Paragons of Truth

It is beyond difficult to be a paragon of virtue, one free of sin and avarice, a human being to be admired and emulated, a soul who rises far above the rest of poor mortals who can only watch in awe and wonder.

Or so I imagine it must be, for (as my friends will readily attest) that description does not fit me.

There are many who have been thus esteemed, however.  A partial list from my own lifetime might include Leyhma Gbowee, Mahatmas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Shimon Peres, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Lech Walesa, and Malala Yousafzai.  All but one of these worthies were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their character and accomplishments.

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There are others who could be added, as well—people who, for reasons varying by nationality, culture, religion, or political necessity, had bestowed upon them (even if only for a time) an aura of goodness and purity to which we might all have aspired.  They include Churchill (but not Chamberlain), Chang Kai-Shek (but not Mao Zedong), Ben-Gurion (but not Netanyahu), de Gaulle (but not Pétain), Graham (but not Bakker), Kennedy (but not Nixon), and Mulroney (but not Turner).

In truth, however, were all those so proclaimed really paragons of righteousness?  Or were they mere mortals like the rest of us—caught up in events largely beyond their control—but whose endeavours as they grappled with those events were in sync with our western-world point of view?

A close reading today of the historical record of those who have passed away, and of the contemporaneous reporting about those still with us, tells us that, in fact, all these heroes and heroines fall short of the near-mythical status granted them.

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The key to understanding history is knowing it was written by the victors.  But it is pretty much accepted that not everyone who reads that official history will agree with it.  We tend, as human beings, to see truth in accounts that reflect our pre-conceived opinions, and to disagree with reports that run counter to those.

One’s assessment of such historical figures as Columbus, Napoleon, Bismarck, Rhodes, Cochise, Lenin, Roosevelt, Castro, or Thatcher clearly depends upon one’s viewpoint with respect to their accomplishments.  Who among them was good?  Who was bad?

The history of our times that will one day be written will depend to a large extent upon contemporary reporting—by the press, the broadcast media, the social media, and the special interest groups—of the events now occurring in the world around us.  And many of the people who will read that history will have no first-hand knowledge of where the truth really lies—if there even is one truth.

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As a boy, I became an avid reader of the two daily newspapers that came into our home, especially the comics, the sports, and the weather forecasts.  Then, marking the example of my parents, I soon branched out into current events, and became able to identify the important people of the day, those gracing the pages I devoured.  I thought they were above us, those newsmakers, guiding the fate of the world on our behalf.  And I believed what I read about them.

Only later did I come to learn that many of my friends’ homes subscribed to other papers, and that their editorial biases were different from those we favoured.  I was shocked, truly, to realize that not everyone revered the same newsmakers I did—that, in fact, some people actually reviled them.  In an attempt to reconcile the discrepancies, I began to explore those other perspectives with a view to discerning what was true and what was misinformation.  With the advent of television newscasts, the sheer volume soon made that impossible.

But I did discover one thing, at least.  No one—not the most famous person found in the newspaper, nor the lowly paperboy delivering it (my status at the time)—was an unblemished paragon of purity.  All of us, no matter our station in life, had warts, even if those were not always readily seen.

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My mother used to encourage us to look for good in everyone—on the theory, I suppose, that if we didn’t at least look, we’d never find it.  She would remind us of the biblical admonition to mind the mote in our own eyes (I didn’t know for a long time what a mote was, but I dutifully tried to oblige), and the other about not casting stones, literally or figuratively, given our own shortcomings.  Good advice, if not always easy to follow.

So here I am, at the age of three-score-and-fifteen now, no longer believing there are any paragons of virtue in the world, but desperately wanting to believe there could be.  Here I am, not knowing what the real truth is, but desperately hoping there is one, still believing it will set us free.

As Abhijit Naskar has written, “It is a tragedy of modern life that the light of truth scares the society much more than the darkness of ignorance.”

So here I am, still reading, still listening, still exploring—still trying to figure it all out before my own time runs out.

Poetry and Song

Every child is an artist (Pablo Picasso).

