19 of 40
There used to be a finish line before mortality: a long victory lap for those lucky (and/or diligent) in health. After the children have left, after working to earn a living, before infirmity: It was called “The Golden Years”.
That term has evaporated from our culture.
Pensions had a brief Hay Day of surety in the Greatest Generation: you could cash checks you earned decades ago while touring in an RV today. In the time when most people were dead before they were eligible for Social Security it looked like a pretty sure thing for the living. Before companies became engines of investment independent of utility or genius, corporations looked as solid as our government.
A great 1960’s movie, “The President’s Analyst” starring James Coburn even postured the single monopoly virtually Every Grestest Generation Household used, AT&T, was The Government. The Mad Men/white male/Greatest Generation culture was so ossified that their children went nuts trying to derail it. It kinda worked.
Gone is the assuredness of life-long useful job skills that leverage confidence in the meaning of work, wages and retirement – hopefully meaning “The Golden Years” future. Technology extends our lives, encourages them them to be brain dead, and has unmercifully beaten to death every reasonable expectation that was legitimate 20 years ago.
“The Golden Years” are now just a memory of our parents’ expectations. In its place is the bubble of 20 years extra time on earth not smoking and eating crap: an entire generation.
But fewer and fewer want to get married or even declare commitment sufficient to spawn until it’s almost too late – and once again, technology rewrites biological basics so 50 year olds can have healthy babies and be viable parents into their 90’s simulating the bonding time of the Greatest Generation had with the Baby Boomers. So there is no new Great Grand Child/Parent Generation – just really old parents and even older grandparents.
Supplanting “The Golden Years” we have “Flex Time”: your age has almost no cultural norms applied to it: you can have 6 “careers”, no “pension” 3 or 4 spousal equivalents in endless “blending” of family trees so hideously interwoven and attenuated that it will soon make Ancestry.Com lurch into a Fugue State Overload.
We Boomers have won: “DOWN WITH THE ESTABLISHMENT!” was the cry, and pretty much everything established by our parents has been disestablished.
It’s Flex Time In America: in some ways a good thing: The nightmare stereotypes are at least seen as Evil and fewer law-supported prejudices remain: but there is precious little left in terms of any type of Ground Rules that could support even a hint of a predictable cultural outcome in the next decade.
So everyone copes. Humans find happiness in the faith that these bizarrities are the roiling surface of a deeper truth of human goodness and love. Religious or not, we believe that kindness, mercy and justice are good. Unfortunately the life product of those values were embodied in vaporized possibility for “The Golden Years” as an end point.
In times like Lent (times like the period after football season and before March Madness) it’s not a bad idea to see where my “Flex Time” is leading. Our lives may not be leading to a future that valued a 20 year vacation before our bodies changed the channel to life extension, but if we ever believed in warranteed expectations it denied every other aspect of the natural world, where life ends with a cold wave or or preditor or virus.
The only expectation I truly have is that the Grace that carried me this far, that has given me everything, will be there in Flex Time…
There is purpose when we gather, but it’s instinct.
When we collect, sort, file and filter we have a sense that what we have is an extension of us. When we come together, it’s to eat, watch, or even just to “hang” – but those are pretexts. The huge Trump rally or the gathering in Vatican Square or just going to church has the avowed purpose of veneration – but I think it is more about our deep, hardwired need to gather.
We gather to work, and often the gathering is more important than the work. We gather at personal milestones where common recognition of marriage, birthday or death is just what we want to do. We gather to perform: both performers and audience.
We gather towns to make countries, countries to make alliance or culture: we gather as cultures to make things like St Paddy’s, which for most is simply to venerate the color green.
There are those who are alone, but they, like everyone, think in gathered memories, thoughts and actions. A binge watcher is gathering a show, piece by piece.
My father sat alone almost every evening, for all the years I knew him, and despite the clouds of blue Kent smoke and 14 ounces of scotch within him, gathered, sorted and filed his stamps and coins. He used to gather at the Onyx or Kit Kat Club in Harlem with hundreds of fellow jazz-o-philes in places filled with blue smoke and booze: but that was then.
I have been the executor for both my mother and father. I know that, in the end, the gathering stops. I released those thousands of stamps and coins. If you are not dead early by chance or catastrophe, the gathering will become a burden for all those about you.
But it’s hard to believe that gathering is not creating a pond behind the dam of your life, but that it’s actually the tides of capacity and release that are unrelenting and undeniable. How to know what goes when is a murky business that will soon be there for all those reading this.
The last sorting is not by grade, size, color, or type – it’s by memory and faith. Times like Lent make that clearer.
