Also like my late Unitarian father-in-law am I now in my amazed, insistent appreciation of the physical world, of this planet with its scenery and weather—that pathetic discovery which the old make that every day and season has its beauty and its uses, that even a walk to the mailbox is a precious experience, that all species of tree and weed have their signature and style and the day is a pageant of clouds. Aging calls us outdoors, after the adult indoors of work and love-life and keeping stylish, into the lowly simplicities we thought we had outgrown as children. We come again to love the plain world, its stone and wood, its air and water.
— John Updike, Self-Consciousness
I had to do something of an intervention this week. Not drug- or alcohol-related; more like having to tell someone that he should consider anger-management counseling. (In a surprising twist, he reacted angrily to the idea.) The next day, I was talking to his wife about it. We agreed that he had gotten himself into a bad habit of reacting to even mild stress and pressure with anger and/or self-pity, that the pattern was clear over many years and through different circumstances, and it was likely to continue until he finally saw it himself and made the decision to change it. It’s disheartening to think of all the wasted time and energy spent living in a prison of one’s own creation.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a couple of friends come over to spend an evening around the fire pit, enjoying the early spring weather. Amanda brought up a favorite theme of hers: bucket lists. It’s exhausting just listening to her rattle off lists of places she wants to go and things she wants to do. I argued that bucket lists are silly and challenged her to name three exotic or exciting experiences she’d done. I was aiming toward the point that once you return home from seeing Paris or bungee-jumping into volcanoes, you have to go back to the quotidian business of everyday life, and if you’re not happy there, well… She was a few beers deep at that point, so her story about the Bahamas meandered around a bit before she finally thought to return my challenge and ask what my idea of a great time was. I spread my hands and said I was already living it. She described that as a bovine byproduct best used as a fertilizer, but more succinctly. I retorted that the exotic trips and hair-raising adventures aren’t the sort of thing you reflect on while lying on your deathbed. Well, what would I be thinking of in that case, then? A Sunday in February more than a decade ago, I said, when I spent the entire day on the phone with the Lady of the House, who was then living far away. Nothing is ever going to be qualitatively better than that, not Paris, not volcanoes, not anything in between.
Spring is here, the bedside table is stacked high with books, and I recently made it into the 1,000 lb. club. Who has time for complaining?