Time Passages

I was recently in Raingely, Maine, which is a small town surrounded by mountains and a huge lake. I saw a picture of an Inn that existed there about 100 years ago. It was huge, dwarfing any building that is in the town today. The dining room served 350. It was a fancy place for people of means to retreat to during the hot summer. There is nothing left of it, save what an archeologist might find: No building remnants, no ornate furniture, no lacy drapes, no fine clothes that people dressed in for dinner. The pretense is gone, so too, the social status of the patrons. Gone are the impressive entrances and the polite conversation. Gone are the names. Gone are the people. What was all the fuss about?

I called my elderly mother that night. She was spending the evening home by herself as she often does. Her plans? “Nothin’.” My mother lives in a retirement community on a street I call Widow Lane. I suspect the other women’s plans on that street for the evening were similar to my mothers. My father used to live in that retirement community before their street became Widow Lane. He used to hang out with the other men: going for walks, playing pool, cards, and dining as a group with their wives. All of them are gone now. The only reminder is a bench on their street with a plaque on it with each of their names engraved.

Life should not be a vain experience. Our time here should count for something. Life is too short and fragile to indulge in glorifying yourself, to think the world revolves around you, to inflate your ego. The vast majority of us will not be remembered for very long after we leave. We will be forgotten, like those people who relaxed at the Inn in Raingely long ago. It doesn’t matter if they were wealthy and famous at the time. It is the way of things, affecting all life forms. There is no point in strutting around the world with an air of self-importance like I imagine some at the Inn did back in their prime. If we happen to live long enough, we may spend our old age like the people at my mother’s retirement community do now. How can they not feel lonely when they have watched many of their friends and husbands die? How special can they feel when they live such quiet, isolated lives?

It is good while you are still young to pay attention to how old people live. It is instructive to be mindful of the generations that are gone, the ancestry that no one can remember, the civilizations that have risen to glory only to be grounded into dust. In this way it is easier to know your place at an early age and be humble, do your work with graciousness, overcome your karma as best you can, use your time in such a way that you feel it worthwhile, and live well.

One Response to “Time Passages”

  1. Terry, you touch upon one of the great mysteries of human existence.

    As infants we discover the world. As toddlers we explore it. As children we test it. As adolescents we rebel against it. As adults we accept it. Then, finally, as the elderly we succumb to it. Such is the cyclical nature of human experience – repeated over the generations.

    Stepping back to witness the process, questions arise. What is the purpose of such existence – from dust to dust? Does the middle part matter? Do our feelings of self-importance have any weight? Do they move anything? Do they lead to anything (if not only death)? What could we possibly do to change the cycle or even alter its process slightly? This stepping-back-witnessing thing only serves to fuel a powerless feeling of despair.

    I remember at the age of 16 (in a mood of such despair), climbing to a favorite spot, Tippling Rock. It is a small hill that juts above the surrounding pine forest – an old Indian habitat with wide flat rocks interspersed with moss beds. That day, I lay upon the moss gazing into the sky. Perfect clouds drifted across the blue expanse, and I pondered my despair and wondered about my purpose in life.

    Staring into that natural beauty, becoming lost in it, a certainty rose from my subconscious. If I put it to words, it would say, “There is something more than this worldly existence – there is a truth that underlies it all – something great and glorious.” That was a pivotal point in my life. Since then, I was on a mission to discover that truth.

    Without boring you with details of that search, I discovered that my being was like an onion with layers upon layers of delusion. As I peeled off a layer, I thought I was there – at the truth. Then I smelled the next onion layer and worked at peeling away that one. If I could summarize the past many decades, I would say it has been a process of peeling an onion – with no end in sight. Still, the process of peeling and the feeling of getting closer to the truth, has been rewarding. Just as a cook endures the tears of peeling the onion for the sake of a good meal, I have endured the tears of my path for the sake of a meaningful existence.

    What does this have to do Terry’s good advice about learning from the elderly and accepting life with humility, and to live it with grace? I guess my point is that the lessons of the elderly are the same lessons we learn from infants, and from every other stage in life.

    Life is short (and long). Every moment presents an opportunity to peel away delusion. Every moment is an opportunity to open our eyes a little wider. No matter what stage we find ourselves in (or witness to): discovering, exploring, testing, rebelling, accepting, or succumbing – each of these stages are manifestations of an existence that is not dreary, nor inevitable. It is exciting with all sorts of meaningful possibilities.

    Moments can be seized if our eyes are open to see them.

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