Monday, October 27, 2008

Simple Shadows

Funny how so many individual conversations can serve as perfect set-ups for the next one, sometimes… almost as if it was planned that way. Different people around us, different ideas discussed among the different people, yet for we who continue in the center of it all, it’s the same story thread continuing… as if, ultimately, it’s simply the same long conversation.

I spent a memorable part of my Sunday in stimulating company with a group of septuagenarian and octogenarian acquaintances. (I’m starting to get to “a certain age” where I appreciate being constantly referred to as “the young guy” of the group..!)

The beginning of the conversation consisted of each giving an update on their current health problems, and the ongoing treatments required for them. Pretty grim talk; seeing my sympathy, one of my older friends leaned over at one point and whispered, with a twinkle in his eye, some rather insightful advice:

“Charles", he said, "don’t get old.”

It was invigorating, however, to hear so many personal stories of fighting the clock, determined assertions that they were doing something, whatever they could do, despite their individual ailments, and increasing restrictions.

Notwithstanding the differences in their stories, there was always one thing in common, one thread linking all the stories into one story: a strong connection to their families.

Their children and grand-children were mentioned frequently, playing an important role in their lives, through the simple expedient of giving each of them a role to play in the lives of others. The simplest medicine, yet one making an overwhelming difference; a difference made obvious just by looking at them brighten up when they would talk about their families. Their backs would get straighter, the voices would rise, a light would come on from behind their eyes. On a deeper level than any visit to the doctor, the simple bond of family did more to strengthen their resolve to continue their combat against their bodies’ limitations, to tough things out for as long as they could… they would continue, for the long haul, for the sake of their families.

Today, another conversation, as by sudden chance I got to have lunch with another septuagenarian, a remarkably energetic man back in Canada after many years abroad, still active and productive now in what has turned out to be a third major career springing from his initial one. He brought along his younger (by a couple of generations) wife and their teenage son. And again I saw the positive influence of family; knowing what I knew about his business in the 1990s, I think the setbacks undergone by the company he so painstakingly built would have shattered him were it not for his wife’s support. I know those problems would have shattered me, that’s for darn sure, back when I was a supposedly “strong”, workaholic bachelor.

I may or may not see my lunch companion again after today, but his parting words couldn’t have been more effective had they been scripted for him to deliver; his main apprenticeship had been at the side of septuagenarians in his turn, back when he was a younger man learning his trade. He said that now that he’s reached the age that they were when they were teaching him, only now does he feel that he is beginning to understand, to really “get”, his trade.

The key is simplicity, he told me; it takes a lifetime to learn how to make, and keep, things simple.

Looking back over the lessons of these two separate yet connected conversations, I conclude: What’s simpler than a family’s love?


truepeers said...

Lovely post, great photo. But Charles, it seems to me that if love were simple, we wouldn't have to go through so much to learn how to be good and simple at it.

On one hand, I wish I had followed more of the "keep it simple, stupid" advice when younger. But the stupid is perhaps the guy who thinks a young person can face down the great, powerful, complex mystery of which love is an integral part and keep it simple. We have to earn that ability to perform the "simple" truth. And if we don't go through it, if our ambition leads us to avoid messy problems when young, our "simple" may become a way of turning blindly away from much of our given reality.

Our Western nuclear families are the basis of our freedom and loves. But the history behind their evolution has been long and hard fought and our families are in many ways not typical of those in other cultures. See for example one of Spengler's more interesting speculations.

Anonymous said...

I guess this is sort of an aside, but I find it interesting how at times, our conversations seems to transcend the individuals having them.

I find just from personal experience from writing a column for a short period of time, that when I'm writing something up for an article, the conversation around the main idea can continue for quite some time.

For instance, when I wrote that one on the artist who claimed she was going to smoke Kurt Cobain's ashes. In the days afterward, I found myself in a couple of conversations about that topic, and about what art is, which in turn helped me to evolve my own theory of what art is. I also subsequently ended up talking about art with another fellow with whom I've been having a long email conversation.

It just seems odd. Perhaps it's our subconscious leading us toward certain topics, or perhaps it is simply that we notice commonalities in our conversations when we actually take a second to single out one conversational thread.

Great post, Charles!