Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Gift Only We Can Give

Sure, I do fuss a lot about what I consider our late-life challenge to keep Becoming. I believe there are ways we can continue to grow, even improve, at our age. Still, I must admit there are times when I wonder how an old fossil like me can pull that off. Heck, there are times when it feels like those doubts have the upper hand.
Then, of course, there are times when I come face to face with the sad reality of how much I can no longer do……..those moments when my mind’s ‘want to’ is trumped by my body’s “can’t do.” In those sometimes depressing instances it is hard to believe there is still any meaningful Becoming left in me.
Thankfully, when I get bogged down in those doubts …….. when it is tempting to believe I am too old and worn out to influence the world I inhabit, I can be rescued by the realization that there are ways in which I sometimes forget to exercise my own Becoming. 
So how do we carry on as October/November ‘Becomers,’ when the clock and calendar seem to be working against us? Among the many possibilities is one that only we, you and I, each of us on our own, can make happen. No matter how age has slowed us down we can continue to create and refine our personal legacy. 
Take a moment to consider the notion of “legacy.” The formal definition speaks of “Something transmitted by or received from a predecessor.” On a personal level we are talking about our life, the way we live, and how that affects those whose lives we touch. 
Passing on our unique, very personal life experiences and the lessons we have learned, is something no one else can do for us. As elder members of our personal sphere of influence we are always in the process of creating and refining that legacy……the lasting impressions and lessons we bequeath to those whose lives we impact. Whether by words, writing, or loving example our personal legacy is a gift only we can give.
I mentioned in an earlier post a book I was reading……. William H Thomas’ “What Are Old People For?” One of his most important answers to that title question reads as follows—-
The first task of elderhood is the creation of a legacy that can serve others and be handed down to those who have yet to be born.
Barry Barkan, founder of the Live Oak Community, puts it this way—-
An elder is a person whose work is to gather wisdom from long life experience and formulate it into a legacy for future generations.”
I would submit that each of us, in our own way, is capable of doing exactly that every day of our elder life. Certainly no one else can do that for us. A lifetime of words, deeds, and attitudes…..of choices made…. has shaped the nature of our legacy and continues to do so to this day.
For better or worse, our presence in the lives of family and close friends has and will continue to have an impact. There is no way to avoid leaving our stamp, however modest, on every life we touch. A lifetime of choices made has created the wake that marks our life journey, shaping our individual Becoming and the legacy we pass on to our inheritors. 

We live in a world that is so often unwilling to accept that we October/November souls have anything left to offer. Perhaps we sometimes nurse those same questions. Yet we ought not doubt the fact that our life’s example…..the legacy we are still creating, has an impact……while serving as an indelible sign of our continued Becoming.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Those extra years --- are they worth it?

