Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Where Did The Time Go?

This past weekend I attended my 50th high school reunion.  50 years!  Where did the time go?  It was great to see so many old friends, to renew some friendships, and to remember friends no longer on the journey of life.  The actual experience of high school is a mixed bag for many people.  Some hated it and never want to think about it again.  They graduated and became dust in the wind.  Overall I had a wonderful high school experience.  The only negative was not excelling on an academic level.  I found myself and discovered my gifts much later in life.  Some of my English teachers may be surprised to realize I actually learned to write and that I am pretty good at it. I enjoyed my friendships, including the girls I loved, and all the adventures I had with my particular gang of people.  My "gang" was primarily the kids trying to be hippies.  Of course, I also had many friends who were not hippies.  Some people from high school have never stopped being my friends.  Other people were long distance friends thanks to technology.  There are even some people I know better now than I did while we were actually in high school.

Over the years I have attended my 20th, 40th, and 50th reunions.  Recently a friend remarked to me that she went to her 10th reunion for an all girl school and she hated it.  Her impression was that the old clicks from high school were still the old clicks and that people were generally as awful as she remembered them.  My experience has been quite different.  I have found that almost everyone has mellowed over the years and no is trying to impress anyone else.  I say this as a member of a class where many people became very successful in life by worldly standards.  This past weekend I found everyone to be genuinely personable, affectionate, and happy to see one another.  My class was very large and it was impossible to know everyone well.  Obviously I know some better than others.  I was feeling a lot of love this weekend, nor only from others, but for others.

As I looked around the informal gathering on Friday night, and the more formal dinner on Saturday night, I thought about all the journeys each of the people had traveled throughout life.  My classmates and I have walked many miles and in the words of Forest Gump "we've owned lots of shoes".  We have scattered all over the country and even the world.  Whatever level of success was achieved it was not without struggle.  Life is also not fair so some have experienced more struggle than others.  A significant number of classmates have passed away.  Some of them were quite young.  Others left us more recently.  Those of us who are left are survivors of life.  None of us are without scars.  We have all experienced loss, pain, and heartache.  Hopefully, we have also experienced joy, happiness, some level of success, love, and contentment.

Life is not about success or destination.  Life is about the journey.  We have made it this far and we can laugh and smile and enjoy our memories.  The journey is not over for us yet.  As the poet Robert Frost once wrote, "There are miles to go before we sleep".  Let us go forward in love and peace and joy.  My friends, "it ain't over until it's over".  Live long and prosper!       

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Thinking Of El Paso And Dayton

Earlier today I was walking at my local mall while thinking of the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  As I walked around I noticed all the diversity of the other people as they went about their business.  It occurred to me that any of them, as well as myself, could be victims of a mass shooting.  Everyone at the mall, including me, was just a regular person living their life as best they can.  I saw people laughing and shopping and eating and drinking.  Some, like me, were just trying to get some exercise.

It also occurred to me that all of us just want to be happy and live peaceful lives.  The average person is a good person and most of us have no problem with other people even if they don't look like us.  I have never found other people threatening nor have I ever thought I was better than anyone else simply because I am white.

I am getting old and I know I have more years behind me than in front of me.  My working days are behind me as well and all I want in life now is to live a simple and uncluttered life.  I want to live each day enjoying my music, reading my books, and watching my films. I want to enjoy the sunshine, feel the wind, and enjoy the smell of good food.  If I am tired I want to enjoy a good nap.  These are all simple things that make me happy.  I believe most other people, especially if they are older, also want some version of these things for themselves.

My life has not been without struggle.  A lot of things have not gone the way I would have preferred.  There were jobs and promotions I did not get.  A few women have broken my heart.  I am not as great or gifted as I would like to be.  However, in spite of life's disappointments, I am not angry.  I really don't expect everything to go my way.  Part of life is experiencing disappointment and loss.  Life is not fair.  I am still happy and content.

Recently I read a quote from Desmond Tutu that went, "We have got to stop pulling people out of the river.  Instead, we need to go upstream and figure out why they keep falling into the river".    

Why are there so many angry people and why are so many of them young, white men?  I am an old white man now but I was once a young white man.  I never felt left behind or cheated.  I have gotten everything in life I deserve.  Most of it I have worked for and some of it was given to me through the generosity of others.  I never cheated in life and I never had any sense of entitlement.  I quickly learned that if I wanted anything in life I would have to work for it.

I have never been in competition with anyone.  I want us all to win.  I want everyone to be happy.  Why is it so difficult for some people to allow other people the same dreams?  Who doesn't want a happy and peaceful life that is relatively free of suffering?

We are all the same.  The blood that was spilled in El Paso and Dayton was all red.  Everyone who died had someone who loved them.