In an era when the Arts are under attack in our schools, depriving young people of the opportunity to develop and nurture their creative wellspring—the very thing that will sustain them throughout their lives—it is a joy to be able to spread good words in poetry, pictures, and song.

ice on the water,

white sheets atop the blue deeps—

reflecting the sun

ice on lake

imagination—

like hot air balloons, slipping

bonds that tie me down

balloons

asleep together,

intertwined, we bind our souls

with each breath we take

asleep

impossible dream?

many might have thought so, but

you made it come true

in the rain

more yesterdays now

than tomorrows, but it’s the

tomorrows that count

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shoulder to shoulder,

a capella voices raised—

united in song

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves

at the same time (Thomas Merton).

 

On Etiquette

A decade or so ago, after almost forty years of marriage, my wife left me.  Oh, it was nothing permanent, thank goodness—just a weekend excursion she took with one of our daughters, who was visiting us in Florida with her two girls.  They left me to look after our grandchildren.

I was delighted, of course, not only because I love the girls, but because I knew it would give me an opportunity to put into practice all those theories about dealing with children that I’m forever espousing to my wife.

 Hah!  So much for that plan!

It wasn’t that my theories were without merit.  They were based on an assumption that children—and adults, for that matter—are responsible for their own behaviour, and should be held accountable for the consequences of that behaviour.  Pretty simple, really.  Our world might well be a better place if more people subscribed to that thinking.

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Now, before I go any further, please don’t get the impression that I ever told my wife how to raise our own two daughters.  Far from it!  She always brought her own common-sense approach into play during the many hours she spent with them.

But I couldn’t resist the opportunity—after I’d been away from fatherhood for so long—to put my theories into practice, dispassionately and all-knowingly, with my granddaughters.

However, I didn’t reckon on the fact that my daughter had learned the lessons of effective parenting only-too-well from my wife.  And the extent to which she’d been successful was brought home to me that weekend.

Right from the get-go, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any fault with my grandchildren.  On both mornings, they got up and made their beds, got themselves washed and dressed, and then wakened me.  Gently, with a kiss.

After breakfast, which they helped me make, they cleaned off the table without being reminded.  Then off they went, outside to play until it was time to walk to the pool—their favourite pastime.  The closest we got to a confrontation was when they asked if they could go barefoot.  I told them about fire-ants, and they readily dropped the subject.

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It was quite frustrating, because I wasn’t getting any opportunities to practice my pet theories.  Finally, however, I figured my chance had come.  We went out for dinner that first night, to a local place offering bbq ribs as the house specialty, and that’s what we ordered.  It was the perfect moment to direct the girls in the proper etiquette for dining out.

I tried to begin when the salads arrived, but I wasn’t fast enough.

“Use the small fork for your salad, Gramps,” offered the youngest before I could tell her the same thing.  I nodded obediently.

When I tried to say something else a few moments later, the oldest said, “Gramps, you shouldn’t talk with food in your mouth, remember?”  I nodded again, in guilty agreement.

Then, a minute or so later, while I was still watching for some breach of etiquette from them, the youngest piped up again.  “Please don’t let the fork scrape against your teeth, Gramps.  And your napkin should be on your lap in case you drop something.”  I hastily complied.

When the platter of ribs arrived, I received more advice from the oldest—even before I had done anything wrong.  “It’s okay to pick up the ribs in your hands, Gramps, but don’t lick your fingers.  Just wipe them on your napkin.”

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“Gramps, don’t eat so fast,” said the youngest a few minutes later, “or you’ll get a tummy-ache.”

This went on through the entire meal.  I was lectured to, scolded, and encouraged, all at the same time, by my own grandchildren.  Worst of all, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  Probably because, eating so fast, my mouth was always full.

But then, at long last, I found a way to seize the upper hand.  It was time to pay the bill, and I was the only one with money!  Confidently, I marched with the kids up to the cashier, flashing a broad smile at her as I pulled out my wallet with a flourish.  Rather than returning my smile, she merely looked at me—somewhat curiously, I thought.

Nevertheless, I paid the bill masterfully, adding just the right amount for a gratuity.  As we left, I bestowed one final, beaming smile on the cashier.  And again, she didn’t return it.

After we climbed back into our car, I turned to the two girls.

“There!” I said.  “That’s how you settle up after a good meal.”  I just knew they’d be impressed, and I smiled condescendingly at the two of them.

Ewww, Gramps!” they chorused in unison.  “You’ve got a big piece of meat stuck between your front teeth!”

