Monday, June 28, 2010

Envy and Other People's Trips


Brooke’s moved beyond using a one-way speaking valve on his trach to having it capped at part of the time: this means he breathes through his nose and mouth both on the inhale and exhale, just the way we all do. Or rather, it’s just the way we all do, but he still has a something like a piece of white PVC pipe, the trach, in his throat that he has to breathe around or through—but capping it is another big step forward. He hasn’t used the vent in over a week and it’s turned off again, a big awkward but thankfully silent reminder of earlier harder times. The pacer is really working.


This past week, Peggy was at a bioethics conference in Key West. When she got back and told Brooke about it, she realized she was trying to keep the details of the sunshine and the ocean breeze and the blue waves sparkling along the beaches to a minimum, stressing rather that the conference involved many long hours of sessions in closed, heavily air-conditioned rooms, away from the sunshine, and the fact that the weather was in the 90’s much of the time and humid, and that the reef where you go snorkeling is at least at first sight drab compared say to the Caribbean and only interesting after you stop wishing you were seeing schools of brightly colored fishes.

Just the same, it’s hard not to tell Brooke the truth about it. It was delightful, delightful. That’s the trouble.

Other people tell Brooke about their trips too—short intense trips, long leisurely ones, local daytrips, distant Bildungsreise sojourns. Sometimes they bring pictures of European towns or Mexican beaches or remote places in Asia. They give vivid descriptions of architectural treasures and opulent museums and especially of meals at outdoor cafes or 3-star restaurants or little family places specializing in local delicacies. But of course there’s always this tension about whether to talk about such things at all, given that Brooke can’t realistically go any of these places ever again.

So we’re talking about it. It’s about envy, he says. They get to go on trips; I don’t.

Here’s what he says about envy:

Envy corrodes the soul—whatever you mean by “soul,” it’s at least the moral part of one’s being. There’s self-pity, there’s self-blame, there’s shame, all related to envy; and most centrally there’s envy of other people, envy of who they are, what they have, and what they are doing, the kinds of lives they are leading, and the good fortune they are currently enjoying. I want to try to clear the path to a more peaceful, less restless, purer state of soul, Brooke says, that is, that the moral part of one’s being is less corroded by these forms of envy.

On self-pity: I feel it very strongly when other people tell me about their trips. I hate the situation I’m in; I’m not getting any younger, and I’ll be trapped in this broken body depending more and more, and more and more, on other people, while others are out seeing the world, experiencing things, actively doing things I’ll never be able to do. That’s the self-pity part.

It’s so easy to give in to self-pity, Brooke says. I don’t usually play that trick, he says, but sometimes it happens: saying things like “why would I want to travel to Key West, if it’s so hot and humid and filled with tourists and tourist traps and if the reef is so drab compared to the Caribbean?” There are lots of games like this, he says, “why would you want be at the beach at all—you just overhear people engaging in empty chatter or chasing around after a volleyball”-- that doesn’t work, you can’t really fool yourself. You don’t want to go to extremes by insisting that people are frittering their lives away by just traveling, that’s another way of corroding yourself, corroding your soul, trying to fool yourself out of reality. It’s as self-deluding as trying to say, I’m better than they are because I’m suffering more. But you really do wish you could travel and you know it would be interesting, exciting, wonderful, just even the sheer pleasure of walking down a street or getting up in the morning and fixing a cup of coffee, even in a carafe in a dumpy hotel, all the mundane things that “regular” people take for granted, as of course we both did before the accident.

On self-blame: Blaming myself for the accident—was I going too fast? Was I rounding a blind curve too widely? Was it my fault? We’ve written about these things before, but didn’t think of it as related to envy. Was self-blame compounded by the fact that I’d just bought new equipment early in my retirement—new mountaineering skis, a state-of-the-art road bike—in what must have been an attempt to recapture my youth, and I was blissfully unaware of the dangers that a sleeker, faster bike would involve. To relieve myself from self-blame, I’d really like to believe that the accident was the other biker’s fault, that he crossed my path as we both swerved; in fact, I have vivid visual recollections of this, but I can’t be sure they’re really true. In any case, focusing on who caused the accident is in essence self-blame, utterly corrosive, whether I think he caused it or I did. It gets one nowhere, and it makes no difference who actually caused it, if either; it happened, either way. Neither of us can know who was actually to blame, and there weren’t any independent witnesses; but I know my personal sense of what my own role in the accident was fluctuates with how I feel at the moment.

