Sunday, December 11, 2011

What I’ve Learned Growing Old

I’m not ancient, but I haven’t been card-checked when buying liquor for a long, long time. My birthday is this month, more something to rue than to celebrate but, having lost two friends to old age recently, I realize growing old does beat the alternative. As I consider the good and bad times I’ve had, I thought it would be fun to pontificate on a few things I’ve learned. After all, if you don’t get an education while growing old, what’s the point?

Many people fear aging, not realizing they can receive more as they grow older than they lose. At least I believe that to be true for those whose situation permits plenty of food and rest in their lives. I am one of those lucky ones. I don’t pretend to speak for those less fortunate, just as I can’t speak for those more fortunate. My situation is what it is. I am satisfied with it. Before I share what I’ve learned, however, here’s my definition of getting old: it’s just beyond the age of relaxation, when your muscles stop hurting and your bones start hurting. You’ll know it when you get there. So, from a satisfied POV, here are a few tidbits.

1. If you are prepared, you can weather almost any disaster. Seems simple, yet many endure hellish and unfulfilling relationships in life because they fear the uncertainty of change. In my opinion, life is short and a bad relationship isn’t worth enduring. I don’t believe in unconditional love either. There are always conditions. People must meet their partner’s needs, or there will be trouble. I also believe the only way to avoid the fear of change is to work like heck when you are young, to prepare yourself for contingencies. In my case, that meant sacrificing most of the fun of youth to prepare for later life. I was in school forever. I worked my way through with three jobs and didn’t date much. I had no money; I could barely afford food. However, as life went on, it got better. In the end, I retired early and found that the old age end of life is far more fun that the young age end anyway. It was a fair trade.

2. I agree with a profound truth I heard in a movie recently: “In a relationship, if someone gives you an ultimatum, take it.” It’s the other side of the ultimatum that is frightening. Once you capitulate on something important to you, your life as you know it is over because the next ultimatum is right around the corner. Life is full of prima donnas, but I would say people are better off without them. I realize some ultimatums are necessary, like “Either you quit drinking or I’ll leave.” Choices need to be made when compromise won’t work. If one partner continues to drink unreasonably, the other should leave. There should be no middle ground with ultimatums. If they are about trivial things, they shouldn’t be made in the first place. If they are about substantial things, then they should define an unmistakable course of action.

3. Everyone should be involved with politics, but a civil tone should be maintained. After fifty-five years, I still communicate at least weekly with a high school chum whose politics are as different from mine as hot and cold, yet we still exchange ideas and thoughts. Not once have I called him a blithering idiot. The reverse is also true. All I can say for sure is that not paying attention can cost us everything our forefathers died for. I do not know how the current political situation will play out, but I’m glad I’m too old to reap the ultimate fate of where it seems to be heading. Too bad. The rampant overspending will be a serious problem for my children and grandchildren. I feel bad for the elderly who saved for the future, expecting to live off the interest of their hard-earned money, but now find the FED has artificially kept interest rates at near zero to benefit one segment of the population while the elderly spend their nest egg to survive. That sucks. Life isn’t always fair. At some point, I think families will have to step in, like they did in the old days.

4. Whether we practice it or not, people should know how to farm. They should also appreciate farmers. To my way of thinking, those who grow our food should rank high among those of us who eat it. I also appreciate truckers. What an awful job, but essential. Truck drivers are right up there with farmers in my opinion.

5. The Orientals were right—time is circular. That means, if you miss an opportunity today, don’t beat yourself up. Another one will come your way tomorrow. It also means you should never make important decisions in haste.

6. Here’s another gem, and this one is important: humor is vital. If you find yourself at a point in life where you can’t laugh, better question the reasons. If you need to change what you are doing, then you should. Everyone needs to laugh.

7. I went to my 50th high school reunion recently and found my high school geek friends did quite well individually and as a group. I was an extreme geek as a young man, and was delighted to see my old friends enjoying retirement and their toys. As happy as I was for them, I was surprised so many former classmates had died. Three survivors read the names of the deceased. The list occupied three columns on both sides of a sheet of paper. I felt grateful that I wasn’t on the list, since I remembered many of the deceased when they were full of life and vigor. I was also surprised that many of the survivors didn’t dance. Learning to waltz and fox trot was high on my bucket list; samba and Latin dances less so. Nevertheless, the dance floor was quite empty. I thought that was sad, although my wife and I enjoyed the space (and the applause). Here’s my advice based on observations at the reunion: enjoy every moment you have … and learn to dance.