Alas, being a grandpa isn’t always easy!

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He Can Trump That

Among my more liberal, left-leaning friends, especially those who reside for some portion of the year in the USA, there is a visceral, shuddering abhorrence for all that Donald Trump represents.  It is almost incomprehensible to these fine people that such a boor could ever have been elected president.

I also have friends who inhabit the right (or right-centre) side of the political spectrum, and many appreciate some of the man’s actions in office—such as tax cuts, immigration reform, and a more robust foreign policy.  Yet they, too, are repelled by his personal character.

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It has occurred to me, however, that I have a lot in common with the self-proclaimed saviour of the free world.  It gives me no satisfaction to admit this, but the commonalities are too numerous to ignore.  Let me list a few of them here.

Like the president, I have never had a sexual encounter with the porn star, Stormy Daniels.  Nor did I ever carry on an extra-marital affair with Karen McDougal, the former Playboy bunny.  And I know he didn’t either because he says so.

Not once, ever, have I grabbed a woman by the…..well, you know.  And neither have I ever chomped on tic-tacs to freshen my mouth before pressing myself against a woman and kissing her without her consent.  The president claims—despite a prior candid conversation with one Billy Bush, taped on a tour bus—that he’s never done those things, either.

He often boasts of the tremendous support he gets from women, and that is true of me, too.  In my case, those women are my mother, my sisters, my wife, my daughters, and some long-standing friends.  The president doesn’t really identify who his are, but it must be true, right?

I’ve never fired a director of the FBI because an investigation about my conduct was a witch hunt and total hoax.  Neither did the president do that, by his own admission.

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I’ve told everyone I know that the tax cuts enacted by the president won’t help me at all financially.  He has said that, too, about himself.

I have never publicly mocked a disabled person.  I never supported the American war in Iraq.  I have never made my income tax returns public.  Never did I mislead or defraud students through a fake, diploma-mill university.  He says he didn’t do any of those, either.

Like the president, until the news media made a big deal of it, I had never heard of WikiLeaks.  Nor did I know anything about David Duke and his KKK affiliation.

Neither have I ever stayed overnight in a Moscow hotel, or been entertained by Russian strippers.  I have never made money from business dealings with Russian interests.  Nor, so he says, has the president.

I have absolutely no pecuniary involvement in any Trump-related business, just like the president, who, as he has himself avowed, completely divested himself of his interests after his election.

None of the following people have ever played a major role in my life—George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, or Steve Bannon.  Unlike me, the president does admit knowing them, but not to the point where they could exert a significant or lasting impact on his behaviour.

There are so many commonalities between us.

But, as you read through this list, one significant difference might have occurred to you.  Every one of the statements in the list pertaining to me is true.  The statements regarding the president are not.

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He lies.

Which brings me to a final similarity—somewhat embarrassing for me to admit.  I confess that, just like the president, I also tell lies.  These might include falsehoods about my weight, my golf score, my book sales, the number of followers of my blog, that sort of thing.  Not all the time, but sometimes.

The president makes me look like an amateur in this arena, however.  By some estimates, he has told more than three thousand lies since taking office fifteen months ago.  That’s an average of two hundred lies a month, almost seven a day.  Very few people ever hear my fabrications; but the president’s falsehoods are tweeted almost daily, and repeated endlessly by the mainstream media, social media, and self-serving political hacks and special interest groups.

And sadly, many people believe them.

I would characterize myself as an occasional liar—or, to put it more charitably, one who sometimes utters misleading statements, tenders alternative facts, or (in the president’s words), offers truthful hyperbole in lieu of the truth.  Nothing that really matters to anyone but me and my fragile ego.

As I tell my friends, I’m a writer of fiction.  I make stuff up.

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But the president can trump that.  A congenital characteristic is not something inherited, but rather a feature so ingrained, so strong, that we cannot imagine it changing.  The president is, I believe, a congenital liar, one who cannot help himself, one who believes in his own infallibility.  He doesn’t think he’s making stuff up; he just believes whatever he says.  So, if his lips are moving…

The old adage has it that there are lies, and there are damned lies!  Perhaps the same is true of liars.