     I will begin this with a tip of the hat to Tom Utley, the Daily Mail columnist whose recent post set me thinking about possibilities I normally choose to ignore.
Most of us October/November folks, though we make no claim to expertise, have personally experienced the sometimes intimidating world of medical science. We know something about new and powerful wonder drugs and improved diagnostic procedures, meant to keep us healthy and extend our lives. 
There was a time, you know, when the road leading to the end of life was viewed through the lens of fate or Kismet. In those eyes death was a God-decreed event, the natural conclusion to life. 
But in some ways those times have changed. Today’s experts seem to be telling us that a balky heart, clogged arteries, even invasive cancer cells should be viewed as technical problems, for which there ought to be a technical solution. In that case could mortality, rather than being part of a divine plan, simply be a failure to provide the appropriate ‘solutions’…….if, of course, you can afford to pay for them? Would that mean if our pockets were deep enough we could live far beyond the four score years now assigned to us?
Chances are that even those of us with depressingly shallow pockets are caught up in our own personal war on mortality. I for one generally take pride in my prudent eating habits. I rely on an oatmeal, toast, and decaf-coffee breakfast to start my day. No sugary confections or greasy fried foods for me. 
Still, in the name of truthful reporting, I ought to at least mention the pharmaceutical smorgasbord I consume each morning before I ever touch my oatmeal. With just three tiny pills I fend off high blood pressure, dangerous cholesterol, and aggravating antacid for another day. Beyond that, though I don’t recall exactly what the Fish Oil, Vitamins B-12 and D-3 are meant to combat, I take them just to be sure. Finally, a single multi-vitamin capsule will insure there are no exposed gaps in my chemical armor. With that I am ready for my oatmeal.
Lest I leave the impression that my medical defenses are complete at the that point, let me add that the curcumin and turmeric capsules are taken before dinner, and the baby aspirin and hemp oil extract just before bedtime. With that I will be ready for a fitful night’s sleep, which will probably be interrupted by a middle-of-the-night trek down the darkened hallway to the bathroom. Come the next morning, with another infusion of medications, I will be ready for another day.
Is it possible that those preventative steps suggest a more pertinent question? If I could, would I really want to live for as long as I can be kept alive………perhaps extending my November and December to one hundred and beyond? At first blush that sounds like a tall order, given that our present health-care system, the most expensive and expansive in the world, delivers no more than the 31st longest life span on the globe. Besides, in a world of ever-rising health-care costs how could I possibly afford those extra years?
In any event, how many of us want to live to one hundred or more? Why can’t we simply accept that aging is part of the natural order and accept the status quo? After all, if we did live longer would we know what to do with all that additional time? At eighty-one I manage to keep myself reasonably occupied—-even productive some of the time. Could I do that at ninety-five?
More to the point, is how long we live a valid measure of a nation’s health care system or an individual’s life? That seems to me a fair question to ask, even in the most ageist society ever, where old age is mourned as proof that we have lost our youthful vitality, and billions are spent to avoid that dreaded result.
It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? Should our ultimate goal be to live as long as possible? Just think about that for a moment. I have been in a few assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. So have you. Though most of them do their best with the limited staff and resources available, they do not strike me as an attractive destination. Still, for an ever-growing number of us, absent the care of an extended family, one of those overpopulated, yet isolated ‘holding pens’ may well be in our future. 
Whether or not that possibility appeals to me there is a larger question to be answered. Will the the already stretched late-life care industry be prepared to deal with a tidal wave of aging Boomers? Will they have the facilities and caregivers to do the job? Truth to tell, I don’t want to find out for myself. That is not the way I dream of spending whatever additional years modern science promises me.
Still, I suppose I will keep popping those pills every day, hoping to remain as healthy and active as possible for the years I am granted. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense, given my many reservations. But what choice do I have? In the meantime I have a hunch that in the future new ways of coping with us old-timers will be required, driven by increased social pressure and/or political intervention. 
Fortunately, however, the answers I seek may have arrived in my mailbox this very morning…..in the form a book by William H Thomas, MD, titled “What Are Old People For?” I will admit there are times I’ve wondered about that myself. So I am definitely looking forward to reading what Dr. Thomas has to say on the subject.. 
For now, however, how do I feel about living to one hundred and beyond? Rather than offering my own answer, I believe I will let the aforementioned Mr. Utley have the last word.

“I hate to sound morbid (blame all those pills for that), but I pray to God I will be dead by then.”

Monday, July 2, 2018

Is there a 'Reason' for November?

At this stage of the game I know a thing or two about late-life motivation, or lack thereof. I know how it feels to lay in bed in the morning, trying to generate at least a bit of enthusiasm about the day ahead.....and sometimes coming up short.

I have November days that are best described as ‘boring.’ I suppose that can happen to anyone when their imagination fails to instill at least a touch of adventure in an otherwise dreary day. That is our job, you know, a choice we have to make for ourselves—-to find a reason, a purpose, a meaning to carry on in what may otherwise be a bland and boring day.

