Musings on a life well-lived so far, and more musings on making it better
Dear Reader: Those of you who know my writing understand that my use of the term "god" is all inclusive of every iteration of one's embrace of the sacred, and not to be confused with Christianity per se. I honor all versions.
One of the greatest gifts we can ever offer ourselves is time alone. I've had more than my fair share this life, which has sometimes been painful. However, over time, if we're lucky, we learn to treasure the opportunity for introspection that alone time offers.
This morning I was bookending last night's gorgeous, long, slow Oregon sunset with an equally gorgeous sunrise. As I was facing out over the endless Pacific, the angled coastline allowed me to see the rising pink which is mirrored out over the ocean, where the foaming tides are rushing towards the shore. Today is the start of the final King Tides, the last of the season until next November.
I've long since stopped trying to plan my year. That works for lots of folks. Particularly this last decade, when I used to plan four seriously challenging adventure trips a year, I believed in my heart of hearts that gave me some measure of control over the time I was about to invest in life. I have learned the folly of that assumption.
I also once thought that all those years I battled eating disorders were wasted. While it's hard to embrace, they weren't. All moments count, no matter how we might judge them. No time spent with a failed relationship is a waste, either. I didn't "waste" my forties struggling to find my way. All those experiences led to the remarkable life I've been living these last twelve years of extreme adventure travel.
Sometimes there are no words to convey the gratitude I feel for the life I've created. A constantly-shifting kaleidoscope of experiences and feelings and memories.
The title comes from someone's religious post on LinkedIn. The value I get out of it is to remember that all time is good time. All time is God's time, one very wise teacher of me said, and the only time, or moments, wasted are those we decide are wasted. That is foolish.
I love this Gandalf quote: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
Someone hell-bent on productivity could call wasteful the last several days of this trip. I spent nearly the entire day yesterday sitting near the wraparound windows to watch the ocean, the colors, the seagulls, the great curling waves. The rain, the foam, the constant change of patterns drawn on the sand by the tides. Nature's perfect artistry.
In fact, it's been heaven.
The way this motel is situated, you can watch how the rising sun turns the wave foam bright white far to the south, then closer and closer until the great waves just under the window look like exploding, backlit snowballs.
Am I wasting that time? Should I be focused on my book, my speeches as I promised myself? And natch, I had told others, to hold myself accountable for performance? After all, PRODUCTIVITY, right?
Some person might accuse me of "wasting" my moments because I wasn't out exploring Lincoln City. Look. I don't get to see the sunrise or sunset at my house because I choose to live in the woods for now. Being treated to this kind of mesmerizing beauty is more than just soothing to the soul. It's allowing me to go far more deeply. The older I get, the more essential this is.
Over the last 24 hours I shut down a number of noisy and demanding apps on my phone and on my computer. I canned the notification noises and demanded quiet. That move was motivated by two things: the Thief of Always, which is social media, which I'd allowed to creep up and grab my attention so that it was impossible to concentrate at all, and the book Digital Minimalism.
The time I spent on social media was instructive, not exactly wasted. Therefore, valuable, if for no other reason than I have great empathy for anyone else who similarly finds themselves enmeshed in its grip. It's brutally well-designed for our human brains, and hard to shut down.
Saga Supporter Jim Stutsman sent me a birthday gift of a Kindle book on perfection: The Perfectionists' Guide to Losing Control, a title which nearly caused me to fall off my chair laughing.
I am of course now buried in that one as well as the minimalism book. Both offer release and relief. The invitation attached to that is what I will do with the time that I have left?
I once thought my days stretched into infinity. There was always time to learn martial arts. To take art lessons. To...well, you know.
Not long before I left Denver for Oregon, I attended a local conference. One of the pieces of cheap swag was a twenty-year calendar. The last year was 2039.
It wasn't that far away. I would be 86.
I am already four years into that calendar. Breathtaking.
That was just one of the many motivating factors which pushed me to take some of the trips I did. To sell my house and move to Oregon, a dream come true.
Above all, and a nod to my friend Melissa for pointing it out, to
Stop disrespecting both time and the aging process.