[sigh]

 

Empress of the Garden

Very recently, I came upon some pictures of the neighbourhood where my parents purchased the last home they would ever own—a home where I spent the final ten years of my boyhood.  The pictures, old black-and-whites, had been taken before all the homes were built, and the streets were still dirt-tracks.  No one yet occupied any of the finished homes.  The cars and construction vehicles parked helter-skelter were like a virtual museum of 1950’s-era vehicles.

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It wasn’t long, however, before we and our new neighbours were moving in—into freshly-painted homes, with tidy lots of newly-laid grass, driveways of impossibly-white gravel, and (for the most part) no trees.

But my family was singularly fortunate in that, along our side of the rear property line, a row of mature trees stood, there for years before the developer arrived, perhaps marking the boundary between some long-ago farmer’s fields.

Our house was set amidst them—tall, ancestral trees, most of them, old enough that they could have known our grandparents’ names, and their parents before them.  To my young eyes, they seemed to reach endlessly to the sky, then bow over, protectively, to shield us from the world.

In short order, my parents established a garden around and beneath those trees.  Some were big trees, with trunks wide enough to hide behind, others were smaller, with branches dipping low enough to allow us to climb.

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On the hottest of summer days, my siblings and I could return from playing in nearby parks to collapse in the cool, welcoming shade.  In the crispness of autumn afternoons, we could jump and hide in (and scatter) the piles of fallen leaves my father had spent hours raking together.  He never seemed to mind.

At dusk on a cold winter’s evening, we could stare through frosted windows at the skeleton branches, stark against the darkling sky.  And in the rebirthing spring, we could search out budding maple-keys, housing seeds, peel them back, and stick them on our noses.

They were of many kinds, our trees.  The maple, which we tried to tap one spring to make syrup, but unsuccessfully.  An oak, scattering acorns on the ground for us to collect, and which brought the squirrels.  A beautiful beech, with its lovely bark and spreading foliage.  And a large, gnarled weeping willow that we used to hide under, its branches trailing snakily along the ground.

The oldest and most important of all our trees, however, was an elm.  Standing firmly on a small rise at the back of the garden, she reigned over the other trees (in my mind’s eye, anyway).  Encircling her base was a large rockery, broken in one spot by a narrow walkway of flagstone steps leading from the lawn up to the base.  At the top sat an old bench, which we always referred to as our throne.

But we rarely played our games in or around the elm tree, as we did with all the others.  At various times, we had swings attached to sturdy branches of some, and knotted ropes hanging from others.  For a while, we had a treehouse roosting in one of our trees, complete with a crude ladder nailed to the trunk.  And, of course, we climbed in as many of them as we could, playing at being pirates, or Tarzan of the Apes, or Robin Hood’s merry men.

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But, we didn’t play in the elm tree.  Somehow, she seemed too stately to suffer our nonsense gladly.  She rose, tall and columnar, to a great height, before spreading her branches, fan-like, over the trees around her.  They looked to be paying homage to her, perhaps because she’d been there forever.  For us, she made the yard a wonderful and safe place to be.

The empress of our garden.

But then, one sad summer, her leaves turned brittle and brown, and began to fall before their time.  During the other trees’ glory of autumn-colour, she was already bare.  When the following spring arrived, she budded only partially as disease spread through her limbs, and in the ensuing summer she shed her leaves early again.  When next the spring came with its hope of new life, she was dead.

For us, so young, her death seemed incomprehensible.

She remained standing for another year, maybe two, a haunting, spectral reminder of what she had been.  When her rotting branches began to break and fall off with increasing frequency, she had to be taken down.  And then, all that remained of her former grandeur was a large, wide stump on top of the small rise.

I still remember, quite clearly, sitting on the ground one day beside that forlorn nubbin.  I was simply looking at our garden, when it suddenly struck me just how small it really was.  Our trees no longer seemed so grand without their empress, nor so inviting.

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It was about that time, I think, that I began to put away my childhood games.

Fore!

Upon retirement some twenty years ago, I moved with my wife to Florida for six months of the year.  Where once we had been intrepid winter-sportspeople, participating avidly in (and watching) hockey, curling, and skiing, we forsook them all for the warmer climes of the sunny south—and for year-round golf.

Nestled into a cozy villa in a golfing community, we took to the links as many as four or five times a week—foursomes with friends, club leagues, and even occasional tournaments.

