One hundred and thirty-plus posts have appeared since “Cheating Death: How to add years of joy and meaning to life,” became part of the ChicagoNow blogosphere. For the growing number of new subscribers who have added their names to the email circulation, here is a repeat of post number one, providing some insight into how my celebration of life got started.
Noteworthy is the change in the social climate since post one. Obama is long gone and Trump is trumpeting a wildly different American song book. My posts have responded. They’re considerably more political and outspoken, as am I. But this post was the wake-up call.
There is a saying, “One man’s work is everyman’s work.” I believe in the adage as I have learned a great deal about myself simply by sitting quietly in many a workshop listening without comment to men and women sharing their personal stories; paying heed to their words and noting the similarity of our feelings if not the direct correlation of our experiences. So I have decided to write my posts in the first person rather than giving advice or suggesting that my byline makes me an expert entitled to editorialize. The posts that follow describe my own unembellished story of how I added years of joy and meaning to my life by shifting emphasis from doing, to being. Perhaps they can provide insight and impetus for your own journey.
Several years ago I woke up with a disquieting revelation; I was dying. Although blessed with exceptionally good health and a remarkable marriage to a caring and loving spouse, I realized my essential life force was slowly draining away.
When I left the corner office and retired to a tiny corner of the den I had anticipated a life of leisure and satisfying self-indulgence. In the years that passed, however, the boundless enthusiasm that characterized my personality began to falter, slowly at first, then as an increasingly obvious decline in my energy level.
First to go was the seven am alarm and the morning jog. The size 32 waist followed, giving way to a muffin top and trousers with elastic waistbands. Soon after, the sex drive on the six lane highway became occasional spins on the frontage road. But it wasn’t the physical vicissitudes of aging that bothered me; they were losses I understood and could reconcile with my advancing years. The more disturbing shortfall and the clue to my growing dissatisfaction was the loss of my passion for life itself.
I found myself becoming irritated over the slightest of imaginary slights and smallest of inconveniences. I retreated into a dull routine, my identity eroding as I became merged into the orbit of my busy wife, a successful psychotherapist and since my retirement the family breadwinner and center of our social life. In short, I was losing the very essence of what made me, me.
I tried a number of cures. As a retiree I could spend winters as a sun-seeking Snowbird and decided to purchase a charming villa in Ixtapa, Mexico, a resort town on the Pacific Coast. I swam, read a lot of books, tanned and started Spanish lessons. A couple of years went by uneventfully. Then one morning I woke up and realized that life ran in cycles and as far as the house in Mexico was concerned I was on rinse heading toward spin dry. We sold the place shortly afterward and the second CD of the Rosetta Stone never got unwrapped.
When Entrepreneurship became the prevalent buzz topic of the business pages I tried my hand at several business ventures: a catalog offering specially designed products for seniors; a Nordic ski company manufacturing a version of the short-length skies that were in vogue; an on-line internet shopping mall called AstroShop that preceded Amazon by a decade! All began with expedited investment and full time involvement and all petered out as the energy drain renewed its drip, drip, drip.
When I shared my misadventures with friends there was solace in learning I wasn’t alone in my discontent.
Evidently a hefty percentage of the more than 40 million retirees age 65 and older dream about playing golf every day but soon find the only thing more boring than the game is the endlessly banal conversation with their playing partners.
And apparently a goodly number of couples retire at the same time so they can travel together to the world’s exotic destinations. But at dinner recently I watched two of our neighbors argue vociferously, “Was it Singapore or Taipei where we had that spicy Pho soup?” Traveling it seemed, had become simply filling up time with a hectic schedule no more gratifying than the work routine they had left behind.
What was missing? Why was life mirroring the 1969 Peggy Lee dirge, Is that all there is? Maybe looking into the mirror would provide the answer. And that is what I did.
The reflection of the aging but genial octogenarian that looked back at me was the representation of the man I presented to the world, but who I was at the core was not visible to the eye. There was shame and regret lingering from my past; an early years’ divorce had caused lasting consequences and my career had been a roller coaster of exhilarating highs and sobering lows. It was these unresolved issues of the past that would continue to dog me until I allowed myself to share my feelings; expose them; atone for them; and finally to leave them behind.
I had to reframe how I looked at the past; had to see my failures as hard lessons that contributed wisdom and insight to who I am today. As Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
The journey from my head to my heart had begun.
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