You may recall that my recent Living With Dying cancer adventure had me dwelling on the notion of ‘meaning’—-a reason to keep going in the face of an alarming diagnosis—-something more than simply existing for another day or another year. Lots of November folks face that sort of challenge.

Now my thoughts have once again settled on that arresting possibility. This time the trigger was Wayne Dyer’s autobiographical book I Can See Clearly Now, where just the other evening I was reading about Dr. Dyer’s introduction to Dr. Viktor Frankl, the famed Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning. 

That brief scene in Dyer’s book was enough to jog my own memory, recalling the following 2015 post, the first time that I included Wayne Dyer and Viktor Frankl in the same sentence. In light of my own renewed interest in defining a life purpose, it seems to me a good time to revisit that earlier exploration of ‘meaning.’

If you are a long-time October Years reader you might remember the following post from an earlier date.


                                       MEANING —— What does that mean?
                                                           (posted 12/2015)

Many of my heroes---from Viktor Frankl to Wayne Dyer---have stressed the importance of living a life that has meaning, a reason for our being here. Though they used different words to make their point, they each claimed that meaning, the ‘why’ of life, is what draws us towards authentic Becoming. I would suggest that if you are inclined to dwell on such things, perhaps your October & November years are an ideal time to consider what that ‘meaning’ means to you.

To be sure, the ‘meaning’ of life, our reason to keep going, is a very personal and individual thing. For some the subject may be theologically ‘out of bounds,’ prescribed by their faith and beyond the realm of allowable exploring. Yet in the course of my reading, writing, and meditation---as well as the stories I have imagined into being---I continue to tread that ‘purpose’ ground, trying to better understand the ‘why’ of my own life. 

Truth to tell, during the spring and summer of my years I seldom stopped to wonder if my life had a meaning, if there was a ‘why’ for my being. Those years were filled with other sorts of busyness---some of it important, some not so much. 

Yet for many of us there comes a time, perhaps in our October and November years, when we pause to consider the purpose of our stumbling efforts, why we did what we did, and do what we do. Hopefully by revisiting and remembering our own personal story we will encounter clues that help us understand who it is we are meant to Become.

Since the experience of ‘meaning’ is such an individual thing there are an endless number of ways to illustrate its impact on our lives. Dr. Frankl and Dr. Dyer each had their way of describing it in their learned professional-grade pyscho-babble.

In the following excerpt from my story, Family Matters, I offer a rather different example of ‘meaning,’ along with an important caveat…..it is not our place to judge the validity of another’s ‘meaning.’ What works for them is their business. (As long as it does not include injury to others.) With that in mind, here, in the words of a gnarly old cowboy, are the ‘whys’ of one hard-lived life. Seems to me he knew exactly why things turned out the way they did.

My storyteller, Dan Padgett, is on a back-road tour of the western United States when he meets a fellow who is willing to explain his own notion of ‘meaning’ in terms Dan had never considered


  The Stone Bridge Saloon, in the back room of the Stone Bridge General Store, was not a spacious watering hole. The bar itself seated just three on high, wobbly stools. Fortunately, on that afternoon seating was not a problem since I appeared to be the only customer—-at least until the creaky rest-room door on the far side of the room opened and a balding, jean-clad cowboy limped across to the bar and plopped himself down on the stool next to mine.

 “Howdy, friend,” the newcomer mumbled, taking the thick-headed beer the lady behind the bar held out to him. He took a long drink, then turned to me. “Buster Henshaw here. Don’t believe I caught your name.”

   “It’s Dan. Dan Padgett.”

  “Glad to meet you, Dan.” He raised his glass in my direction, then put it to his lips. Seconds later, with a single long gulp, in was empty. Pushing it back across the counter he explained, “Gertie was hoping to get a little business from that bull-riding thing down the road. So far it’s just the two of us.”

