Funneling around in my brain since November of 2018, I was looking at how to proceed into 2019. I could no longer do it as I had for the last sixty or so years. I have finished with the building and crafting of a life and a career. I have achieved goals. I raised a family. I am at the end of a career. I have lived enough life to be comfortable and content with myself and my mistakes and my demons and my successes. The only surprise in 2018 was the atrial fibrillation event that put me in the Shasta hospital in May. I thought I knew myself. I knew I had been stressed for a year or so, but I was careful about exercising and eating “right.” In retrospect I had been kidding myself.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living – he forgot to mention what the examined life entails: sadness, guilt, endless transitions that allow for momentary peace, contentment and happiness and then more examination and sadness, guilt, transitions… Every transition requires letting go and redefining oneself in relation to one’s external world. When we cling too tightly to a self-image, it will inevitably fail us because everything in life, absolutely everything, changes in small increments that eventually become unexpected large shifts.
One reason our country and the rest of the world is in such dire condition is that 95% of human beings refuse to change or shape-shift their self-image, their philosophy, their religious beliefs, their tribal need to “go along in order to get along.” The inevitable evolution of the external world, for good or bad, corners them into the smallness of their unexamined life and wreaks havoc on those whose unexamined lives don’t meet the criteria of all the other unexamined lives.
At the beginning of another year, another year closer to the end of my life, I am more engaged with the changes that I made over the decades and the result those changes had in who I am now. I am pretty sure as my body weakens and my mind forgets more “stuff”, as those I love die before me perhaps, as the external space that I inhabit changes with climate catastrophes, population over-crowding, as earth herself gasps for air that I will have found some peace in the midst of chaos and acceptance in the final letting go. However, I wonder now, and will I wonder at the end was the examined life better or worse than the unexamined one.
I wonder because I have a mother who is 105. She has the same narcissism that Trump perpetrates upon the world. I had often thought if she had power what that would look like. I now know. She never spent one moment of her life examining her behavior. If things go bad it’s everyone else’s fault. If things go well it is her largess bestowed upon us. Her money is running out. What is left will be spent on private care givers who cater to her every whim (a narcissists dream) and if she outlives the money which is possible, she will probably die quickly thereafter.
I saw her three years ago and it didn’t go well, at least for me, and I made a vow that it would be the last time I saw her. I said my silent good-bye. The sadness I felt for her was her inability to recognize that her legacy to her family was filled with bad memories of her nastiness and vitriol. How does someone like her who gave nothing back: no charities, no helping family, no making a difference live that long and not reflect on who they’ve been or what they’ve meant to friends or family.
I don’t feel bad about not seeing her again. I am thankful she’s deaf and can’t talk long on the phone. Yet, I wonder, at 105 her heart is good and at 71 with all the stress and anxiety, the self- examination and course corrections due to defining moments mine became A-fib. Is the examined life better than the unexamined life? Or does the examined life create more stress and anxiety? What I do know is that should I live to 105 (which I hope I don’t) I want to be certain that I crafted a life and legacy of service, of love, of purpose beyond myself, of tolerance and compassion towards those like my mother. I want my family to miss me when I’m gone.
Without a roadmap or a guide, my generation who has been active, self-reflective, proactive and engaged on all levels of life is traveling into unchartered aging and old age territory. We are not going to be parked in nursing homes. We are not going to be ignored and cast aside as doddering fools. We are going to redefine aging and death and that is going to take a lot of examination about who we were and who are in order to become who we want to be.
I don’t do this blog regularly but my goal in 2019 is to explore what it means to age well in this chaotic world.
And for those people who have liked my blog – half of which I believe are Russian bots – I have been surprised by the diversity from an inner-city young woman to a Trumper who likes owls. Not sure if you read the blog regularly but I want you all to know exploring aging is as pertinent to 20-year old’s as it is to 70-year olds. We may be decades apart, but the issues are the same: health, happiness, integrity, family, money and these days climate catastrophes and tolerance and understanding toward those who are different. The bottom line is do you really care if someone is gay, or transgender, an immigrant or muslim, jewish or whatever – isn’t it more important if that person is kind! Are you kind?