It's not often that a young woman decides to chat me up in a coffee shop.
But that's what happened a few days ago, a twentysomething blonde
conversing earnestly with a stranger three times her own age. It was
obvious she wanted something, but felt too uncomfortable to ask, and for
the life of me, I couldn't figure out what it was. I had the feeling, as
we parted company, that in some way, I had let her down.
Later, I figured it out. She'd been curious to know what I had learned
about life, this old man, three score and ten. In an attempt to somehow
make it up to her, I began writing a letter, hoping I could find some way
to get it to her.
Dear Young Woman,
I realize now what you wanted: You want to know what life is about, and
you sense that, from the far end of the road, I should be able to tell you
something essential about the journey. I can, though I'm not sure you'll
want to hear it.
I think of the Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and the first line of
one of his poems: "Telling lies to the young is wrong." I don't want to
give you conventional truths, polite lies or what I think you want to
hear: that life is good, follow your dreams, expect to be rewarded in the
end. The platitudes you hear from parents, teachers and the like.
I'm not a person who can do that.
In fact, I'm not sure I want to tell you the truth. It wouldn't prove
useful to you. Yet, I feel under some obligation to share what I have
learned, with the caveat that it is my reality, not yours. You'll discover
your own truth along the way.
To begin with, the essence of my journey has been finding the courage to
move from illusion to reality. The wonderful dreams of my youth, of my
adulthood, had to be tempered by what is possible in life – possible in my
own life. It's been a hard learning process that has made me more human,
more humble, more humane. I thought I was capable of great things. I
imagined I would create great beauty with my music, capture a special
vision of life in my writing. I believed I would enter a world of truth
and harmony when I joined a therapy commune. I expected that I would find
unconditional love in my marriage.
And even before all that, I grew up within the sheltering arms of
Christianity, believing there was a guardian angel who protected me,
saints to whom I could pray for lost objects, special favours. I loved
being one of the "chosen ones," with the promise of eternal happiness in
heaven after I died. These were some of the illusions that carried me
forward on my path through life. And after they had done their work,
drawing me along from stage to stage, each belief was shattered.
The same can be said of dreams. Dreams fulfilled, dreams destroyed; either
way, it doesn't matter. They take you out into life, after which their
purpose has been served. You're left with the challenge of dealing with
who you really are.
The process for me was one of deflation – from a belief that I was a
gifted, special, being loved by the Divine, to a simple human, limited in
capacity, aware of my mortality, kin to all creatures who walk – and crawl
– on this Earth.
And here I am, nearing the end of my lifespan. I ask myself if I would
have been better off remaining within the protective world of my
illusions. Just as a child doesn't have a choice about remaining in the
womb; however, I didn't have the option, plus some questing side of me
hungered for the truth, even though it wasn't always what I wanted.
Yet, this isn't the whole story. There is a boon given to those who are
faithful to their path. With the collapse of every dream, the breaking of
every illusion, I found myself becoming more vulnerable, more open. And
out of this transformation came an awakening of what I believe is the most
human of all virtues, compassion. Having suffered, been hurt, failed at so
many attempts to gain "success," I find myself able to reach out to others
in a way I never thought possible – with compassion.
How to describe compassion? For me it is an awareness that others, too,
share the regret of mistakes made, failures endured, loves lost. That's
what happens as we become human. Realizing that we all suffer helps us
accept others we meet along the way. And perhaps that is why my life
unfolded as it did.
But there is something more that makes age worth the struggle. Recently, I
have found myself able to love. Not the romantic love of youth, but one
that can embrace all who share this planet. It's a strange and wonderful
phenomenon that seems to come unexpectedly to those of a certain age who
have lived their lives honestly, doggedly. Some might call it cosmic love;
others, Christ love.
Regardless, finding the truth about oneself, humankind and one's place in
the universe is an awesome discovery. And then to experience this ultimate
gift of aging, this open heart, is a blessing of the highest order. So
here I am, at the pinnacle of my life, looking back across the distance
I've travelled, conscious of all the twists and turns and detours. To be
able to reach out in love and embrace this world as it is – that is where
life has taken me, and what for me it's all about.