"All I am saying is give peace a chance"!
-John Lennon  

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Practicing Mindfulness

This past Christmas I received a new Fitbit.  It is very nice and quite an upgrade from the original, very basic Fitbit I have been wearing for years.  It tells me the time, date, day of the week, the number of steps I have walked and my current heartbeat.  It has other features that I haven't fully utilized.  One of the features that I really like is the ability to set multiple alarms to alert me throughout the day.  I must assume these alarms are designed to encourage my physical activity, especially during times I am inactive.  I decided to use the alarms for a different reason.  I decided I would use the alarms as reminders to be spiritually active and mindful.  I have a meditation app that is great for timing meditation periods and another app with a random Zen gong to call me to mindfulness thoroughly out the day.  The meditation app is great for regular meditation sitting but the random Zen gong will often chime at inappropriate times and catch me off guard.  It would also sometimes startle other people who might be around me.

Monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani and other monasteries gather seven times a day to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  This is what some people refer to as monastic chant.  As the title indicates these are hours throughout the day when the monks gather for prayer.  I decided to set the alarms on my Fitbit to correspond with the monastic Liturgy of the Hours.  Here is the schedule followed at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

Vigils 3:15 AM
Lauds 5:45 AM
Tierce 7:30 AM
Sext 12:15 PM
None 2:15 PM
Vespers 5:30 PM
Compline 7:30 PM

Every day at these times my Fitbit quietly vibrates and calls me to be mindful.  I usually say a short prayer that is used by the monks when they begin their prayers...

"O God, come to my assistance!  O Lord, make haste to help me"!

My thoughts and ideas about God are very different now from the simple faith I had as a child.  Even the existence of God is a question and mystery for me.  In spite of any doubts I have, I still pray.  At this point I am not sure it even matters whether anyone is listening or hearing my prayers.  If my prayers are just words thrown into the universe, that is enough.  It is a comfort for me to voice the concerns and longings of my heart.  In the middle of the night, assuming I am awake or awakened by the 3:15 AM vibration, I often pray for my wife and me.  We are getting old so I simply ask God to take care of us in our old age.

Overall this system has been working well for me.  Most of the time the scheduled vibrations alert me and get my attention.  Depending on the time of day and what activity I may or may not be doing, I will pause and be mindful of the moment.  Sometimes in life it is a good thing to just stop what you are doing for a moment and breathe.         

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Running Down The Voodoo With Miles

When I was a teenager the Dad of one of my friends had a Ford Galaxie automobile.  It was the kind of car that many Dad's drove in those days.  The cool thing about this car is that it had a state of the art 8 Track music system.  This was before cassette tapes, CD's, downloads, streaming, or Sirius XM.

My friends and I used to drive around in this car blasting Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew".  If you are not familiar with this music, let me tell you that it was very heavy stuff for a bunch of white boys living in middle class suburbia.  It is real voodoo music.  Admittedly, we were usually high when we did this.  I am not advocating drug use but it was the sixties and we were part of the times.  Later this same summer Miles Davis played in front of 600,000 people at the Isle of Wight Festival in England.  He played one long jam that touched on a number of his compositions.  When an album of music from the festival came out, Miles was asked what to call his song.  He replied, "Call It Anything".  To this day, the music from that day is called by this name.

I thought about this today as I was driving around in my much nicer car with a much better sound system while blasting this album.  Most of the songs are very long and the song titles give you a very good idea of the kind of music this is.  It is jazzy voodoo like no one had heard at the time.  If I was home alone at 3:00 AM in the morning and this music was playing it would scare me.  Check out these song titles and playing times.

 1. Pharaoh's Dance 20:05
 2. Bitches Brew 26:58
 3. Spanish Key 17:32
 4: John McLaughlin 4:22
 5. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down 14:01
 6. Sanctuary 10:58

Many of the musicians who played on this album with Miles went on to their own success.  Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul formed Weather Report.  John McLaughlin formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Chick Corea formed Return To Forever.  All of these bands were major players in the world of jazz fusion throughout the 70's.

Miles Davis is my all time favorite jazz musician.  I just think there is no one quite like him.  This album only represents a small part of the music of Miles Davis.  Check out "Kind Of Blue", "Sketches Of Spain", "On The Corner", "Live-Evil", and "In A Silent Way".  Of course there many more and I have just scratched the surface of Mile's music.

I wonder what happened to that Ford Galaxie and the copy of "Bitches Brew" on 8 Track?

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Surprised By Joy

This morning, while walking in the park, I thought of the C.S. Lewis book entitled Surprised By Joy as well as the writings of Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB on the topic of gratitude.  I like the title of the C.S. Lewis book and I love the experience of being surprised by joy.  Brother David, who is a Benedictine monk, has spent a lifetime encouraging people to live with grateful hearts.

Today is not only a good day, it is a beautiful day.  It is a warm day but not hot and there is no humidity.  After a good nights sleep, followed by some granola and coffee, I drove to the park.  The park I normally visit is a jewel.  It is only a few miles from my home and a great place for an old man to take his walks.  After many spring rains, with more to come this week, the vegetation is in full bloom and the streams are flowing strongly.  Ducks and geese are everywhere.

