gift with which I am blessed – loving relationships, connections to the earth, a quest for meaning and opportunities for service. These treasures reinforce the core values of my story and justify the effort to lug this stuff around all these years.

And you? What is the weight of stuff you carry? Is it a burden or a boon?

 

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One of the blessings of this week was a phone call with an old friend, a colleague from years ago. We caught up on each other’s lives, acknowledged the work we had done together and recognized that our connections of the heart cultivated long ago persist.

Each of us travels through life with cohorts. Circumstance brings us together but it is our choices and actions within those situations (or afterward) that create and sustain friendships.

Last weekend Peggy and I visited a college classmate and his partner. They surprised us with tickets to a Paul Stookey concert. Still writing songs at 78 and protesting the ascendance of our human failings, Stookey’s humor, insight and compassion seen in his days with Peter, Paul and Mary, triggered a chain of reflections that landed on this blog with a song from the same era.

Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends captures the wistfulness of this stage of life for me. Sung in their youth the lyrics anticipated a poignant marker: “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be seventy.”

Old friends come in two categories that sometimes coincide: the length of time we have known each other and the experiences shared; or the depth of the connection, like old souls who journeyed together in past lives.

Take a moment to enjoy the song and bring to mind your own friends. If you haven’t talked with them lately, it may be time to reach out.

Old friends. Memory brushes the same years

Silently sharing the same fear.

Time it was, and what a time it was.

It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences.

Long ago it must be, I have a photograph…

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

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When the world of humans saps our sensibilities and we seek to escape the media’s gravitational pull, Peggy and I often turn to nature. This past week we sought a favorite cove on the Maine coast to reconnect with family and friends and to replenish our spirits.

A long open porch offers an expansive view of the bay in front of us. Throughout the day it beckons, hosting individual moments of solitude, quiet sharing with another, spirited ripostes when our numbers swell and of course the repartee and laughter of our meals.

Less than a hundred yards from the porch a sun bleached branch of a long dead tree looms over the cove, offering the perfect hunting perch for the local ospreys. The porch provides a protected but open view from which we track their coming and going, welcome their distinctive cry and marvel at their tutelage of their young. While we have seen it many times, their dive for the mackerel below followed by a telltale splash remains a basic thrill to witness.

This year the routines of the ospreys are disrupted by the arrival of two bald eagles who quickly establish their dominance over the perch and the fishing grounds below. While the ospreys percuss they reluctantly yield to their more powerful cousins.

The proximity of the eagles strikes a deeper chord of wonder, mystery and admiration. It’s easy to see how humans adopt them as symbols, hoping to appropriate even in small measure the strength and independence of these magnificent birds.

The eagles pay us little heed. And why should they? The question arises, who is the visitor here? My struggle for answers brings me full circle to the impulse that brought us back to the cove. Who is the visitor here?

 

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The tendency is to turn outward – for validation, for reprisal or simply to vent. I guess it is a natural default for most of us. Expressing our happiness, affection, anger or fear affirms that we are not alone. We belong to a larger community that shares our history, values, perceptions or temperaments.

The physical and emotional violence on display around the globe each day can be overwhelming. Add to that cauldron the personal challenges each of us faces with our relationships, livelihood and health. Where do we turn for grounding?

A reading I came across recently suggests that an important part of the answer has to do with turning inward. It is a translation of words from Lao Tzu from centuries past found in M. J. Ryan’s collection, A Grateful Heart. I offer it as a reminder that focusing on calming our inner turmoil may be a first step in bringing our peace to the world outside.

Always we hope

someone else has the answer.

Some other place will be better,

some other time it will all turn out.

 

This is it.

No one else has the answer.

No other place will be better,

and it has already turned out.

 

At the center of your being you have the answer;

You know who you are and you know what you want.

 

There is no need

to run outside

for better seeing.

Nor to peer from a window.

 

Rather abide

at the center of your being;

For the more you leave it

the less you learn.

 

Search your heart

and see

the way to do

is to be.

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I have returned home from a week in Colorado filled with friends, clients and family. The blessing of these relationships brought to mind a line from Carly Simon’s song –  these are the good old days.

How easy it is to spend time looking back to what our life used to be or anticipating what might lie ahead. Given my age, I confess to a certain amount of dread for what the coming years will bring.

This focus has been fueled in part by Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal which I have read in preparation for an upcoming discussion with friends from high school days. Written by a doctor, it is a frank account of the aging process and death and ways we and our culture deal with both.

In Still Here, a book by Ram Dass completed after he experienced a debilitating stroke, I found a gentle reminder that has bolstered my spirits and resolve to be here now.

As the Tibetan teaching instructs, we learn not to “invite” the future into our thoughts before its time, or to cause ourselves unnecessary discomfort, for just as the past traps us in memories, the future traps us in anticipation.

 In the popular idiom of days gone Carly Simon’s classic sums it up well.

We can never know about the days to come

But we think about them anyway

And I wonder if I’m really with you now

Or just chasin’ after some finer day

 Anticipation, anticipation is makin’ me late, is keepin’ me waitin’…

And tomorrow we might not be together

I’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s ways

So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now

And stay right here

‘cause these are the good old days.