Austin Repath lives in Toronto.
What I Learned About Life I Learned the Hard Way: Stay True To Your Path. Guest Blog by Austin Repath
Greg Bell sent me this thought. What do you think?
"This time is indeed a new period of growth and generativity as we enter our final years. But what to call it? Old Age just doesn't describe it with its baggage of deterioration and irrelevance. This is the time of culmination when all one's life comes together and what is lost is what we willingly give up, which truthfully may be everything to become our truest self. Culmination seems to be the time when paradoxically all things hold together while everything shakes apart. I call it Culminescence, the coming together of all a person is, thriving even in the face of suffering, frailty, illness, weakening of heart or loss of mind. The time of soul strength and emergence of the deepest self.
Has anyone named this new period of human development? Please let me know your thoughts."
I like it. What do you think?
I recently spoke to a large group of elders on aging. I asked them to anonymously write down what they most fervently wished for in the final years. Here are their answers. How would you have answered this question?
Security and good health
Good health until my time to leave this life
Inner peace and contentment
Be happy with a life well lived
Peace and harmony with self and others and with creation and God
The freedom to finally engage in some of my personal interests
I want to feel comfortable with myself and physically able
To accept dying feeling I was a success at something
Health and a reason to get up in the morning
Intimacy, Connection and engagement
Wisdom and compassion
Peace of mind
Get in touch with inner self, be not so identified with my work but be more in touch with love relationships and excepted as enough
To deepen my relationships with true intimacy
Service contentment family
I want peace of mind kindness understanding guilt free
Good health to continue and great relationships with my children and grandchildren and friends
Ability to face dying peacefully
Be content with who I really am (after I find out)
Become more compassionate and not angry about what I need to do
I want to continue to explore and come to understand the mysteries of life and my part in that mystery
To be known, to be peaceful, and to be enough
To communicate myself for the good of the next-generation
Peace with my past
I want to be significant to have made a difference in the world
Make peace with a life that is well lived but is not as extraordinary as I had expected, coming to terms with being ordinary
I want to have a fulfilled life full of happiness and contentment
Spiritual fulfillment, travel creativity, love and intimacy, learning good health
The opportunity to completely write my life story
I want to experience a better consciousness of the meaning of my life while leaving behind or passing on wisdom accrued overtime
To be released from the slavery of my never ending to do list.
Warm significant relationships that are kind, open and honest, that produce a benefit to humanity
To know that I have done the work of finding myself truly honestly, and in the time of life I haveleft (91), do more I have missed
To be able to live authentically which means for me not just fulfilling the functions that have been assigned to me by cultural expectations but to actually love myself authentically to the point of healing that allows me to accomplish this goal
A Honda Odyssey Van for sure
Abiding wisdom and serenity in the midst of trials
Interest and self-acceptance
Be loved and to be loving
Spiritual grounding and immersion and fun
Peace of mind, acceptance of aging's loss, integration
Peace, I have done enough
Connection to self and loved ones
Keep growing mentally and spiritually
Self-knowledge and conscious aging
To still be able to enjoy life and to keep my creativity
Peace, growth, security, and freedom from pain
Wisdom, tolerance, patience, laughter
Be in good health, keep in the spirit of God, have at least some very loving good friends
To be able to continue to enjoy peanut butter
To live fully alive in the time I have left even while letting things go
Peaceful existence and good health
Do aging gracefully and filled with meaning
Continuing longevity with partner (wife)
I want to feel that my life mattered and have that sense of purpose and completion as an artistic person
A new sense of purpose, a reason for being, reason for life to continue in love and meaning
Integration, gratitude for what is
Equal and honest love
Insight, understanding, being understood, enjoyment, joy
A fresh, meaning-filled, and all-consuming focus for my energies
Peace, a goal to work at, family around me
Understanding and solace
What stands out most for me are these recurring wishes: a meaning to life, loving relationships with friends and family, acceptance of aging and death, peace of mind, personal and spiritual growth and understanding, a feeling of having mattered. Which answers reflect your wishes?
Like all of us, I am deeply worried about our world. The Earth and Read More
Rumi tells us,
…when you look for God