There are really only two types of people: those who worry about being late, and those who are.
I am the former. Our Proper Name is “Type A” – the personality type defined by cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman in the mid-1950’s when everybody was smoking themselves into a calmer heart attack.
I have perhaps 1,000 appointments outside my office a year, most involving travel and lots of possibilities for lateness. Traffic jambs, weather, planes or trains being delayed, a breakdown of my car – everything that I cannot control.
But I can control when I leave.
So I am good at using time while waiting. The InterWebNets help, or looking at my schedule and maps so I can be early for my next meeting. (No, I do not trust that efficious “voice” on mt phone’s Map App – probably because I do not control it.)
But there are other people, and whole cultures, who look at arrival times as a suggestion, as the earliest possible point of site acquisition. “Island Time” (that would not be in New England) comes to mind, but we all know those folk who if you ask them to meet at a given time it is that given time plus 15, 20 or 40 minutes.
Those people never apologize for being late because being on time is simply not one of their priorities. I am sometimes late, so I send, most often illegally from my car, dashed texts of ETA as soon as I know I will probably be late, to reset expectations – mostly my own.
I am always mortified at my lateness, apologize first rather than say “Hello”, and since there are often expectations after that meeting, I rush to compress my time so as to be early for my next lateness opportunity.
Of 1,000 tests a year I fail maybe 50: a solid A. But if I did not care, as those who look astonished when I apologize for being 5 minutes late, who also probably do not worry about being “on time” there are no tests, they always pass, because they are there, eventually. And to them that is what matters.
I wish I could be them.
The satisfaction at timely arrival is real, I am proud when the day, literally, goes like clockwork. But that “King of All Clocks” moment has 100X the moments of anxiety and guilt and anger over possibly being late.
Over being out of control.
We are never, really in control. Why should the 5% tardiness make me panic, at 61? (or at 14 when I misread the clock and jumped out of bed, no-showered, and ran to the bus stop: one hour early.) Why do I care, when others, often those I am meeting, do not care?
I care because I cannot know, no matter how many times I am on time, if I am OK so I create the Test of Caring where 950 on-time arrivals provides some comfort amifd the fear. Those moments are not just about being on time. It’s also when the steak I cook is rare, but not bloody. Where the the lawn is mowed before it gets “out of control” (and my lawnmower is so good it never can be “out of control”.)
But I am, perpetually both Type A and, inevitably, out of control.
I woke up half an hour later than usual this morning, so for the half dozen folk who click on this at publication when it pops out, sorry, I am late, for no good reason. 49 to go.
In the end what we do lives up to expectations or disappoints.
A relativist might say “higher or lower on the satisfaction scale.”
A Pollyanna might say “Great! Or EVEN GREATER!”
The 21st century “spiritual person” might say “it’s all good.”
My father (and thus, of course, part of me) would say it’s “Right” or “Wrong”.
Flaws are everywhere. I am sentenced to find them, without end, in buildings. We all find them – some in the 3 pound weight gain (for me that’s dinner) or others in miscarriages of justice, or, for me, Eli Manning in the 3rd quarter.
But “Right” and “Wrong” are the starkest of value proclamations – and it’s done by everyone, everyday, and it has to be done. I have find the wrong in every drawing of my staff, the results of the contractor, this text: if I do not, then I am wrong.
Doctors have to be right, or it gets bad for us. Juries should be correct or lives and cultures can be wrecked. Our political leaders – well, let’s not go there.
Being married for 36.5 years (actually 36.3 – I have been told I exaggerate) I can warrant a natural focus in family matters comes down to clarifying right from wrong: fact-checking spouses or giving the moral compass a shake for your spawn is just what most families are hard wired to do.
But this moment of extreme internet hubris the focus, celebration, joy found by those pointing to the wrong of others is at an all time record level. A Facebook friend takes photos of poorly parked cars. Endless videos of skateboard/skiing/dog face-plants. Spelling errors on signs – and on and on.
But that focus can wreck you, me, us. My father was a very unhappy, objectively professionally successful person who needed to grade lives: people barely knew, races, his wife, children, but mostly himself. I survived by getting early “incompletes” as the other family members were his focus: but in the end he somehow failed his own GPA threshold to being admitted to a life he respected.
We have a defined number of clock-ticks, heartbeats and places to go/people to see before the Test is called, we put our pencils down and hand in our lives to the Teacher. I am hoping Lent can serve as Spark Notes for the Final Exam.
(in the ancient Roman calendar) a day falling roughly in the middle of each month (the 15th day of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th of other months), from which other dates were calculated.