As I was walking this morning, lost in the moment, I felt profoundly grateful and somewhat surprised by joy.  First of all, I am grateful to be alive.  I am 68 years old and in relatively good health.  Everyone doesn't get to be 68 years old and many have health issues far more serious than mine.  In addition to being grateful for life, I am grateful to be retired.  I worked many years to get to this point but I realize that many people will never get to retire and they may be forced to work until they die.  I am not a wealthy man but I made a concerted effort to save and invest my money so I would be ready when this time of my life rolled around.  As of this week my wife now joins me on the retirement journey.  As a retired man I can walk in the park on a Tuesday morning when most people are in the office dreaming of having my life.

On a side note, as a retired man, I can also drive to my son's house in the middle of a day to feed his cats while he is out of town.

After walking in the park and feeding my son's cats, I came home and had a leisurely lunch.  Now, I write these thoughts in my home office as music plays in the background.  Of course, now that my wife is also retired, I will not be surprised to have her tell me to turn down the volume level.  I love the quietness of the park but I also love rock and roll music.

Let me end by encouraging you to be on the lookout for unexpected joy.  I can assure you that your chances of being surprised by joy will increase exponentially if you live with a grateful heart.  None of this has to wait until you are retired.  It may be a little easier in the leisurely life but it is not a requirement.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Things I Have Noticed In My Retirement

I have been retired for almost a year and a half.  It was a rough adjustment in the beginning but now I am enjoying it very much.  In fact I cannot imagine living any other way.  I hope I have a long and healthy life ahead of me.

There are a few things, however, that I have noticed about myself as my retirement continues.  I am not sure if these are just the feelings of an aging man or typical of retired life.

I love mornings and I hate nights.  Morning for me represents new life.  It is a new beginning and a new gift.  I look forward to every day.  There is never anything to dread.  The worst thing about any day is that I may have a few chores and errands to complete.  These always seem to happen on days when I don't want to do anything.  I love my freedom.  I can mostly do anything I want whenever I want.  Admittedly, I dread the ending of a day and the approaching night.  Unlike during my working days I am never exhausted.  Therefore I never long for my bed.  In retirement I can eat when I am hungry and nap when I am tired.  Sometimes I wish I never needed to go to bed at all.  The darkness of night seems like death.  The worst times of my day are always at night.  These are times I can't sleep or I feel restless.  Many nights I toss and turn and wake up.  Often when I wake up it seems like it takes forever to fall back asleep.  When nature calls I feel like the only person in the world who is awake.  The bottom line is that night time seems like a battle or an endurance test.  In the middle of the night I long for the sunrise.  I have also noticed that it is always at night when I worry or fear for the future.  At 3:00 AM it is relatively easy to create scenarios in your head about everything that can go wrong in your life.  I never worry or feel fearful in the light of day.

My retirement is very simple and I like it that way.  I do not have a bucket list and there aren't thousands of goals that I want to attain now that I have the time.  I like my quiet and simple life.  I wake up naturally and usually early.  It is a rare thing to sleep past 8:00 AM.  My breakfast is usually some granola followed by several cups of coffee.  While eating and drinking my coffee I watch a little news.  The news is generally depressing so I have been making a concerted effort to cut back on time spent watching the news.  I also spent a little time each day on checking email and social media.  I would like to spend less time on social media but sadly I am as addicted as most other people.  I thought I would read a lot more than I am doing.  There are stacks of unread books in my room waiting to be read.  It may never happen.  I do, however, still listen to a lot of music because it gives me a great deal of joy.  Most days I walk in the park.  I need the exercise and I love being in nature.

So, for the most part, life is good and I am a happy and content man.  No one needs to worry about me.  I am doing great.     

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Just Another Day

Today is just another day but it also happens to be my birthday.  At my age birthdays can be viewed two ways.  One can bemoan the fact that they are older or one can celebrate that they are still alive.  I choose the latter.  I am happy to be alive and in many ways this is one of the best times of my life.  As a retired person I have the freedom to finally live the way I want to live.  My life is more simple than exciting but I am content, relaxed, and stress free.  My mother and father lived well into their 80's.  A few years ago my granddaughter asked me how old my mother was.  When I told her she replied, "Boy, she sure is good at living"!  I hope I am also good at living.

Although I am now 68 years old and I do have a few aches and pains, I do not feel old.  In my mind I am much younger.  Just this past week my friend and I attended a concert honoring the memory of Jimi Hendrix.  We are still young enough to leave our homes at night and attend a concert but old enough to have seen the real Jimi Hendrix in our youth.

Today I slept in as I now can do whenever I want or need.  When I got up I made some coffee and reflected on my life as I listened to some Jethro Tull and Bach.  Later in the morning I went to Starbucks and enjoyed a free birthday breakfast.  Since it is a sunny and beautiful spring day I will soon go to the park for a nice walk among the trees.  The weather lately has been overcast and gloomy.  I am suffering from a lack of sunshine.  Gloomy weather is tough for me.  When the weather is dreary I lack the motivation to leave the house.  That's not all bad since I am a classic introvert who can be quite content with my music and books.

I know I don't write as much as I did in the past.  Those who care should not worry about me.  I am fine.  My introverted and solitary nature is doing very well now with the expansive amount of free and unscheduled time that retirement has given me.

Am I really 68?   My inner child is not convinced!