What Will America Look Like As This Transformation Unfolds?

This phenomenon — the aging of the Baby Boomers — will transform America in a myriad of ways: economically, financially, socially, religiously, politically, and culturally. It’s going to be interesting to watch.

Perhaps the most pressing concern is the financial one. The underfunding of pensions is huge. And the increasing demands on Social Security and Medicare will be mammoth. I’m not sure how we’re going to deal with these problems. It could get ugly.

The chart also reminds me of my own situation. I’m average — average age for a Boomer, that is. I’m not at the leading edge, and I won’t be bringing up the rear. So I have a pretty good vantage point, although I’ll be more vulnerable than the point and less vulnerable than the rear to potential fiscal hazards.

Mortality also comes to mind. Statistically, it’s a long ways off, yet I know that, in real life, very few of us are the mean or median. Anything could happen at any time.

Death has a way of surprising us. I volunteer at a nursing home. Last evening I arrived and, at a place always occupied by one of the ladies I know, there was a small bouquet of flowers. My heart sank. I feared the worse. As it turned out, she had choked to death from a sandwich the previous night. I never got to say goodbye. Or to tell her how much better she made my life. That’s the way death operates.

Her parting gift to me was a simple reminder: always say goodbye and tell the person how much they mean to you.

When the Cost of Living Becomes Too Great

This weekend was the weekend from hell. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced sustained pain of this magnitude. It was so bad Saturday night that, although I thought it might be a good idea to go to the ER at 1 a.m., I just couldn’t imagine getting to the car. My best odds were in lying perfectly still and popping one of those leftover opiates from my surgery. All of this came on the heels of a really bad Friday night and a couple other horrendous days over the past two weeks.

In the overall scheme of things, it’s nothing. And, indeed, the pain since Saturday night has been bearable.

I’m not worried about it, although I have to admit it’s a royal pain in the ass. It’s hard to focus and get things done when you’re battling this kind of thing. I suppose I’m too easily distracted.

The episode did spur me to remember there was something I wanted to tell you, Vera, that I hadn’t gotten around to sharing yet. As will be obvious, this is a message for when you’re an adult (as if all the other posts aren’t).

I know this is difficult for some people to accept, but here it is: There are limits to what I would do to extend my life, and there are steps I might take to end my life on my own terms.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting my current ailment is life threatening or would precipitate any action. It’s not. I’m thinking ahead. Well down the road. When I’m old (an age that mysteriously keeps getting pushed further into the future).

I think I have a rather high pain threshold, and I could live with a certain amount of pain. But I don’t think I could live with severe daily pain, mainly because it would prevent me from living and doing any of the things that bring me joy. In my mind, living entails more than breathing. Perhaps I’m being greedy. Whatever.

Moreover, I have no desire to live through a hideous, painful death if I can help it. I watched my father (your great-granddad) go through such a death as cancer destroyed his body. It was terrible. If given the opportunity to avoid that fate, I’d seize it, even at the cost of a shorter life. So don’t be surprised if the time comes when I move to Oregon or Vermont (although I hope that’s a long way off!).

I also have no desire to be institutionalized. A couple of years ago your grandmother and I applied for long-term care insurance. Both of us qualified (physically and mentally), which was good news. We purchased a policy for your grandmother. I passed.

The reason is simple: I would be miserable sitting or lying in one of the facilities. If that were to happen, I’d feel as though the cost of living was simply too high.

Your grandmother points out I may not have a choice. She’s right. I easily could have ended up in such predicament as a result of my recent accident. I asked her, if that were to happen, to suffocate me. She declined. I have to come up with a Plan B.

I understand the human instinct for survival. I get it. And I’d never judge anyone who tried to squeeze out one more day, hour or breath, regardless of the cost or situation.

All I’m asking is that, if it ever comes to this, please respect my decision. Don’t expect me to continue on when the cost of living becomes too great in my judgment.

Frankly, I’m hoping that day never comes. But it might. If it does, don’t feel like a tragedy occurred, and don’t rationalize it away by saying he must not have been thinking clearly or was depressed. That would be insulting to me. And condescending and disrespectful.

More importantly, don’t worry about me. Ever. Now or in the future. And never fret over any decision I might make even if it’s different from the decision you’d make for yourself in the same or similar circumstance.

