A PLAYFUL POST

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A propos the speed with which time passes as one gets older (discussed in yesterday’s blog post about Marcia Angell), it seems only yesterday I bought some little-kiddy toys to have in the house for when my children might come visiting from out of town with their brand-new little boys.  Bill also contributed:

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[You can tell we both like red.  You should see our living room!]

Yes, we also had ring stacks, and shape-sorter boxes, and baby books. But the cars are more photogenic, so let them suffice by way of illustration.  We did enjoy a couple of visits.  But mostly the parents (my children) brought their own toys. And then suddenly, the two little toddler boys weren’t toddlers. They wore bigger size clothes, and played with other kinds of toys.

Yes, it was suddenly.  Okay, on the calendar five or six years. But I had barely gotten used to the idea of grandchildren when — before we knew it — they weren’t interested in pushing stylized cars around on the floor anymore.  (Although they did like matchbox cars for a while.)  We gave away the ring stacks and shape-sorter boxes and baby books to neighbors who were expecting.

But I couldn’t give away the two red cars. I mean, it was only yesterday.  So now they sit on my bookcase, waiting. (Not, apparently, for another little toddler.  Both of my children have assured me they are not going to provide anything like that.) One car is next to an ashtray which somehow or other made its way from a hotel in Firenze onto the plane with us.  (Don’t tell, please.)

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The other keeps company with a small leather cup and even smaller leather box from Italy (both also from Firenze, judging by the gold imprint inside the little cup), that my mother acquired with her employee discount at J.W. Robinson’s in the 1960s.

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Is a retired lady lawyer’s bookcase any place for small red toy cars?

Actually, I do know a little boy who likes toy cars. He lives with me.   However, he said I should keep the two red ones in my office, because he already has two of his own.  They’re Deux Chevaux — modeled on a real Deux Chevaux (two-horsepower car) he used to drive when he was a very young man in Switzerland, long before he became a little boy in Princeton. We walked all over Montpellier (France) finding them for him.  Now he has them in his own office at home.

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He also has other wheeled objects to play with in his office.  This one turned up at a street fair in Lisbon:

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And if we cast an eye around, we find other kinds of toys as well:  Kyoshi dolls from Japan, pre-Columbian figures from Guatemala.  [And Freud and Einstein to figure it all out.] The Modigliani you’ll just have to overlook.  I should have removed it before taking the picture, but I suppose you could consider it another sort of toy for boys.

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In fact, when my grandchildren come to visit these days, they make a beeline for the stairs.  “Let’s go play in Bill’s office!” they cry.

IMG_0424No wonder Bill never gets any work done in there!

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NOW IS ALL THERE IS

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Let’s look at another way of approaching “Now is now.” It’s my first principle for getting better at getting old, or getting better at getting older than you are today.  [To see them all, revisit  My Twelve Principles for Getting Better at Getting Older, posted on January 1 of this year.]

In reframing this concept less philosophically, I’ve somewhat paraphrased the Beatles, or at least their rhythm, in hopes that swiping the beat of their song about a four-letter word starting with “L” may help you remember what’s important here. Just hear them in your head when you say “now is all there is” aloud.  Listen to the slowly fading sound of their blended voices singing together, and then dying away at the end: Now is all there is, now is all there is, nowisallthereis….

Now is all there is is worth remembering — whether or not you do  think love is all you need  — because now is all there is.  All you and I ever have is now.  By the time tomorrow gets here, it’s now.  Now also becomes yesterday before you can say “Jack Robinson” if you’re not keeping a close eye on it.

Minimizing the amount of time I spend not keeping a close eye on now has always been a big problem for me. I don’t mean just that I fail to admire the sunset when it appears, or that I don’t pause long enough to enjoy the sight of little birds coming to the feeders filled with black-oil sunflower seed that hang off our kitchen porch.  I mean I have a really hard time staying firmly in my own life — right now, this very day, this very minute.  I am almost always off in a daydream, a reminiscence, a strategy, someone else’s story, fictional or not.  Sometimes, I’m even away from now when driving, which is a very big no-no.  I also occasionally waste now by wondering how it will be when I’m dead and there’s no more now for me (even though I know perfectly well that when I’m dead there won’t be anything at all for me, much less a now) — because being truly dead is something I cannot conceive of!  How can I possibly not be? How can there be a time when I won’t know how it will be to not be?