She works with plenty of people who are close to their end days. One 90-year-old, who is terribly rich, keeps saying that she "never thought this would ever happen to her."
What, getting old? That somehow, riches, or a good attitude, or a drawer stuffed full of quartz crystals would prevent us from aging, and finally facing death?
So many of us crabwalk into our older years and are suddenly amazed at how they got there. Did we assume that the body we had at thirty would be the same one we have at ninety?
The lack of responsible care lands us in hot water and we're surprised. Time and the accumulation of insults and injuries show up differently with each of us. With my father it was cancer after forty years of smoking two packs of filterless Marlboros a day, and alcoholism.
He was shocked, hurt and angry the day he realized he no longer had the strength to change a tire.
We owe Mother Nature a body. We owe ourselves the right to a transition not pockmarked by unnecessary disease, pain and the pain we cause those who love us.
My longtime friend Steve Shaper, who is around 87 and still an active golfer, pointed out in a kind email to me that perhaps I might be happier by slowing down, taking stock, and spending more time appreciating the small but terribly significant things all around us. Those become both more available and more important as we age out of the rat race and into some measure of grace.
Those who have a big circle of friends, a close community, family and grandkids have very different lives from mine. If I want social interaction I have to get out and create it. I spent too many years with my face in a toilet bowl and there is much I wish to do before it's my turn. Along with that, plenty of quiet time.
There's time each day to watch the birds devour suet while I sip coffee. But I am not yet ready to release my adventure travel. That said, I am both ratcheting back on some of the harder stuff and rethinking my approach. That's healthy- and it's also respectful of my body. It's a nod to aging, aging well, but also living well on my terms.
Working out is part of aging well. What changes is how we work out, and how to continue to make exercising both a joy and a celebration of being alive. I miss running and hiking and kayaking and riding. This is the price I pay in order to do those things again. Is down time in recovery wasted? Not on your life.
All these surgeries are responsible care. The down time is essential, and a perfect time for writing and reflection. Nothing wasted.
In order to make later in life easier, we need to plan for our passage. Take care of wills and living wills, power of attorney paperwork, and contingency plans if and when we are no longer compos mentis. These are gifts both to ourselves and to those who love us. Acknowledging that we will die allows us, like the Bhutanese, to truly celebrate right now.
They are also responsible acknowledgements that no matter how badly we might wish for a forever card, we aren't granted one.
We squander the time we are given when we decide that moments are wasted. All moments are sacred, even if some are painful. However, in a nod to both Gandalf and Cal Newport, Newport references Thoreau's Walden Pond in this passage from Digital Minimalism:
He asks us to treat the minutes of our life as a concrete and valuable substance we posses--and to always reckon with how much of this life we trade for the various activities we allow to claim our time.
It was useful for me to see how I was trading my time for digital dopamine. While there was some short-term benefit, such things as social media can't outweigh being out in life.
I was standing on the outer edge of Boiler Bay today, just north of the whale- watching town of Depoe Bay, as the first day of King Tides came slamming into the rocks. I reveled in having a bit of mobility, having been released from my scooter and graduated to the boot. Two more big surgeries await before I can train in full. I'm already itching to get back to hiking, but not until mid-summer.
When I do get released, I will look forward to taking late-summer Hump Days to Florence. There I can hike barefoot on the dunes to rebuild my foot strength and mobility. I get to start riding again. Lots of doors open. A few will need to close.
At the end of two great epics, both Lord of the Rings and Excalibur, the heroes are born off into a sunset much like the above, accompanied by friends and angels. I know nothing of how you and I will go, but go we must. Whether we are accompanied by friends and angels is over my pay grade.
You may choose to head out while ticking off long-desired dreams like Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson in Bucket List. You could move to Kenya and teach orphans their maths and science like a friend's friend did. They are your moments.
Let's make our moments count by preparing for the inevitable. It's remarkable how much better you feel about living when you face the details about dying.
Too many of us are terrified of "wasting moments." There is no such thing. Every moment you are alive is a gift, just as death is. While I might want to cram a bit more excitement into mine than most, that makes the quiet, reflective time even more precious.
When we take death seriously, we can take life lightly. And that is a wonderful way to live every single moment we are given.
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