Of course, there are those who will misunderstand everything I’ve said above. Miss Havana is a prime example. Want some humor? Check her out. Try “The Substitute.” Despite her shortcomings, Miss Havana is my favorite character. Beautiful beyond words, but oblivious to anything that isn’t about her. She’s the character you’ll love to hate. Here’s the tag line and blurb:

The SubstituteParanormal Comedy from Solstice Publishing. The novel offers a hilarious romp through the final days of Miss Havana’s life, her trials in purgatory, and her afterlife with Lucifer. Witty and spicy, it leaves readers in tears of laughter.

The Substitute Blurb: Miss Havana’s public persona was far from the truth because, in her capacity as substitute teacher, the small community where she lived knew her as the breathtakingly beautiful young woman who demanded every student learn, but in her private life, ostensibly caring for aging parents in Chicago, she raced through the lives of powerful men, leaving a wake of destruction…and a deep desire for revenge. Little did she realize her conflicted life would end in a chaotic death at an early age, and to eternal conflict with the devil. The surprise ending will leave the reader stunned and gasping for more.

Five Star Review: http://www.bookwenches.com/september10reviews.htm#636925762

Author Bio: Although his Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. are in Chemistry and Meteorology, James worked as a scientist and system/software engineer before retiring a third time, then turned to writing. Extensive travel, from Thule, Greenland to Australia’s Great Barrier reef – and to dozens of countries in between – provide the real-life experiences he incorporates into everything he writes.

James enjoys boating, kayaking, skiing, traveling, hiking, tending nine grandchildren (no more than two at a time), and ballroom dancing, but his first love is writing. He has completed seven novels and one short story, and intends to continue writing in the Sci-Fi and Paranormal Comedy genres.

Thank you for reading,

James L. Hatch, http://cookinwithmisshavana.blogspot.com/, author for:

xoxopublishing.com (The Judge, Infinity Quest, The Empress of Tridon, "The Final Experiment", Aftermath Horizon)

Solstice Publishing (The Substitute; Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana!)

Eternal Press (Kill Zone)


Adele Dubois said...

Thanks for your well thought out post, James. I wish you many more years of pontification!


Tina Donahue said...

Happy Birthday, James. Wonderful post, filled with wisdom. :)

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Adele. Thanks for the kind comment. I have my health and a great life. I couldn't ask for more.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Tina. I appreciate your comment. Like I said, you have to get something for getting this old.

jean hart stewart said...

Enjoyed your post...I'd like to add one rule of my own. Smile at everyone you meet. Even a passer-by's mood can be uplifted by an unexpected smile.....Jean

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Jean: You nailed that one. Couldn't agree more!

Tim Smith said...

Excellent post, James, and filled with many truths. I'd like to add something that I write in birthday cards to people of a certain age -
"Unless you have a head that's made of lumber, you know that age is just a number."

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I agree with you about preparing for the future and holding off a bit on the fun and games to get a good education so you can enjoy what life has to offer later. I retired early, too--no regrets.
Unconditional love? I don't know if I believe in it, either--maybe parent and child--maybe.
It is tragic that some people stay in bad relationships and victimize themselves.
Have a wonderful birthday James. I know you must have some splendiferous plans. Oh, and I haven't been carded for years, either.
Congratulations on your wonderful review.

James L. Hatch said...

Thanks for the line, Tim. I just might use that in cards for our kids. It would especially be useful for them (at least the first part).

James L. Hatch said...

Ah, Sarah, so good to hear from you again. I'm delighted to hear you got out of the rat race early, too. I have a friend who was laid off from his job of 26 years three weeks ago. He can easily retire, but is still struggling with his "self worth" now that he's not working. I talked with him for hours. I hope he understands how very lucky he is that he has the opportunity to NEVER work again. He is a very talented man. Too bad so many of us grew up thinking our life was about working, and not about family and achieving retirement. I'll keep after him until he begins to enjoy the gift he has been given.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I hope you can convince him to retire. You know, those of us who were raised by parents who survoved the Great Depression I think share some of the lasting trauma from their experience. Work ethic that knows no bounds--like going to work even when you're sick, working when you could retire (taking jobs younger people might need for their families), growing a garden and canning, and a gazillion other survival stratigems from their generation--some good like gardening and some not like believing you have to work until you drop rather than allow yourself some fun. My older sister is still working for the same reasons your friend has--like your work defines who you are.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Sarah: You are SO RIGHT about work defining a person, or at least that perception. I suffered with that for years. It is a HARD habit to break. I'm very happy you and I found our way out ... and I promise not to give up on my friend.