If you ever want to do something for me, just go about living your life to the fullest. Even at this early age, you have an unusual zest for life, Vera. It’s infectious. Share it with the world!

What Happens When We Die?

What happens when we die?

No one knows.

No one.

Some of us think we know. But we don’t. We have merely chosen to believe one answer or the other.

Sometimes we mistake belief for knowledge. Or truth. But the mistake doesn’t make it so.

Some of us are concerned about the answer to the question. Perhaps worried. Maybe even obsessed.

I’m not.

Moreover, I see no value in obsessing over the question. It’s an unanswerable question. I think time is better spent pondering the ones that potentially can be answered. And make a difference.

I recognize that some people think a lot rides on the answer to the question. Indeed, some people think what happens following death depends entirely on how they live their lives.

It’s a strange way of looking at things. The idea that a creator would put a life form on a planet and then decide what to do with that life form on the basis of how that life form performed against certain criteria over an incredibly short period of time, ranging from a few seconds to 100 revolutions of the planet around its sun, is too big a stretch for me.

That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, how we live our lives, that is. It could. But not necessarily. And, frankly, the evidence that it impacts an afterlife simply isn’t there.

But each of us gets to decide for ourself.

Quite a few us would like to decide for the others. This urge is a constant source of strife and, often, worse things.

That’s too bad. That’s the power of myths. People will do just about anything to live out a story. And it’s not unusual for them to spaz out when other don’t follow.

At this point in my life, I really don’t care what others think about such questions. Generally, they’re easy to ignore.

I know the difference between an answer and a belief. There is a place for both. So long as the distinction isn’t lost.

Some people can’t stand the thought that death could be the end. I’m not sure why. It simply would revert to the way it was pre-birth.

So what happens after death?

I don’t know. And I’m not going to waste any time thinking about it.

I Hate Death But Love The Memories

This is Oscar. I took the photo when I was dog sitting. As you can see, Oscar was enjoying the warm Colorado sun.

Oscar lived across the street. Until last Thursday. His body couldn’t go on. Age and disease had taken their toll.

I liked Oscar and his brother Milo a lot. Milo is still across the street, living with our dear friends. I wonder about Milo. Every day of his life had been spent with his brother. Until now.

The thing about pets I dislike is their lifespans. They’re significantly shorter than humans’, which means, if you have pets, you’ll end up burying quite a few.

I hate death. Continue reading

I’m Dying (Part II)

(Continued from prior post.) I dread the thought of other people dying because I know how much I’ll miss them. And that my universe will have a giant hole in it that will never be filled.

Vera, I can’t imagine living without your grandmother. We started dating in 11th grade, when I was a mere 16. She was older, a fact you’ll likely hear me mention more than once in the years ahead. Despite my relative youth, the odds are, I’ll go first (years of Type A stress, you know). But nothing is certain. I’m pulling for the odds to play out in my favor, though. I have no desire to be the surviving spouse.

Moreover, as is the case with almost any parent, I loath the possibility of outliving any of my progeny or issue (fancy words for one’s children, their children and down the line) A parent’s nightmare is to have to bury a child or grandchild. I know of people, including my grandparents and some aunts and uncles, who have lived this nightmare. Some never get over it.

But if you live long enough, it’s inevitable you’ll feel the sting of death, even the death of some people you didn’t personally know. I’ll never forget the assignation and death of President Kennedy. Or the death of the one and only hero I’ve ever had: Roberto Clemente, who’s in the baseball hall of fame. Roberto died young, on his way to deliver relief goods to people in need. Pittsburgh Pirates fans called him “The Great One.” That’s because he was.

I used to think about my own death from time to time. Some time back I shared ideas for my funeral with your grandmother. I’ve since made it clear she should ignore those earlier instructions. I don’t even want a funeral service. Cremate my remains and bury or sprinkle them in some glorious mountain spot. That works for me. But if that’s too much bother, no worries. Do as you please — within limits, of course. I’d rather not see any of my body parts appear on a spike on the city wall (or on one of those renowned Loveland sculptures in Benson Park). But I guess I won’t be seeing anything, so whatever.

It’s odd that my interest in death has wained as I’ve gotten older. I’d have thought it would have been the other way around. But I’ve found that, as I’ve entered this later stage of life, I’ve become more concerned with the act of living, which brings me to one of the points I wanted to make today (everything else, despite the length, being mere prelude).