My regular men’s foursome was with three friends, and playing with me was pretty much an act of charity on their parts.  Naturally enough, our conversations generally revolved around the state of our respective games.

foursome

These fellows had, for years, recorded better scores than I had.  I was never sure from week to week which single digit represented their handicaps, but I knew what my handicap was—a pronounced lack of ability to hit the ball where I wanted it to go.  Because of this, I had to put up with their wisecracks, clumsily disguised as advice.

“Y’know, you’re usually standing too close to the ball,” Charlie would chortle.  “After you’ve hit it!”

“Maybe it’s how you’re gripping the club,” John would join in.  “Have you tried playing left-handed?”

“Actually,” Bob would blurt, unable to contain himself, “you’re not really playing golf.  The game you’re playing should be called, If Only…!

Mind you, the ball always went where I hit it—although rarely where I intended to hit it.

To tell the truth, I knew my friends were a lot better than I at the game.  But the gap seemed to be widening with each passing year, and I finally had to acknowledge I was the guy who always had the highest scores.

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What really bothered me were their claims that they played golf to relax, to shake off the everyday cares that accompany getting older.  When we’d finish a round, they’d be happy, serene, and ready for a self-satisfied nap.

Not so with me!  I generally came in after eighteen holes feeling frustrated with my score, angry about the balls I had lost in several of the ponds, and despondent over my lack of improvement.  My friends would laughingly console me by saying, “Relax already.  You’re not good enough to get mad!”

So, in desperation, I decided to take a lesson from the local pro at our club, who watched me hit a few balls on the practice range.

“Hmmm,” she offered, after witnessing my futile flaying of the club, “I think you need to take a couple of weeks off, get away from it for awhile.”

“Really?” I replied.  “That’s it?”

“Yup.  Then, you should consider giving up the game!”

Undeterred by her flippant attitude (and figuring she’d probably been put up to it by my friends), I decided to persevere—but, I have to say, only after making several minor modifications to the rules.

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On one day, for example, I would decide on the score I wanted to shoot before I began each round.  When I reached that number, regardless of which hole I was on, I would simply stop counting my strokes.  And guess what?  I began to feel quite pleased with myself—although, I was a tad concerned about how my friends seemed to feel.

“Seventy-five?” they’d chorus disbelievingly.  “Really?”

On a different day, I’d resort to another of my modifications, this one having to do with visualization.  Because I knew what constituted a good golf shot, even if I had trouble executing it, I’d conjure a mental image of what I wanted each shot to look like.  Then, Zen-like, I’d slash at the ball.  If I liked the result, if it matched my visual image, I’d count the stroke; if not, I didn’t.  And just like magic, my scores improved.

As did my mood.

A third minor change, one I particularly liked, allowed me to stick almost exactly to the rules.  I would play every stroke by the book, not trying to finagle the score on any hole—I’d tee off, hit crisply from the fairway, putt every stroke (no gimmies), and I’d count every penalty stroke (if there were any).  The only deviation from the rules of golf was that I used an imaginary ball, rather than a real one.

For a long time, I really believed this new game of ‘air-golf’ could catch on, and I wouldn’t have to bend over on every hole to retrieve a ball from the cup.

Looking back, there were a host of changes I made to my rules—

  • there was no such thing as a lost ball because the missing ball was on or near the course and would eventually be found and claimed by someone else, thereby making it a stolen ball;
  • when my ball was sliced or hooked into the rough, it could be lifted and placed on the fairway at a point equal to the distance it had carried or rolled into the rough with no penalty, because I should not be penalized for tall grass which grounds-keepers had failed to mow;
  • if my putt passed over a hole without dropping, it would be deemed to have dropped because the Law of Gravity should always supersede the Rules of Golf; and
  • if any of my putts stopped close enough to the cup that they could be blown in, I could blow them in without penalty; this would not apply to balls more than three inches from the hole, however, because I didn’t want to make a mockery of the game.

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With these changes in place, my scores began to match those of my friends in short order.  And I can’t say they were pleased about it.  In fact, so petulant did they become that, after only a week, I had to abandon these rule modifications altogether.

It was either that, or I’d have found myself playing alone!

Mind you—not that I want to lose my friends—I do shoot my best scores when I’m playing alone.

Just sayin’!

 

Something I Said?