“Other days are calculated”? Guessing in fortnights.
Today is the most famous calendared middle other than a Solstice or an Equinox: those middies of Light and Dark ascending or mostest points, take you pick.
I am not in the middle of much, not the time living in our home, or of my temporal time or of my career. I may live another 33 years in my house, and 94 may be a reasonable check-out time. But in marriage if this is our Equinox then 98 is a Big Ask for Last Call. I guess I could practice architecture at 101, but the results for Frank Lloyd Wright in his 90’s were mixed.
But I am perpetually in the middle, sentenced to it, really, of understanding much more than things like ides or measures of sunlight.
Even though, even if lucky, I am playing in the middle of the Third Quarter, I must confess it’s kick-off every day for defining things like mission, or meaning, or even methods of getting to understanding.
I effort that understanding with absurdities like this Lenten Pedalling To Nowhere: A 40 day cranking on a recumbent bike (did I tell you it was at Level 23 – the “11” of Exercise Equipment Levels?) for 90 minutes in silence as I tap on this pad. I am not even in the middle of these 40 days.
“It is finished” happens only once in a lifetime.
Although not limited to a play, the Ides of any month mark passage, not finish: thus beyond months, I think I am perpetually, permanently in the ides of this life, until I am not.
In the northeast last night millions went to bed afraid.
The source of their fear were predictions of the worst March snow in almost 25 years. The weather maps looked like nonstrous floods of primary colors, like a plague of blood locusts or a tidal wave of yellow acid.
Billions of gallons of milk, tons of bread and bottles of wine were bought. Gallows humor and riffs on the now-named storm “Stella” flooded the Internet. Road travel banned, every institution, business and venue closed and everyone whose job role is deemed as “non-essential” was ordered, literally, to stay off the roads of death.
I was pissed that I might be considered “non-essential”.
With 40 active clients 7 hungry employees (all staying home BTW) and a bunch of publishers tapping their toes, meetings tomorrow and the day after to prepare for, I really (really) want to feel “Essential”.
Our kids are grown and in others states, my wife has been commanded by her job to work at home, no parents are left alive to worry over, I am both over-committed and yet “non-essential”.
There is fear for the “essential”. They were told by my weatherman at 11 last night “Go in now!” (second, unsaid, message: “BEFORE ITS TOO LATE!”) to the Hospital, the Police station, the Firehouse.
My reptile brain is saying that to me right now.
But I piston thru in the silent darkness, writing this, safe in my barn, seeing not much, but very wet snow, where “4 INCHES AN HOUR!” was screamed.
I am “non-essential” but I will scurry, like the reptile I am, the 1/4 mile in my 4 wheel drive car through the couple inches of snow to work, because, well, because I am too dependent on feeling “essential” not to.
It is both sad and silly, but not very dangerous because so few – so very few – are actually “essential” that the roads will be empty.
And in the dark silence of my office I can get some work done – something that has always been essential – to me.
The more I eat, the more I want to eat.
Being portly, this statement surprises no one who has seen me.
But, gracefully, the less I eat, the less I want to eat.
So breakfast is never happening, and during these 40 days I am efforting eating only after sundown. Which, now, is one hour later. [EXPLITIVE DELETED]
But yesterday, after a long morning of service and an afternoon with a delicious family, I caved to the pizza that was pure mana for their Perfect Wee Bairn.
OK: one meal a day, a little denial, really, is the issue: SO: no dinner.
The pizza engorgement was followed a brief snore in front of “Pawn Stars” and thence the evening with a beloved homie in his booze-food Heaven where we huddled on a project. It was going to be drinks (I was completely un-hungry): but the love he expresses with food for my wife and I made abstemiousness untenable. And it was gobblingly good.
I failed, but overeating friendship and love seems palpably different than 32 Triscuits watching said “Pawn Stars”. But the deeper lesson, only possible in my base Lenten discipline of shutting up and pedaling in the AM, is that failing short is not always failure.
My desk is covered, deeply, in falling short. Projects, commitments, writing, building are all swarming upon its surface, and inevitably, some thing gets short changed in my attempt to do everything upon it.
I triggered this overload, no one did it to me, and it’s caused by the Chronic Overreach Syndrome I have been plagued with since my testosterone flood unleashed the revelation that even if I could not cure my parents’ sad marriage (that I knew I bore some dark responsibility for) I could kick ass by doing more. And more.
So I have confused satiety with laziness, overreach with achievement, completely substituted exhaustion for happiness and embraced the truth in me that falling short some while attempting too much is better at succeeded in not enough.
My desk will not be cleared off today, but I will skip lunch, thank you very much.