It’s simple: each of us has a life to live and, while we don’t have total control of it, we do have a significant say in the matter. Perhaps it’s a freak of evolution. Perhaps it’s a gift from a benevolent creator. I like to believe it’s the latter. But I don’t know. Either way, it’s a life. And it’s ours to live.

As for my life, I’ve got a story and I’m sticking to it. It rings true. And makes me feel good about myself and the world. Moreover, it has some corroborating evidence, albeit nothing conclusive. And it’s certainly susceptible to all the biases, indoctrination and longings baked into my psyche at a young age (which basically means it might not be true).

Nevertheless, the story is this: the breath of God resides in each of us. It’s what allows us to love. And be loved. It’s what allows us to imagine and create. And plan for the future. And to take delight in each other and in that which we call nature. And to stare at rainbows. And marvel at vibrant sunsets. And to be nourished by the act of giving and, indeed, by sacrifice.

These are the things, in my experience, that don’t require belief or myths, because their truth is manifestly obvious. And experienced. And as real as the sunrise. It’s as if the word becomes flesh.

The story also tells me that, once it is given (the breath, that is), it is ours and ours alone. No other person has a claim on it, although many will try.

I think it’s one of the reasons meditation can be so nourishing. Alone with nothing but the awareness of our own breath. No thoughts. No chatter. No nothing. Except for an awareness of our own breath. And perhaps its Source.

But I don’t want to get hung up on theology or unverifiable beliefs, for if my life is merely a product of evolution without being rooted in a living source, that’s fine, too. The outcome is the same for me. It is still my breath. It is still my life to live.

Vera, many will try to entice you, in both overt and subtle ways, to live your life one way or another. Often it’s a matter of trying to get you to buy something, that is, to make money off of you. Sometimes it’s a matter of trying to get you to think or behave a certain way. Or perhaps it will be as simple as not embarrassing them. Or avoiding making them feel like a failure.

There will be immense pressure to conform. There is nothing wrong with getting along. But there isn’t necessarily anything right or good with rebellion or nonconformity either. There may be, however, something very wrong with conformity for conformity’s sake. The price you pay may be your dreams and aspirations — your uniqueness, your life.

Be mindful that it’s your breath and your unique life to live. Surprisingly, it’s not such an easy thing to claim. It can be hard to turn away from the temptations, the implicit threats and perceived rewards and pressures that are hurled in our direction, especially if they come from well-intended people. The power of conformity should not be underestimated. It has even embedded itself in our education systems and schools. And in our very definition of success.

That’s not to say the path it reveals might not be the best one for you; rather, it’s to say it’s possible it might not be. It’s possible that conformity, and other forces and interests, are interested in their lives and interests far more than yours. Indeed, culture and status quo are jealous; they don’t relinquish allegiances readily.

It is important, therefore, for you to strive to be mindful and intentional in your choices. It is important that you not fail to claim the path that allows your breath to sing for joy.

Also be mindful that your breath is a reservoir that eventually will be depleted (to the best of our knowledge). It’s easy to think, especially when you’re young, that it will never run dry. But it will. Perhaps sooner than anyone expects.

But do not allow that reality to usher sadness into your life. That end, that thing we call death, is nothing to fear. To the contrary, because of it, spring always follows winter. Babies replace worn out men and women. Seeds germinate. Flowers bloom. New ideas arise. Vibrancy and creativity are allowed to do their work. Earth does not become one big, cranky old-folks home.

The cycle is a glorious thing. Ends make beginnings possible. And middles interesting and worth living. Without endings, none of it may be possible.

So fear not. As you are dying, remember to live your life. Spend time alone with your breath. Listen to it and to the teacher within. Discern what nourishes you. What brings you joy. And peace. What makes you eager for the sun to rise each day.

As I grow into adulthood (the latter stage to be precise), I am notĀ obsessed with endings; rather, I am focused on learning and new experiences — beginnings and living. I hope you do the same as you progress through life.

And as you do, I hope you’ll not settle for the American dream, which, undoubtedly, you’ll hear much about, as if it is life’s grand purpose. Be mindful, however, that it’s a mere enticement — one to get you to live your life as others would have you live it. It’s a lure with an implicit concept of success that may or may not be yours.

Try to resist the enticements and dreams of others. Instead, try to live Vera’s dream. (Just be sure it isn’t a fantasy!)