   “I expected to see more folks too,” I nodded, taking a stale pretzel from the dish Gertie pushed my way. “Especially after all those signs I passed out on the highway. But I haven’t seen anything that looks like The Battle of Stone Bridge.”

Buster took a moment to ‘fondle,’ I believe that was the right word, the refilled glass Gertie slid across the bar to him. “That’s ole Pokey Turner for you,” he said between sips. 

   “No one knows how to squeeze a few bucks out of a bad idea better than that old bandit. You can bet that show of his will draw no one but tourists and city folks. Everyone around here knows it’s the wrong part of summer to find enough riders and decent bulls for a dinky little bull-riding show like Pokey’s. All the good cowboys are out on the circuit. So he rounds up a few kids and worn-out old-timers, pays them ten bucks to ride a couple used-up steers, and puts on his show. I guarantee you he don’t get many repeat customers.”

  “I don’t think it would matter how used-up the bulls were,” I offered. “From what I’ve seen on the tube, riding a bull is a tough way to make a few bucks.”

  Something seemed to have set Buster thinking. He sat staring into his beer, until I asked. “You ever done that? Bull riding I mean.”

  “Oh yeah.” There was a remembering look in his eye. “I’ve done that. Rode most everything with four legs. But I don’t do bulls any more. I might try the buckin' horses again during the county fair. But not the bulls.”

    “Horses are easier to ride. Is that it?”

   “Not really. Either way it hurts when you hit the ground. But it’s a lot better to get bucked off a horse than a bull. At least that horse won’t try to run you down when you’re on the ground. Not the way a seriously-mad bull will.”

   “So, how old are you, Buster?” 

  “Well sir, I just turned fifty-four. I expect that’s something like a hundred in ‘rodeo years.’ Nearly forty of those years been spent on ranches all over the Outback---from Provo to the Canadian line, Ogallala to Boise. Hell, I’ve done it all---trailing cattle, pulling calves, breaking mustangs, and baling hay. 

   “For a lot of those years I’d schedule my jobs so they didn’t interfere with my rodeoing. That’s really what I lived for in those days---a good bull, a good brew, and a good woman. Not necessarily in that order.”

  “You ever been married?” I asked. “Sounds like rodeoing would play hell with a relationship.”

  “A relationship?” my new friend repeated with a laugh. “Now there’s a big-city word if ever I heard one. Fact is, I have been married---three times in all. Had three kids that I know of. Don’t remember that I ever had a ‘relationship,’ but I did have three wives. The best of the bunch was Elsie. We were together almost a year.” 

    “Just a year? Why didn’t it last longer than that?”

  “Well you see.” Buster was chewing on his lip as he stared across the room. “Elsie made me choose between my job at the grain elevator and the Four Corners Stampede, down in the canyon country.”

    “So you had to decide? Between a rodeo and a job?”

  “Yeah I did. And I gave it quite a bit of thought.” Buster paused to nod his thanks to Gertie for the beer she handed him. “But you see, I’d won six-hundred bucks down at the Stampede the year before. Took first place in a short go-round. How could I pass up a rodeo that had been so lucky for me?”

   “So you went back again?” His dejected nod confirmed that much. “Did you win anything that time?

   “Nah. I ended up with a couple busted ribs. Couldn’t do much of anything for two or three months. By the time I got back home Elsie was long gone, along with the cutest little girl you’ve ever seen.”

   “You ever see her? The daughter, I mean.”

  “I have no idea where she is. She must twenty-five or so by now. Probably has babies of her own.”

  Buster set his beer down and half-turned to greet the lanky fellow, a cowboy from his Stetson to his boots, standing in the doorway. “Howdy, Tom. Good to see you again.”

   Tom answered with nothing more than a touch of his hat brim as he turned to follow Gertie out to the General Store.

 “Ole Tommy and I go way back,” Buster explained. “We started out together up on the North Fork. Went to lots of rodeos together in those days. Had some good ole times. At least we did ‘til he went to work for old man Brunner on the Cold Hand Ranch. After that we didn’t see much of him, especially when he married that Carrie Braxton gal. She was a sweet thing. A heck of a barrel racer too.

