The Examined Life

Look for a long time at what pleases you, and a longer time at what pains you.” Collette, the 20th-century, French novelist who wrote Gigi.

Do we ever know ourselves? Observing what pleases you can help. Noting what bothers you can be eye-opening.

Perhaps the behavior that bothers you was a behavior that annoyed you from a parent throughout your childhood. Maybe it’s an unpleasant behavior he or she modeled for you and you’ve developed the same bad habit.

Unpleasant stuff to consider. Uphill. I couldn’t make any progress without God’s grace.

Speech?

“I am told that I talk in shorthand and then smudge it.” JRR Tolkien, renowned author of Lord of the Rings.

I live with the same problem. Give me some time to write and edit. Then you will find clarity and concise English.

But let me relate away from that keyboard and you might not be sure I am speaking English. I was better at the spoken word at 15 than I am at 77. So much for growth.

Change

“It’s not easy to subdue the overweening ego in order to free the adventuresome soul.” Parker J. Palmer, American author.

Oh, those mixed motives. We all possess the mixture. How does the dark side affect our loved ones? Badly.

My journey is to help my lesser self diminish and optimize my better self in the hands of God in this era of the selfie. I need to grow old gracefully despite my hearing becoming worse, my joint mobility eroding, and the number of my brain cells diminishing.

Of one thing, I am certain. I can’t do it without the Lord’s help. To the extent I can follow Him, I think even my old age will have that adventuresome quality of which Mr. Palmer speaks.

That Last Quarter

I am two weeks and two days short of the ninth anniversary of my retirement. I remember struggling with whether I should work on Saturdays late in my career when it seemed necessary. Technology had not helped diminish my weekly hours making it far easier and tempting to work at home on Saturdays. At one point I even considered laboring on Sundays but, thank God, my spouse, Kristine, quickly talked me out of it.

I cannot describe how gratifying it was to walk out of my office on that last day of work. It was almost like the world had been lifted off my shoulders.

On the other hand, it wasn’t long before various systems in my body were beginning to slow down and decay. I am a victim of inbreeding as a 100 percent Ashkenazi Jew.

My paternal grandparents were cousins. Not a good thing. I am slowly feeling the effects of that now approaching 78 years of age in less than five months.

By God’s grace, he found Kristine and me almost 38 years ago. It’s made the road more tolerable and more peaceful. She is the love of my life and He is our savior.

To Be

“I think we all get too caught up in doing instead of just being sometimes.” Anne Rivers Siddons, the late American novelist.

I have tried to grow emotionally and spiritually for a long time. Who will I be in this, last phase life?

We don’t know ourselves well. We have never even seen our own face, only images.

The right spouse, to me is priceless for real growth. We may do battle as couples do, but I think she has helped me to mature.

I believe Kristine has and will help me to become more than I ever gathered  I could be. That’s not avoiding how difficult change can be. That’s, simply, the the story and the beauty of love.

Nostalgia?

“True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories.” Florence King, the late American novelist.

The good old days? What about the trials?

One fine day in Miami in high school I peaked. I received several awards at an area student congress. I didn’t have a mortgage to pay or kids to raise. Physically, nothing hurt.

Ephemeral? Disjointed? I was an adolescent jilted by my alleged sweetheart and way too small to play sports. My father compounded the obstacles to my adolescence. He carried a part of his into middle age. God rest his troubled soul.

So much for nostalgia…

Those Memories, Preserving or Leaving Them Behind

“I write – so it would seem – to recapture, to preserve and return to the past, though I might just as easily be writing to forget and put that past behind me.” André Aciman, an American writer.

I get it, André. Sometimes my wounds begin to heal as I understand them better writing memoirs. It seems easier to forgive when I begin to put the past more soundly in the rear view mirror.

On the other hand there are joys I want to revisit. It can be writing or rereading my memoirs, reliving some of the joy in my best moments with Kristine and the kids.

As they say here in the first quarter of the 21st-century, it’s all good.

Another Look at That Timeless Space

“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel  written…” So said Anne Lamott. That is why I spent a delightful part of my last seven years writing three memoirs that emptied my soul of experience that tickled me,  inspired me and brought meaning, by God’s grace,  to my life.

My question to you is have you created songs or blogs or novels or memoirs or still lifes or portraits or poems or gardens, that, make you whole? The serenity and joy I have found in my writing can only be treasured by those, who, by the grace of our Creator, have found that beautiful place that can make them whole.

On your journey, with it’s loveliness and ugliness, meaning and chaos, intimacy and loneliness, don’t miss that serene, timeless space, if, it has managed to pass you by.

Uphill

YOUTH ISN’T FOR SISSIES EITHER.” Frederick Buechner, the late theologian and author.

I choose to focus on the worst of youth’s pain, adolescence. There were those initial steps in learning how to drive, asking a girl out, getting our heartbroken or speaking before a large group. They all required some extra effort to grow or heal.

In our adolescent minds, the problems were magnified. You wouldn’t want to repeat that experience. Right?

By God’s grace some of us even get to old age. Most of us are then convinced that nobody said it would be easy.

A Third Look at a Relationship That Skidded and Fell

“Memoir is about handing over your life to someone and saying, This is what I went through, this is who I am, and maybe you can learn something from it.” Jeannette Walls, an American writer and journalist.

Memoir simply is a French word for memory. Some just stick in your craw and won’t go away.

I remember a number of such incidents as a  self-unaware, college student. I had a lovely, growing relationship with a coed from another school.

She was buoyant and spontaneous. I remember once we ate at a down-home diner and I scarfed an exceedingly, unhealthy, chili dog down my innards in about 3 nanoseconds. On the way out the door she laughed and noted that she could drop some of her table manners with me at times, when, I was so engrossed in the “food race” that I wouldn’t notice.

Then on meeting her parents and dining with them, I was equally ill-mannered. A series of misfires continued. After that school year, I found myself visiting her at a camp where she counseled that summer. Alfie, a movie about an over the top, ill-mannered rogue, was the hit that summer. The woman gave me a detailed account of my similarities to Alfie and that was the end of that.

Those events were attention-grabbing curves in the road. Perhaps, were it not for the lessons of that failed relationship, I would never have become more self-aware and married the love of my life.