A long slow day, this day, of waiting for a donation store to send their truck to my house to pick up and haul away the things I want to purge from my life. A few pieces of old, hardwood furniture that I have carefully guarded and nurtured for many years. Some might call these antiques, these things I have been hanging on to all these years, but the truck driver from the donation store calls them junk, and tells me I should haul them to the dump. An eighty-year old, solid-wood armoire with hand-formed finger joints in it is a piece of junk, in the estimation of a thirty-five year old truck driver, who only knows particle board and sawdust laminate that has been glued together in Shanghai.
“Whatever we cannot sell right away we don’t want,” the truck driver explains to me. That seems logical enough. I would not have called him and donated these things to his cause–the cause of all humanity–if I had thought of them as only worthy of the land fill. He drives his big diesel truck up into these mountains to tell me this! Somewhere in the middle of all of this is a huge misconception of what I have to give, what I have treasured for long, and what it is that people shopping in thrift stores truly want. Old solid wood furniture of an historical nature is well on its way beyond fashion hood. I suppose I am the one who no longer understands what is currently in demand.
I find a sullenness, a sadness, in many daily events and transactions, as I grow closer to a future life. Much as I would like to hang on to this one life I possess, and keep the magic energy I have uncovered since younger days, my discoveries and thrills over the wonder of living are becoming quickly outdated, the ideals with which I grew and became inspired now nearly incomprehensible to the younger generations. Who could believe I might ever this see come to pass?
When reading from the Letters of Seneca today, which I read with some regularity–not to be current, but to be a citizen of the universe–he mentions to me how younger people about him would chide him about his age, his fading relevance, or dotage, and the value of his wisdom. I get that in looks and sometimes in remarks myself when I go out and about. Younger people look at me as if I am wasting time, space, and resources, in this new world that they have inherited, a world in which they seem to say that they would like for me to evacuate.
Blessed Seneca puts it this way: Nobody knows how long they have in this world. There is no guarantee that any of us will live even one day longer. The younger set, if they do not realize this, need to become very wise very fast, for the next day might very well be their last. To think and act differently is just foolish and blindly prideful. The possibility of death lurking close by places all of us on an even playing field. Life really does demand that each of us have some wisdom about this. I maybe 65 and have twenty years of living ahead of me, while you may be twenty years of age and have only one year left of living.
I visited a friend a couple of days ago, Mel, who will turn 100 years old in May. When I asked him whether he is excited about his 100th birthday, he told me that he was not.
“I’m ready to go now. There is nothing wrong with death, and nothing to be feared. It is only natural. Birthday celebrations are only the celebration of numbers”.
I knew him when I was in my 20s, then 30s, and so forth, and now half way into my 60s he’s still alive, philosophizing, and kicking. What can some young person, in their 20s, contribute to this conversation, this understanding of life? If they are to say that it is time for such an elderly person to move forward to the outer worlds, the heavens above, then they are delivering that condemnation to themselves. I believe this is how Seneca would respond to such a narcissistic proclamation. Plus, writing in the pre-Christian era, he might have a thing or two to say about pleasing the gods.
The pride of life shines brightly among the young, who fill themselves deeply with hope for an extended, scientifically-guaranteed time of upward mobility, and great pleasure. I had that sense myself, that impetuous cockiness, at a young age. Wars came, friends died, all while the world continued to rapidly change. I don’t think any of this evolution of who we are and what we might be becoming has been understood or well predicted for a comfortable future. Instead, all the dreaded variables for life that might make our existence unpleasant or unbearable still come into play almost every day. Seneca and other Stoic philosophers tell us the answer to this dilemma of huge uncertainty is to live in the moment, rather than in the past or future. The past holds guilt, remorse,and regret for each of us, as we dwell on how our life might have been better lived, while the future is purely a ghost that fills us with fear, uncertainty, and immobility.
As I go forward in earth years, and see young ones looking at me as an antiquated curiosity, I cannot help but wonder if they don’t get it, if they don’t see that their further living will cause them to become more like me, that I am a living and breathing example of what they will most likely become.