Incredible Realization Late in Life

I am old. I do not feel old because I am (knock on wood) healthy. What has gotten me here healthy? Study skill in habit formation. Reading skill and breadth. Listening skill of selective attention. Avoidance. Determination rather than going with the social flow and recognizing bad influences and urgings. Owning and creating my self concept. Prudence. Cerebral control. I could go on. I will get to the point.

I always felt smart, in a quiet way. I was not conscious that I had a good brain. But I felt that I should always be in charge of it, and it, I know now, was prudent because I seemed always to be self-directed. I had some sense of right and wrong, for me, what I could do. What I might do. What I must not do. I believe a permissive mother allowed me to be on my own some or much of the time. Early experience going to church, begun by my very devout mother, inculcated in me a fact that there is a very distinct difference between what you do is right or wrong, what you do is bad and what is good, moral or immoral, in general. So there was good and there was bad. I had to judge, with a big nudge from fundamentalist religion.

I have since realized that that religious nudge was too overpowering, not allowing me to think and judge for myself what would condemn me to eternal hell-fire and damnation. Church people were not real, too “other-worldly”, rather than “this-worldly”. They used extreme, scarifying tactics on the mind that I could examine and question, and examine and question I DID, eventually. Especially in the realm of “sex”.  Sex and sin. Sex as sin. Sex is sin. Wrongo dongo! Sex education there was none. There was never a Sunday school lesson referencing sex. Taboo subject matter, only for sniggering. Religion let me down in several areas, but especially that. Science is a better, more reliable guide. I like its “this-worldliness”.

Subsequent study and exposure to literature contributed that “humanism” that I, and all people, need. They meant well, but they went too far. And that may have been the good they ultimately did for me, in their being too threatening and unreal. “Sinners in the hands of an angry God!” fundamentalism. They are always there to spread their flame.

The goblins ‘l getcha if ya don’t watch out!

Too much gluten is the principle of my new religion, the diet. Do-it-yourself health study. You are your own devil and deity. Nutrition, diet. Exercise. A good marriage. Study. Degrees. Good employment. Friends who are models of intellect and health and habit.

But here is my point, at last. All that above is prologue. I have made much of my life. I have written my history in brief form, and it looks loaded with accomplishment. I am now a widower. Alone. After more than a half century of a partnership with a good woman. “Ve get too soon old und too late schmart.” The silence now is deafening. We had a gluten-free marriage. And in that state of being I can think more clearly, if too late.

I look at a knife on the table for my lonely breakfast of tea and toast. It is our stainless steel. Then I look at a knife from her side of the family, silver, with a fancy carved “J” on the handle. From her family’s Victorian mansion, where we lived the first six years with only her aged mother the survivor, who died after several years. All that family history and well-being has come down to me alone. There was more to it than I now realize. And I let it go, unexamined. My wife the daughter, her mother, and me, living in that great, four-storied house. My mother and father long gone. I missed it, with my own family in Indiana, and with what remained of her’s, her mother. Why was I so dense? Now I live with all the leavings of that home in a state far away from it in distance and time. I look at the silver and the pieces of furniture that have come down to me, at this too-late stage, and crave what I cannot have. What is my regret? Oh, I know it well. It haunts me. There is no remedy. If I only knew then what I know now! This is when silence is deafening.

But I will tell you this. These are my wishes that would have filled a void I feel in my history. My old mother. My old dad. Her old mother. (Her dad died at the conclusion of the war. The town druggist. Worked hard during the war. Smoked.) What I should have done. What I omitted in my life story as I put it together. Now realized, too late as I sit here recalling what I could, should have done. A very important communication act. I am bitter that I did not do it, as I sit in that old chair in my living room where she sat in it daily in her waning years, quietly, watching her daughter and me go about our business as usual.

Go to her. Sit beside her, or across from her. For a visit. Ask her. Take from what she says, and make a comment, and a question. Learn from her, what she has to teach. She was a principal. What was her view of education, my game? Listen to the anecdotes. What was her view of learning? Who was her best student? And why? How did she raise her daughter, my wife? On what principle, or principles? Was she a good student? And so on with all the how’s and why’s. I am sorry that did not happen.

Just the act of engaging her was what was important. It may have dignified her opinion of me and may have done her some good. And that principle, to me, is important to operate in all my interactions with whomever I have conversations. In each interaction, try to raise the level of it to some general level of principle. That person may give you some important insight. We learn by insight. A chimp will see outside his cage a banana the fell too far to reach. So he sees a stick as a tool to pull the banana within his reach and a banana feast. Human insight in far more complicated matters is important everyday. There are so many insights that we lack. We must always be looking for insight. Everywhere. Do not discount old people. And thus I shake my didactic finger. Mostly at myself.