Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Philosophizing

I am not a philosopher and I know you're not paying good money to read this blog in order to read my two bit philosophy, but, for free, I will make one follow up comment to my previous post about things changing and then I'll get on to other things. It may seem despairing to realize, as I said in my previous post, that things always change and for the fortunate, that is our curse. It doesn't have to cause one to despair to realize that everything changes. It just reemphasizes the basic point that we have to live in the moment. Be happy now. I really do believe, as much as I believe anything, that to be happy or unhappy is a choice we make, not something that happens to us based on circumstances. I grew up with a religion that emphasized the importance of being unhappy now, so that we would eventually go to heaven where we would be happy forever. I believe that is a delusion that has caused great damage to many people.

Before I went to school, I thought I would be happy when I got to grade school, when I was in grade school, I thought I would be happy when I got to high school, when I was in high school, I envied college students, when I was in college, I couldn't wait to get out of college, when I was out of college, I thought getting married would make me happy, when I was married, I thought having children would make me happy, when I had children, I thought I would be happy when they grew up. Now that the kids are gone, I look back and think how happy I was when they were little. We always think that some other time is the time of our happiness, either in the future or in the past.

So, to add to my great pronouncement of last time that things always change, just let me add: Live in the moment; be happy now.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

All Things Must End

I've been thinking a lot recently about endings. This has been brought about initially by the impending move of my walking buddy to North Carolina. It was in April, 1990, when he was in my office, with his wife, for an appointment and in the course of the conversation told me he was in a weight reduction program and was having to walk several miles a day. I wasn't in a weight reduction program at the time, but I needed to be getting regular exercise, so I asked him if I could join him.

My friend only lived several blocks from my house, so he would walk over at 5:30 in the morning and then we would walk around the neighborhood for several miles. Neither of us particularly enjoyed exercise and neither of us had ever been in an exercise program that lasted for very long, so neither of us had any expectations that our walking regimen would last for very long. But we had a couple of rules that in retrospect turned out to be the right rules for our situation.

The first and most important rule was the no-call rule. You could not call to cancel the walk. Knowing that the other person would be waiting and getting pissed off if you did not show, got us out of bed and walking many mornings.

The second rule was "Just do it," and I like to think we came up with that slogan before Nike popularized it, but that is probably revisionism. By "Just do it," we meant that we did not beat ourselves up about doing it better. Over the years we saw many fast-stepping swivel-hipping walkers go scooting by every morning for a few weeks or months and then disappear. We figured if we made it too hard on ourselves, we would quit. So, we ambled, and over the years got our amble up to a stroll, and then maybe even up to a pretty good clip, but there were always walkers who went faster. We were never motivated to walk in the rain, and, in the early years, even high humidity might be enough to give ourselves permission to go to breakfast, but we kept at it. In the winter, we went indoors and walked in the Armory at the big U. nearby.

My friend is very conservative, and although he denies it, a rock-ribbed Republican (he thinks he's an independent but he has a Republican mindset.) That probably helped keep us going too, because there was always something to argue about and before we knew it we had finished our prescribed course.

We never got to the point where we enjoyed walking, at least we wouldn't admit to it. Gung-ho exercisers would say, "But don't you feel better after walking?" and we would reply, "No, we just feel tired." We would muse, ruefully, sometimes about how long we had been doing this and when the morning would come when we would just not do it anymore. We would speculate that maybe the time would come when we would race our wheel chairs around the Armory track, although not so fast as to get too tired out.

But nothing lasts forever, and after 17 years, our walking regimen is about to end. My friend is moving to North Carolina in two weeks and our walking will be no more. I'm going to keep doing it and we've made other walking buddies along the way, so I'll probably always have someone to talk with, but it won't be the same.

The realization that all things must end has also been brought to the forefront by my friend, Brent's realization that he is about to die of cancer. Brent is 46 years old; has a wife and two young sons and has a rare form of fast acting cancer that will likely take his life very quickly. I have been inspired by his clear headedness in the face of this tragedy; his refusal to "gild the lily," but to accept what is inevitable with dignity and grace. I hope that when my time comes and that time will come for all of us, I can face my demise with the same acceptance that Brent has demonstrated.

Part of being human is to feel emotionally, although intellectually we know differently, like things will always continue as they are. We will always be young; we will always be healthy; we will always be happy. Things change; they always change. For people in unfortunate circumstances the fact that things change is their blessing; for we who are blessed, it is our curse. All things must end.

My Brother the Restorer

For those of you who know my brother, Wilmer (for whom I do not have a pseudonymn, although the Amish brats at Yoder School used to call him "Four Eyes," because he wore very thick glasses as a young man,) there is a very nice article about his building restoration projects in our local fish wrapper here. Wilmer is the most creative business person I have ever known. He is always coming up with ideas that no one has ever tried before. It was also exceedingly frustrating to try to represent him as his lawyer. But those stories will have to wait for some other time. He well deserves the praise he gets in the article.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Welcome Visitor

I looked out the window of my study this morning about 7:45 and saw this big guy perched on our side yard fence. He was there on the fence about five minutes, looking all around. I presume he was looking for, or had just eaten a fine breakfast of baby rabbits, or maybe some damned squirrels. The rabbits and squirrels were laying low while he was around. I am not much of a birder, but I think it was a red-tailed hawk, although I didn't know they were that big. After glowering for a while, he flew up to the top of a tree and I haven't seen him since. I hope he hangs around. He will be well fed.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Spiritual Sunday Morning

I woke up late this morning, another perfect day like the ones with which we have been blessed here in Central Illinois the past week. The temperature is 80 degrees, low humidity, not a cloud in the sky, not a morning that should be wasted sitting in church, fidgeting, looking at my watch, wondering when this is all going to be over. Instead, I'm sitting on the patio, listening to my favorite radio station, Whole Wheat Radio, out of Talkeetna, Alaska, a listener-run station operating out of a small cabin in the woods.

Tiny is hardly the word to describe Whole Wheat Radio. There are 33 listeners this morning, and the station has a capacity of only 90 listeners. I like it because it plays the music I like, folk, light rock, country, blues, by independent artists. The operator of the station is a computer genius who has set up an automated station that plays listener requests, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Other than my usual sloth, I woke up late this morning because we had a spaghetti party last night, brought on by an over-abundance of chianti. I have a client/friend, a retired restaurateur, a Sicilian-American, who lives nearby and brings me tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and Sicilian cucumbers. Who needs a garden when you can feast for free from the excess of your friends? Last week he brought over the usual vegetables, but also some home made pesto, spaghetti sauce and a gallon of chianti. We invited Number One Son and The Bride, Baby Milton, EIEIO, another friend who doesn't have a psuedonymn yet and three students from The Bride's English class, two of them from Korea and one from Brazil. Besides spaghetti, The Wife made crostini topped with pesto, tomatoes, and provolone cheese; a salad and an unbelievable peach cobbler, made with fresh Farmer's Market peaches.

I ate too much and we almost killed that gallon of chianti. If I am hung over this morning, it is only from a surfeit of good times, not alcohol.

And now for my spiritual insight of the morning. I know I have done nothing to deserve this gorgeous Sunday morning, any more than I will deserve the below-zero blizzard we will probably have this winter. I think I am enjoying it because of climactic conditions. But if anyone wants to attribute my good fortune to God smiling, be my guest.