When you don’t stay in the now, you can get really far out of it.

And don’t tell me about meditation.  I have tried it in groups, and at Kripalu with a friend, and on my own with Bill and a timer to tell us when it’s time to stop.  The meditating mind — at least mine, the only mind of which I can knowledgeably speak — is, as they say, an unruly horse.  I don’t do well with a verbal mantra, but closing my eyes and following my breath as it moves in and out of the nostrils feels good and is calming, so I do that.  Until I discover I’m not doing that anymore but thinking about something else entirely.  Which is probably after about two minutes, but I can’t tell for sure because I’m not supposed to open my eyes to look at the timer.  Then I try to rein in my unruly horse and start again.

I was never on a real horse but once in my life. [You see how my mind is wandering away from meditation towards mares and stallions here?]  It was a small horse, a very brief experience, and on all counts — except falling off, which I did not do because the trail guide was holding me — a failure.  Maybe that partially explains my poor results with meditation. But I don’t think so.  It’s just me.  Also my choice of partner.  Bill is usually willing to meditate, but also usually falls asleep before the timer rings.

Now perhaps you understand why I say “now is now” is not a resolution, even though it’s a principle.  For me to resolve compliance would be to fail.  On the other hand, to keep it in mind (as best I can, haha) does move me along in the right direction.

But now I have to go make oatmeal.  It’s almost noon and we haven’t had breakfast yet.  I used up breakfast time writing this for tomorrow (which is now today) and now it’s time for (yesterday’s) lunch.  Oatmeal for lunch?  Why not?

I hope all this about now has been helpful.  If not, don’t sweat it.  Now it’s history. Go appreciate now somewhere else.  And try to get that Beatles beat out of your mind.  It’s so yesterday.

“THE NEXT STEP” BY RONNI BENNETT

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[I ‘ve mentioned Ronni Bennett before.  She’s the administrator  and principal writer for a blog called “Time Goes By: What It’s Really Like to Get Older.”  Although “only” 72, she is also far more serious about the age thing confronting us both than I am (or than I permit myself to be online). Which makes her a good antidote for “The Getting Older Blog” when it gets too fizzy.  I especially liked her post on December 6, so I am re-blogging it here.  This post was called “The Next Step in My Old Age.”  You can read her every day if you like at http://www.timegoesby.net  ]

All we know for sure is that life is short. Or, more likely, it’s only old people who know that.

When I was young, in my 20s and contemplating my future, to be 70 someday felt like an eternity, even two eternities – so far off that there was no reason to wonder about it.

But from where I am now at 72, I can close my eyes and feel 20 as near in my mind’s eye as yesterday. I have grown old enough now to “grok” that life doesn’t last very long.

Yet I am not so old – nor sickly – that death feels close by as I expect it to feel in ten or 15 years should I be given that much time (or will I be as wrong about that as I was at 20 about the nature of longevity)?

And unlike the callow youth I was half a century ago, so cavalierly certain there would be so much time for everything that I didn’t need a plan, now I want to consider the best possible way to use the rest of my life.

I don’t mean anything as simple as a bucket list of destinations, events or experiences. If there are to be any of those, they should grow naturally out of what I am working to decide now.

The question – a question, anyway – is this: on what information or knowledge or notions or convictions should I base my choices? There are only two or three things, in addition to the brevity of life, I know for sure:

• Yielding to the truth of what lies at the end of everyone’s life journey gives me the freedom to live as fully and intensely as I want.

• Even as death closes in, there is no reason life cannot be made pleasurable and productive.

• We are each of us on our own which is the reason we must take care of one another.

• If I live longer than another year or two, I will need to revise these choices as life pulls me in directions I am still too young to imagine.

This is as far as I’ve gotten. Interim goals elude me for now but I know that when the last of my days are nigh (I would consider it a blessing to be aware), I want to believe I have done the best I could manage, and be comfortable knowing it is time to go.

Although I don’t know what “grok” means, Ronni and I are probably both singing the same song.  Preaching from the same pulpit.  Only the style is different.

I just thought it might be good to hear it from somebody else for a change.