It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?
Henry David Thoreau
Our lives are mostly to-do lists. If we are lucky they may result in one or two “achievements.” But those of us who don’t cure cancer or win Nobel prizes, are more likely to be running a hamster wheel of trivia. If we are lucky, we can see a meaningful theme. And in retirement, just when it would be comforting to see purpose in our lives – as we approach the end, our lives necessarily become more mundane, if we are lucky punctuated by travel or theatre.
It’s not enough. I want to see purpose – after all, having lived a life, I need to see the point of it. And what I can leave behind for those who follow. Two things I know I have imparted to my eldest grandson: pass a knife to someone handle first and don’t stamp on insects. Not a memorable legacy. I also got across to his younger brother that world poverty can’t be solved with Mummy’s bank card.
So, what’s it all for – and why? An existential question for old age. I have been reading The Top Regrets of the Dying and realizing those questions will one day be in my face. Am looking for a thread, or underlying tune to life, that makes the mundane worthwhile.
I am lucky – or not – that my chronic back pain has pruned my life drastically. I can’t do most of the things my friends do, like theatres, shopping, travel, volunteering, most of the things that bring community. The luck part is that it concentrates the mind, as Samuel Johnson famously said about hanging.
I have to fill my day – and the things I can do have to be short and varied. I need to move: can’t stand or sit long, I edited a research paper for my grandson on Wednesday which has completely thrown my back. Am writing this lying on my back with my iPad mini, just thankful that the extra meds haven’t been too stupefying.
Anyway, this means my final years are filled with bits and bobs, here and there. And it is difficult to see s higher purpose to ten minutes of ironing, followed by ten more of tossing salad greens. It became clear that meaning has to come from how I do things, not what I do.
So I decided to try seeing and acknowledging the God force in everyone and thing. Every religion has an equivalent: the Christ, Buddha or Krishna within. It has changed how I see people. For one thing, I am taken off the scales: the interaction is no longer between two disparate emotional bodies, but my best self recognizing the goodness of another. Or even, if they are short tempered and harassed, the humanity of someone struggling.
When I look through this lens, I see how good, kind and unthreatening most people are. How easy to love. And then realize that the person who has improved is myself!
Everyone is God – link
Top Regrets of the Dying by George Ambler – link