A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
Has it occurred to you yet that at some point in life there is not going to be another old friend? And that at some point in life we are relieved of the burden of the future?
I’m over 60, and these concepts only recently came to me via NPR’s TED Radio Hour. The “idea worth spreading” on this episode had to do with the meaning of time. And one of the guests hit me with both of these ideas. They both set me back on my heels.
“Tomorrow is a word on the fool’s calendar.” – Tammy Kling
I’ve been powerfully aware of my mortality for many years now. Still, every once-in-a-while something blindsides me and brings the end of time to the front-and-center of my awareness. This was one of those moments.
Much is made of the idea that our biggest end-of-life regrets will be around the things we wanted to do but didn’t even try. That seems plausible to me. But I’ve recently become aware of another reality. People in the later years begin at some point to realize that what they are is what they are, and what they have is what they have. Their lives are fully formed. What remains is to live them out.
And because they are very aware that they are much closer to the end of life than the beginning, they start to realize that there isn’t time for there to ever be another new old friend. There isn’t time enough to grow old together.
Something else they realize is that there simply isn’t enough time remaining to start, then build out, grand projects that as a matter of course take years to create. Which means they have no choice but to leave those grand projects to those who follow. In other words, they no longer feel responsible for the future. They are relieved of the burden of creating it.
These epiphanies give emphasis to who and what older folks have become during all the preceding years. Clarity of identity becomes important.
These people, the thoughtful ones, the ones who have the benefit of recognizing the proximity of the ephemeral “fullness of time,” find ways to get clear about what the years have meant to them. And they make peace with that clarity. And live accordingly.
What this understanding tells me is that I need to be aware of how I am living today. If I am to have the magnanimity of these aged ones who are living their last stage in peace and contentment I need to live with intention – not by accident.
After Victor Frankl had digested the horrors he had experienced as a holocaust survivor in Nazi Germany, he came to the conclusion that life is not so much a quest for pleasure or power as it is a search for meaning. He went on to say that we can find or create meaningful lives through the challenges that life inevitably throws our way.
Frankl, along with others who have understood meaning, challenges me to be aware of the way the world really works. I need to acknowledge that the world works the way the world works which may not be the way I’d like it to work. I live in the world as it is – not necessarily as I’d like it to be.
So who am I becoming as a result? Who, in fact, am I? And what does who I have become in my six decades of life enable and embolden me to do with the challenges I see around me?
The biggest occupier of my time these days is my work as an airline captain. It is a deeply satisfying occupation. But would I be right to believe that my work is my identity? Is it who I am?
I don’t think so. I am not what I do, that is, work as a pilot flying big commercial jets. But what I do enables me to express who I am – a human who touches travelers and eases their way as they connect to their moments that matter most. How can I grow that out?
And I have the great good fortune of knowing the latest date that I will be allowed to engage in that purpose. By law I will have to hang up my jacket with four stripes on the sleeves on my 65th birthday. Other factors have to remain in play for me to make it to that point, i.e., I have to stay healthy for one. But if nothing happens to intervene, I will retire when I turn 65.
But then what? Knowing the latest time at which I will move into the next stage gives me the privilege of thinking about my next “life” and how to go about creating it. That’s actually pretty cool. But there’s nothing really remarkable about it.
Our lives are marked by a series of station changes. Shakespeare wrote about “The Seven Ages of Man” in his play, “As You Like It.” You and I may live those seven stages. Or more. Or fewer. And they may come to us in turn by choice, or as in my case, by factors over which we have no control. They will, however, most assuredly come. And the more of them that we walk through, the fewer there will be in front of us. And our capacity to navigate each next one will diminish as we age.
Those are the ground rules. They don’t necessarily impact the way we approach the game. At some point we are relieved of the burden of the future. And yet…
My mother, in her mid-80s, has just welcomed another great grand-child into her life. And, of course, I got the picture of mom stretched out in her bed with young Ryder snuggled under her arm. Here’s what I wrote to the family in response: “Oh my goodness, that is a powerful pic with mom holding the newborn! Four generations! And that child has the great benefit of being able to know his great grandmother in ways almost unheard of in previous generations! Mom gets the similar joy of watching her legacy blossom and bear great fruit. We speak of planting trees whose shade we’ll never enjoy… Mom gets to enjoy the shade! Yay for the baby! Yay for mom!!!”
Mom has long been relieved of the burden of the future. She has long since stopped stressing over what she needs to “build” next. Her closest “old friend” recently passed away – one of many in a long line of friendships that have transitioned into a new stage. There will be no more new “old friends” for her.
But there are new ones. Like my grand-nephew Ryder. No more burdens in the future for my mom. Only joys.
As I age and shift stages I want to be like her.
Thanks for reading.