The Golden Age

vcxa8286This is not something anyone can tell you for if they do, you probably won’t believe them. In my 20’s, I thought I knew everything, and I did from my perspective as a twenty something year old. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I had survived the racial rebellion of the late sixties, college, the war in Viet Nam, (by luck of the lottery draw,) a marriage, and a divorce. I had lived abroad and I held a management position in Corporate America. This is what I believe is referred to as “the know-it-all arrogance of youth.” I knew I didn’t know it all, but I also felt unstoppable, and I was a bit at that time arrogant. As a Black man seeking equality in White America, I had to be.

Then in my 30’s I started climbing the corporate ladder at a fast track pace. My primary focus and measurement of success was how often I received a promotion. I lacked any true personal identity. I was a corporate man in all the material ways. My nickname in the neighborhood was Mr. IBM. I wore three piece suits, drove fine cars and dined with beautiful, intelligent, sexy women. This was truly a “golden age.” It couldn’t get any better than this, or at least that is what I told myself.

During my 40’s I started to ask the important questions concerning the quality of my life. What is important to me? Am I doing the work I want to do? Am I happy? I did not view this self examination as a “crisis.” No, it was an opportunity to switch gears in midstream if I so chose. It was a time of awakening. I left the corporate world and stripped myself naked of the material abundance to which I had become accustomed. I sold the car, gave away the televisions, suits, skis, tennis rackets, and everything else which had become a symbol of the person who no longer existed. I decided to add back only those things which were necessary for my existence in the world. I traveled lightly without all the encumbrances which at one time seemed important and/or necessary. I sought a different way of being in the world. This was my “golden age.” I was free to be me for the first time.

At the age of fifty-two, I found my soul mate. A beautiful spirit who was fifteen years my senior. A woman with whom I could share my heart and soul, and know I would not be judged, only loved, even more, if that was possible. We would be side by side forever, at least that is how we planned it to be. She died eighteen months later during a white water boating accident while on vacation in Mexico with her daughter and grand daughter. They survived. It was during this period of my life that I suffered the greatest despair and agony of all my time in this world. I was ready to give up, but I knew that is not what she would want me to do. So, I kept going. This too was a “golden age”. I received three gifts during this time. I learned the joy and pleasures of love, the heart breaking grief of loss, and the knowledge that life goes on.

Today, I have been on this earth for seventy-one years. As a result of the lessons learned during my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, I live my life the way I choose. Presently I am retired and living in Cuenca, Ecuador, learning Spanish, and exploring the fascinating world outside my door. Before here, I lived the last three and a half years on Vanua Levu in the Fiji Islands, a hundred yards from the South Pacific. Each segment of my life when examined individually has merit, but when explored in the totality of seventy-one years, it has purpose. I am supposed to be here. There is no doubt in my mind. I only know this due to having lived the life I have lived. I understand the value of life and I am grateful for the time I am allotted. I listen to the echoes of my own life and I am comfortable with my body. This body has endured the most changes over the years and I am grateful for its endurance, strength, and good health.

There was a time during my youth when the future was all I thought about. Today, in truth, I give it very little thought. I have not reached the “know-it-all complacency of old age,” (whatever age that is) and I still have “enough not-yet-calcified intellectual foundation with which to integrate and contextualize” new ideas. I read, I write (poetry, essays, a dabble in fiction), I think, and I dream. For me, life gets better as I grow older because the innocent wonder of the child returns with age, and blends with the wisdom gained through the experience of being alive.

Yes, the mid-twenties to late thirties are a “golden age,” but it is not the only one. Each age of my life has been my “golden age” for what I bring to it from experience, and for what I am learning from it by living. There is not just one golden age for us during our lifetime. There are many. May all your ages be golden. Believe me the best is yet to come.

Loneliness And The Solitude Of Aging

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24Solitude is a choice, but loneliness creeps into your life like a dark storm cloud releasing its thunder and lightening into the essence of one’s being. It feels like bombs exploding overhead while depression and self pity sprinkle down in an endless shower of gloomy days and nights without any relief. I can have many friends and still experience solitude but loneliness is the absence of friends and family with whom one can communicate. Loneliness makes everything and everyone invisible. Nothing else exists outside its self contained bubble.

I have often written about solitude in these pages and how it fulfills my need for creative and private time, but I have only experienced loneliness three times in my life. First when I lost Kathleen. That was the most miserable time of my existence. I did not want to cope with life, nor did I know how to cope with a condition I had never experienced before. I spent many days without ever getting out of bed. All the plans and dreams we created died with her in the river that afternoon. For the eighteen months of our relationship we were inseparable. After her death, I was lost.

Many individuals came to my support, even people I did not know but I was still alone. They offered condolences, support groups, and the names of grief counselors. Grief and loneliness, I learned are often companions. My mother asked me to turn to god but god had already forsaken me. These recommendations were all possible methods for getting out of the deep well of funk I found myself in, but the loneliness was too demanding. It had taken over my life like a disease. No helping hands or rope were long enough to reach me. This feeling of being totally alone in the world lasted for almost a year before I was able to surface and breathe again.

The second time I experienced loneliness was when both my parents died within a few months of one another. Although the loss was devastating, the loneliness was not as deep nor as severe as before. We know our parents will one day die, but there is no way to prepare. The loneliness this time was different. It was centered on the realization that the number of people who have known me all my life was dwindling. The only living person remaining who had known me all my life was a brother with whom I have no connection other than blood.