It happens sometimes at a restaurant where three or four couples are dining together.  I look up from my soup to find myself alone at our table, the others at the salad bar or in the washroom, perhaps.

alone

Or it could be at a dance, nine or ten of us sharing a table, and I’m suddenly sitting by myself while the others are up dancing, or maybe table-hopping.

The tiresome jokes flow at these moments, naturally.  Some wise guy will ask in a loud voice if I’m dining tonight with all my friends.  Or some other wit will wonder if I did something to offend everyone in my party.

I laugh, of course, perfunctorily—but somewhat puzzled, too—for it is curious that this crops up with me so frequently.  Was it something I said?

It may happen to others, too, I suppose, but hardly ever when I’m around.  And although the jokes are stale from repetition, they do take my mind away from a somewhat more sombre realization—that someday, we know not when, one of us in our gang will, indeed, be left alone.

We’re at an age where many of the things we used to take for granted are likely not in the cards for us anymore.  How many of us will purchase a new house, for example, with a twenty-year mortgage?  Do we really care if the 2040 Olympic Games are held in this city or that?  Are hair transplants or facelifts really such an attractive option now?  How many more new cars will we buy?

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We’re not yet at the stage where we won’t buy green bananas (another old joke) or make plans for some holiday cruise two years from now.  But those days are coming.

Aging is a simple, yet so mysterious a process.  Simple, because it creeps up on us without any conscious intent on our parts.  We start school, we graduate, we marry and become parents.  We raise our children, sadly (or not) bid them adieu when they embark upon the world, and exult in the joys of grandparenthood when they begin their own families.  Eventually, we retire and reach out for new and exciting pastimes.

Granted, it took years for me to do all this, and the work was palpable while I was doing it.  But when it finally hit, my seventy-fifth birthday seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.  Getting there was a simple matter of waiting.

But aging is mysterious, too, because so many odd things transpire.  For instance, although I feel like the same person I always was, my friends are obviously getting older.  Occasionally, when I happen to spy one of them unexpectedly, I see first an old man or woman—only to realize belatedly it’s my friend.  I suspect the same thing might be true in reverse when they have a chance encounter with me.  We’re all too polite to tell each other that, though.

A lyric from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, seems to capture it:  I don’t remember growing older, when did they?

fiddler

A few years ago, I underwent some serious surgeries, not necessarily age-related, and spent several months in follow-up visits with the medical people who treated me.  When reading my files one day, I was quite surprised to discover a letter from a referring physician to a specialist who had treated me.  After the usual introductory paragraph, the letter stated, “This elderly gentleman presents with symptoms congruent with…”

My attention was riveted on those first three words.  I thought I had opened someone else’s file!  Elderly?  Surely not I!  And yet, at the tender age of sixty-four, it was true—at least from the perspective of those young professionals.

And so, here we are, I and all my friends, firmly ensconced in our senior years.  None of us talks morbidly about the inevitable end of our lives; more likely, we’re comparing our golf scores, sharing the latest stock market activity, or showing off pictures of our grandchildren.  We’re a pretty happy lot, all told.

One of us, a retired funeral director, jokes that he used to sign his letters Yours eventually.  “They’re gonna get us in the end,” he says with a wink.

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I do think about the end-stages of life, however.  Like finding oneself left alone at the table in the restaurant, or at the dance.  A close friend from boyhood never got to experience that aloneness, dying before his time just over a year ago, surrounded by family and embraced in the thoughts of his many friends.

My parents, on the other hand, lived well into their nineties—not a guarantee of longevity for me, I grant you, but a pretty good genetic gift.  At the end of her life, my mother had outlived her husband, all her siblings, and all her friends.  Despite the visits from children and grandchildren, I know her final years were painfully lonely.

We cannot know the hour or manner of our own passing, so it’s futile to fret about it.  Yet I occasionally ponder whether it would be best to go first, before everyone else has passed, or be the last one standing (or sitting, or lying down…whatever).  So much of the joy of life comes from those around us, family and friends, and so much would be missing without them.

I’m unable to decide with any certainty which option I’d prefer.  I waver from one to the other, depending on my mood.  Vacillation can be a comfort.  Truth be told, there is no definitive answer to be found; what will be, will be.

old man dying

But honestly?  I don’t think I want to be the last one at the table, wondering in vain if it was something I said.