My father was an artist and didn’t realize he was funny. He had the ironic type of humor that let him laugh at life and even at death.
I think I’ve shared the story of his battle with cancer… My friend Mary had paid him a visit and knocked on the door. He asked “Who is it?” Mary isn’t to be denied her own sense of humor and said, “It’s Dr. Kvorkian.” My father answered, “What the hell took you so long!?”
Of all the gifts my father gave me, and there were many, the ability to find humor in the moment is the best and most enduring. As a practicing psychologist (where humor was at a premium) and in the classrooms of life, injecting irony and a sharing of how ridiculous some moments are has been salvation.
When I was in third grade, my classmate Joel Baskin and I were in trouble for laughing at the words to a song as we were singing. I remember it vividly… “Nymphs and Mermaids gather flowers, underneath the sea…” Really? Say the word nymph. Better yet, look in the mirror as you say it. Then picture twenty-five third graders singing it.
Joel and I were banished to the hallway to “compose ourselves” only to return and continue cutting up. We couldn’t help it. I think Joel became a social worker. No surprise.
The danger of living a long life is becoming too serious. No doubt, a long life means lots of loss and “patina,” as I’ve previously shared. All of it in the rear view mirror, all of it taxing but not without the moments of light-hearted delight that give dimension and lift us up.
Maybe you smiled or chuckled as you read this… I hope so.
I was speaking to a friend about his intrigue with “patina” on furniture and building materials. Patina is the signs of weathering that give wood, metal and objects character. It’s considered desirable to show that the item isn’t newly manufactured and in fact, has been around for a while.
Of course, my mind went to patina in the human condition. Why isn’t it desirable to look like we’ve been around the block a few times? Why should we all look like fresh-faced newbies?
Maybe it’s capitalism… the encouragement to “get a new model” to drive the economy. We generalize the concept that new must be better. So new people must be better too.
I think most of us feel like new earthsuits would be more serviceable and less demanding that the older models. With new earthsuits comes the reality of cluelessness, and most of us wouldn’t envy that part of the deal, not to mention the trials and tribulations needed to breathe some wisdom into the callow mind.
Here’s my suggestion; aging is just “patina.” It’s a sign that we’ve been there, done that and hopefully have reached a peaceful place of self-acceptance. I plan to wear my patina with pride because I’ve earned it! (Not to say there isn’t some wrinkle crème in my medicine cabinet… I’ll call that “artistic license!”)
I remember my dear uncle saying, “Now that I’m old I can look back on life while I’m living it.” I didn’t get that at the time, but now I do.
What I find different about getting older is that I can be the observer and the actor at the same time. When we’re young, we’re “doing,” and if we are more mature than the majority, reflecting way after the doing is over. “Insight,” is just that…looking inward and reflecting. If we can do that while we’re living, we’re far better off than most folks.
If we aren’t among the more mature and mindful, we blunder along only to discover our patterns and miscues in what isn’t working in our lives. If we don’t blame others, we may end up in the office of a therapist. Better late than never!
On the Discovery Channel there was discussion about research moving toward life without death. On the surface, that sounds like the vanquishing of the ultimate enemy! But what impact will immortality have on the choices we make in our then open-ended lives?
Will we care as much about our impact on others? If we have endless “do-overs” will we choose to be mindful? There was a hypothetical projection that one day we will be able to upload our consciousness into an app and won’t need a body!
There is something about the finiteness of form and time that motivates us. That which is finite is more precious and worthy of introspection and meaning. Since neither I nor anyone reading this is at this point immortal in the physical sense, maybe we can cherish the life we are living and “look back at its impact while we’re living it.”
I was recently contemplating the words servant versus the word slave. In spiritual life, it is often said that we are servants, or those who minister to the needs of others. We choose this willingly.
One the other hand, a slave is someone who is ministering to the needs of others, but unwillingly. Many of us feel like slaves in our everyday lives. We go to work resentfully, feeling trapped by invisible obligations that (incidentally) we tacitly agreed to. The agreement was probably made in an unspoken exchange… “I’ll work at a job to make enough money to be a desirable mate.”
This happens in relationships as well. “I’ll be enslaved to your personality glitches because I dare not expose my feelings for fear of being unlovable.”
It’s interesting to note that the same job or relationship might feel like service if the choices came from love rather than fear. Think about that for a minute.
Desperation makes us unconscious. If we suspend self-doubt and make our choices from the platform of love, our direction would be guided by a steady hand. As soon as self-doubt and desperation intrude, we are slaves and the master is fear.