The loneliness was short lived, maybe one or two months following my mother’s death. She had always been the rock of the family. She was the one I knew I could always turn to to sort out my confusion. I now had no one I could call at anytime of the day or night. There was no longer her voice of comfort, but she had prepared me for life as best she could. The lessons she taught me and my previous experience were what got me through this second period of loneliness.

And my third encounter with loneliness is right now. This current period of loneliness is different from the previous two in as much as there is no grief involved except for perhaps the grief over my own impending death if one can grieve for oneself. This loneliness is the loneliness of growing old and the ending of a blood line. The ending of the bloodline of my great grandfather’s name.

From a strictly biological perspective, our only true purpose in life is to reproduce our kind. Every life form on the planet does this during its allotted time between life and death. (Three days for the fruit fly, and some seventy odd years for humans) My brother and I both fulfilled that purpose. We both brought daughters into this world. The family name however will cease to exist when we are gone.

Until now I had never thought about this situation, but it does carry with it a certain weight of loneliness, although not the deep well of loss experienced after Kathleen’s death, nor the type of loneliness following the death of my parents. It is, however loneliness. It is the ending of my family’s history under my great-grandfather’s name.

My dear friend Karen recently shared her joy when the family welcomed their first male grandchild after five female grandchildren. As I read her announcement, the empty, hollow feeling of loneliness creeped into my being again. I realized the feeling almost immediately having experienced it twice before. Loneliness takes on many forms and appears on many different levels. I did not expect nor anticipate it would enter me in this manner.

For most of my life I have chosen solitude over the companionship of family and friends. I am, and have always been a loner. I have no regrets regarding this choice in my life.

The words of Albert Einstein perhaps describe my situation best.

I am a horse for single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork. I have never belonged wholeheartedly to country or state, to my circle of friends, or even to my family. These ties have always been accompanied by a vague aloofness and the wish to withdraw into myself increases with the years. Such isolation is bitter, but I do not regret being cut off from the understanding and sympathy of other men. I lose something by it to be sure, but I am compensated for it in being rendered independent of the customs, opinions and prejudices of others, and I am not tempted to rest my peace of mind upon such shifting foundations.

A rather harsh reality but true of my life. As I age and approach my own death, I find more easily the solitude I fought to have in my youth. This is perhaps because I have fewer friends and family members left on this floating sphere to influence my life in any way. I am not sure why, but solitude has always been my choice. I find with aging it becomes almost a natural element of my life on its own. At the same time that solitude has become my norm, I find myself consciously working to keep loneliness at bay.

The Sum Of My Life

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come. — Milan Kundera

Today, I have been alive on this planet for 24,500 days or 588,000 hours. If I am blessed to live to the age of seventy, I will have inhabited this planet for 25,550 days, or 613,200 hours. Much longer than the three day lifespan of the fruit fly and shorter than Methuselah’s nine hundred sixty nine years.

It is easy to extrapolate back into time to calculate the amount of time spent performing the various activities of my life. When looking back, everything has already been done. The sum of the life already lived can easily become a mathematical equation. How much time did I spend…and the more crucial question was the time well spent?

The past is fixed. I lived the life I did. What concerns me more is how I am going to spend the next 1050 days or 25,200 hours if in truth I am permitted that much time. That I am concerned about the time I have ahead is unusual. It surprises me to know I am thinking of future possibilities. I cherish so this moment.

“Old souls always bloom late,” a Jamaican tarot card reader told me some forty years ago. The fact that I remember her words now seems somehow right in step with my life. I am aging. I welcome this process. It is the continuum of coming into my own. The seeds for other possibilities have been sown. I am free of the burden of my employment which I consider the slavery of the modern age. My creative energies feel alive and are flourishing. I dream of all the possibilities life still holds.

My life has been well lived and I am still blooming!

Growing Old

When, halting in front of it, I look at the reflection which is in the depths of my clear mirror. It gives me the impression of meeting an unknown old gentle man. — Hitomaro

The biggest problem with growing older in my physical body is that in my mind I am still in my forties. The image I have of myself is much younger than the image I see in the mirror each  morning. Is my mind in denial? It is after all the organ which monitors and keeps track of my aging. It remembers my birthdays, and what number to say when asked my age.

I hardly recognize that person in the reflection anymore. Is that really how I look to other people? Unfortunately the mirror can only reflect the physical me and not the spirit of my heart and mind. The same holds true for photographs. I am always surprised when I see photographs of myself. Is that how I look to the camera? It makes me not want to see pictures of myself anymore. The pictures appear in stark contrast to the image I have of myself in my mind’s eye.

I have accepted that fact that I am growing older. The wrinkles are deeper and there are more of them. The whites of my eyes are more yellow now as are my teeth. My body is still slender but has lost most of its muscle mass. I get tired sooner than I once did and have lost most of my sexuality or I have lost most of my interest in sex. I am not sure which, and perhaps both are true. I no longer sleep as soundly as I did in my youth. I do not remember the last time I slept for eight hours straight. Everything I read says I need more sleep, but I am getting less. My afternoon naps provide a more restful sleep than my nightly ventures into dreamland.

I have no fear of death but I do have a fear of growing old. I do not want to be dependent upon anyone else to take care of me. I have taken care of myself for most of my life. I hope to grow old gracefully alone as there is no guarantee of a partner, although the posibility remains, to see me to my closing chapter. In the end, it is all on me. That is just the way it is, and I do not have a problem with that except for this: I do not want to lose my independence. My personal freedom is my life. Without this freedom and independence, I would rather be dead. This undoubtedly will happen sooner or later at some point no matter how old or young the image is of myself I feel in my mind or I see in the mirror.