“Anyway, I’ve run into ole Tommy a few times over the years. Heard that they had a couple kids and built up a nice little spread of their own. Near as I could tell he was always working. Didn’t have time to rodeo any more.”

   I watched as Buster turned silent again, perhaps wondering how things had worked out so well for “Ole Tommy.” Finally, I had to ask, “You ever wish it had been like that for you? You know---a real family, a place of your own.”

   “Sure,” he nodded. “There were times I wished it could have been that way. But the thing is, stayin’ in one place that long just wasn’t in me. My old man used to thump me around a bit. By the time I turned fifteen I’d had enough of that. So I hit the road. I was a damn good ranch-hand. Everyone knew that. Finding another job was easy. So I just kept moving around, from one place to another, riding bulls when I could. 

   “Then, after I’d slowed down a bit, I moved on to broncs. Anymore, I don’t even do much of that. It got to where I couldn’t ride anything but a barstool.” I caught a flash of his gap-toothed grin. “Hell, I’ve been bucked off one of them a time or two.”

   “I can tell that rodeoing must have been hard on your body,” I said. “Seeing how you limp like that.”

  “Yeah.” He offered a sad little laugh, trying to make fun of what was not a laughing matter. “It’s my hip, you know. It’s kind of messed up. Been bent, broke, and stepped on."

        “Damn. That must hurt, whether it’s a bull or horse, or even a bar stool. If it hurts like that, why would you keep doing it---even a little bit?”

         “You’re right. It does hurt. Sometimes a lot.” By then his grin was about as sad as his laugh. “But what most fellows don’t understand is how good it feels when you make eight seconds. Hearing that buzzer---and knowing that you’re still on that critter and not on the ground. Let me tell you, that’s worth a lot of hurtin'.

  “Anyway, the doctor in Butte told me I needed a new hip, a ‘replacement’ he called it. He also said that I needed health insurance. Turns out, if I don’t have the one, I don’t get the other. It’s a sad thing for sure. But I guess it’s the price I paid for doing what I was born to do. You see, I was meant to be a cowboy. I knew that from the beginning. And at the same time I knew this is how a lot of cowboys end up. And that’s the truth of it.”

      I left Stone Bridge that afternoon thinking sad and sometimes envious thoughts of Buster Henshaw---of the hopeful young man he must have been, and the sad and tired old man he had become. Yet even so late in the game he was still claiming to have lived the life he was meant to live. A part of me had wanted to argue that point—-to help him understand that ‘what was meant to be’ ought not leave him broken and hurting. 

          I’d gone a few miles further before I settled on the truth of it. It wasn’t my place to judge Buster and what he was meant to become. He had made his choices, and followed what had meaning for him. What more could I add to that? By the time I had chased away the last of those Stone Bridge thoughts I was wondering if Buster’s choices held any lessons for me. 


Here’s hoping that your October and November years are a time filled with meaning---your own personal brand of what satisfies you. After all, by now we’ve earned the right to decide what ‘meaning’ means to us. 

They tell us that we mustn’t die with our music still inside us. I happen to believe that—-whether our music is a lilting tune or a mournful dirge—-even if it includes getting bucked off a bull, or a bar stool. 

For too long I viewed late-life as something intimidating, a reality I was reluctant to think about. But lately, since my recent Living With Dying adventure, I have tried to define the purpose that makes the best use of the time I have left….be it days or years.

     On a personal level I have decided that my Becoming ought to involve a continuing exploration of October and November life……its challenges and realities, in fictional stories and blog posts like this.

If I have my druthers these posts will evolve into an ongoing dialogue. However, since so few of you have been willing to join the conversation, I will carry on as best I can in a monologue format. In the meantime, I hope that each of you, in your own way, has found your October and November meaning.