On shame: Shame is somewhat different, but I get these flashes of feeling: how are other people going to regard me, driving around in this wheelchair? It’s an especially painful feeling when I think of other people who knew me before the accident as a strong, outdoors, always-active, vigorous, and (some said) handsome kind of a guy: now what they will see is a paralytic (notice, I didn’t even say “person”), dependent on an elaborate wheelchair for mobility, completely contained in this mechanized thing. I can only move it with my head or with my left hand; I can’t do anything else. I suspect that others don’t even see the person very much, just the chair. Think about people who’ve been badly burned, or who have some deformity; they no doubt have the same painful experiences. I’ve often looked away from quads I see on the street; I know people will do the same to me. It’s just a fact of life, of my new life. But the shame communicates itself to you just the same.

In my sane moments, I recognize that these things don’t matter. What matters is that your mind gets attached to thoughts about them (to use Buddhist language in thinking about a form of envy, a Christian sin, that “corrodes”); you spend your time shamed by what other people think of you, not what you think of yourself. So what do I think of myself? That’s not easy to answer; when I pass a mirror in the hall and see my own reflection, there’s an opening for shame, even though it’s just me looking at me. Of course, no one who is a patient in this facility or who works here has these thoughts, since there are wheelchairs everywhere, and so far I’ve been pretty well insulated from the outside world, but I think I know what lies ahead. Leaving this protected environment won’t be entirely easy, after all.

On envy in general: I’ve had to struggle with envy all my life, as well as self-pity, self-blame, shame, and many similar challenges. I don’t think I’m alone; I think it’s part of the human condition, but one that is particularly salient in my circumstances now, as it is for others with severe conditions like me. Envy I suppose arises in childhood when we learn to make comparisons between ourselves and others, but this is phony in adulthood, we are who we are. Making comparisons between ourselves now and ourselves in the past or in an imaginary future is also problematic, and a particularly corrosive thing for me is remembering my previous life—who I was vs. what I’ve become—very corrosive, when the new me envies the old one.

We talk on the phone with friends who are sitting on the deck at their cabin in Maine. They’re describing the loons swimming in the lake out in front, the blue heron that has just swept up into the air from its fishing-place on the shore, the little wind in the trees, the way their little city-dog is exploring the red squirrels that tease him out by the shed. Brooke is remembering his visit to them two years ago, only a couple of months before the accident: I used to swim across that lake every day.

The worst form of envy is when you wish that other people suffered misfortunes—they don’t have to be just misfortunes like your own, but seriously unfortunate nevertheless. Sometimes you envy people with lesser misfortunes—when you ride up and down the hall in this hospital and see other people who are only paraplegic, or who can walk even if they have obvious other problems, you want to be like them. But often envy takes the form of wishing someone else’s life were miserable so that you could feel good—these are emotions that one needs to acknowledge in oneself. I’d call that something like a sin, and if I were still a Catholic I’d feel obliged to confess it. “Well, we had a miserable time on our vacation,” somebody says, and I’m lying here in bed thinking good, they had a miserable time, I’m having a miserable time too—these are medieval sins.

One needs to sweep past these forms of envy to a purer, more selfless state of soul, less restive mind, less self-delusionary. Of course none of these emotions or moral feelings are unusual or evil in themselves—they are intensely human, part of the fabric of ordinary life, and anyone in my situation would feel them as strongly as I do, I think. The problem is letting them consume oneself, or corrode one’s heart, making it impossible to enjoy the presence of others and the enjoyments they may be experiencing.

After all, people do come to visit and find themselves talking about their trips. When I’m most whole, this is wonderful for me: I not only experience through their eyes what they’ve experienced, but I also understand how wonderful it has been for them, and that gives me real pleasure. I get two benefits: their vision, and my vision of them.

What I keep forgetting in all this is that from certain perspectives, my situation is most enviable: I’m alive, my brain works, I’m surrounded by loving and caring people, I live in a place for the time being that is not only professional but human, where I’ve made many friends among the staff and experienced genuine compassion and love from them. Compared to many people in the world, who are suffering dreadful diseases or enormous pain or who’ve been essentially abandoned in a facility like this by their family, my situation would seem like bliss. This is very humbling, and only adds another dimension to these moral dilemmas. How can I envy others? How can I feel self-pity and self-blame and shame when others, who exist for most of us out of sight, are in far more terrible conditions than I am?

We heard some time ago from someone we don’t even know, a woman on a disability list who described her frustration and challenges in not even having a wheelchair; she lives in a single room, and it’s only the internet that makes her life tolerable. That seems far more terrible than what I’ve got; I need to remember what it is that makes my life so worth living.

