Tuesday, May 26, 2015

letter to a friend

Cannon ball
This morning I wrote back to an old army friend. We haven't seen each other in years and yet I think each of us counts the other as a serious friend. We write to each other (off and on) from within unquestioned bonds. Strange stuff, that.

Dear Barney -- Don't fret. I am used to hiatus, in letter-writing as in other things.

At the risk of trying your patience, here is a loose-leaf starting point/notes/thoughts that never got finished for me on the topic of "loneliness."
Getting old is like becoming a first-time parent: Everyone is a beginner.
On the one hand, there's no going back, but on the other, the power to accept and cope are not yet in hand: How is anyone to get a handle this brand new baby called old age? What are the rules of the road? To whom can anyone look for reliable counsel?
The honest answer to that question is that there is no one to look to. Yes, there are people who can TED-talk the topic of new babies and old age to death, but experience is an individual matter. There is no group hug of agreement that can actually lighten the confusing load.
Every field of expertise has its no-no's.
When it comes to race, there's the "n-word."

When it comes to cussing, there is the "f-bomb." 
And when it comes to old age, there is the -- uh-oh, "Big L."

The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once observed that "Youth is wasted on the young." As witty and pointed as that may be, still it raises the counter-question, "If youth is wasted on the young, is old age likewise wasted on the elderly and if so, what is being wasted?"

In the corner of this room here, there is a collection of boxes and other bric-a-brac that once belonged to my mother who died in January. I have not found the energy or interest to sort it out, make sense of it, figure out what I covet. It's stuff, just as my stuff and yours, perhaps, is just stuff.

I have been thinking about the process of un-learning things, a strange bit of learning that attends on old age and dwindling light. One of the strange things about it, for me, is that you don't need to be a Zen Buddhist to run into a wall that is familiar to practicing Zen Buddhists: How much of this life has relied on the matrix in which we lived ... the people and thoughts and adventures that found themselves supported by the thoughts and adventures of others. Yes, I have felt woven and "a part." But now, ineluctably, bit by bit and drip by drop, I am forced to face the lonely fact: There is no sharing of experience ... it simply cannot be shared or buttressed in any way. My reliance on the matrix was a misapplication of trust. I don't mean this in a mean way -- railing about how unfair or sorrowful it all is. But rather it's like recognizing a daisy: What the hell else did I expect?

Well, it takes some getting used to ... sort of like a new baby. What is left when nothing is left? I can't propose some inane TED-talk pill of understanding or solution, but the best I can come up with is that we are like kids splashing in a delightful swimming pool ... what a kool place to do a cannon ball! But then, sometimes, the past reliance on the matrix creeps back in and loneliness can seem unbearable. Surely stuff must be more than just stuff ... I worked so hard to get it or learn it or digest it ... it's gotta be more than just stuff, doesn't it? Am I not more than just stuff? than a daisy? than a weakening body and mind?

Meaning and explanation? Get real!

Oh well ... just muttering from here. Thinking about stuff and sympathizing with the imperative to disconnect and/or connect with something else for you. Retirement has its up sides, but the down sides can be a burden no one wants to shoulder. What do I get when what I've got is taken? Friends and relations disappear. Where did they go?  I don't know, but I wish them well. Laughter and music make some sense to me.

Just buzzing around a topic you may prefer not to. News from this end is sparse. My two sons live at home and probably help keep me on some straight-and-narrow. Periodically, I write a column for the local newspaper, but the friction and debate required by writing loses its oomph, or so it seems. I don't want to talk about Nazis either. It's going to be hot today and I cower ... but at least it's not India for the moment.

Buck up, old friend. You've got company even as the company dwindles.



  1. As i'm told, and physics supports on the physical side, we can't fall out of the universe. And on the "me" side, consciousness, awareness will also devolve from a momentary wave back into an ocean. Does that ocean have consciousness and or awareness? That seems to be sort of hinted at, but maybe only as an offering of hope for an ego that fears death and or humiliation.

    I know i want to be comforted and reassured about this stuff, my importance and needful continuance, but have to ask the obvious questions about who and or what needs comforted. And this leads back to an ego that i could probably do without at any time.

    Laughs and sneezes are pleasures, but who or what experiences that pleasure. If i laugh or sneeze does the ocean feel it? I have to defer to a reasoned sense of insignificance. When ocean meets me, who does the drowning? I need the ocean, but does the ocean need me? But then, if i'm part of the ocean, am the ocean, what do i need with this "me". I hear an objection from the ego, but the ocean remains silent.

  2. An enormous topic, of course.
    You are still a young thing. You will live into your answer. (Too lazy to find the Rilke quote that should accompany this. Some day.)
    As a Zen practicioner (damn, that word never looks spelled right) you will discover that growing old is a truly Zen experience. You have to live it, not talk about it, your experience alone, and life itself is the Zenmaster for the dokusan.