In the bathroom in our little cabin in Torrey, where we haven’t been for over a year and a half and may never be able to go again, there’s a little shelf with stuff to read while you’re sitting on the john. The wisest among these things is the Handbook of Epictetus, translated by our friend and colleague, Nick White, a copy phenomenally rumpled from being read so many times. Here’s paragraph 43, capturing the image of Greek two-handled vases:

Everything has two handles, one by which it may be carried and the other not. If your brother acts unjustly toward you, do not take hold of it by this side, that he has acted unjustly (since this is the handle by which it may not be carried), but instead by this side, that he is your brother and was brought up with you, and you will be taking hold of it in the way that it can be carried.

So I think about think about how people visit me and talk about their trips. If I hold it by one handle, it’s like this: “people visit me and talk about their trips.” If I hold it by the other handle, the one by which it can be carried, it’s like this: “people visit me and talk about their trips.”

The great thing is that they come.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Trying to Remember Buddhist Principles

A couple of evenings ago, we went for a ride in our new van: a big blue 2002 Ford Econoline, the van our son-on-law discovered in Seattle and drove down to Salt Lake this past weekend. It doesn’t have its registration yet, and it isn’t state-inspected yet, and it doesn’t have its handicap license plates yet, but it is still ready to go. Before we started, the respiratory therapist gave us a little lesson with the portable suction device, ambubagging, etc. Pat was with us. It does take at least two people to operate the lift, steer Brooke in his chair onto it, raise it, fix the tie-down straps and the seatbelt, check all the various safety features, but eventually we put it into drive. We didn’t go very far, maybe ten blocks up the hill, but just the same we made it to a little parking lot at the entrance to the Sessions Mountains trail, right behind the Mormon temple that overlooks Bountiful. We didn’t even get out of the car, but just the same from this vantage point we could see the entire landscape opening out below: this is looking out from the Wasatch mountains toward the basin-and-range country, and on a clear day like that you could see out to the west the huge sweep of open land punctuated by starkly isolated mountain ranges, one every fifty miles or so.

Brooke says that once again he was hit by this sense of unreality: could this really be happening? Could this really be me? It hit me with real force, he says, but it’s a paradox: this van means vastly increased mobility—I can go places now and no longer have to rely on the hospital’s transportation services, limited to one personal trip every three months. But it has also increased the sense of can this be happening now, can this really be the case, is it a dream, is it a nightmare, what is it? Being in the van, which was tiring even for a half-hour spin, was a thrill, but at the same time a source of not exactly terror, but something stranger than that.

It was a great experience to go out, to see things, to be driven by somebody, he says, but there’s something devastatingly wrenching about it too; it once again reminds me of the seriousness of my condition. I’d thought it would be different; I hadn’t realized it would be as much work for others to get me into and out of the van, that it would always be so, that I couldn’t just jump in the van and take off for those west desert mountain ranges; but just the same driving in this van for the first time was also enormously liberating.

How to explain this ambivalent feeling? There are many ways of doing so, but one of them is this. I’ve been trying to remember Buddhist principles. I don’t seem to be able to abide by them, at least not at the moment. For instance, consider the way I fear the future, which is very real to me but in at least some forms of Buddhist thought, doesn’t really exist. For example, one can be anxious about the van. I’ve found it difficult, at least over the last little while, to hold onto a moment-to-moment existence in which, as a Buddhist would put it, I know I live in present moment, and that the present moment is the only moment. After all, I’m not sure when we’ll ever get to use the van; I’m still in the hospital with no specific prospect of going home at any specific date; in fact, we’re all in the dark about the future, which looked so definite at the time of the diaphragm-pacer operation. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to get into the van; will there always be two people who know how to help me do this? These fears are phenomenally real.
Obviously, the pneumonia I had a couple of weeks ago interfered with progress on the pacer, but everybody recognizes that I have to be relatively stable to go home, and that includes things like having the little sore on my butt heal—not a pressure sore, just a skin tear-- though it’s been there for more than half a year. Then there are fears about going home; these too are about the future, something that hasn’t materialized yet, and even if they aren’t based on anything at the moment real, they still interfere with achieving the medical stability necessary for discharge. A more western view might say I need to recover my faith that things will turn out well, and that if I’m ambivalent that’s a symptom that I don’t have adequate faith that a higher power will take care of me. But whether western or Buddhist, the minute you start getting wrapped up in your fears about the future you entangle yourself in these chains, and it’s absolutely necessary to detach yourself from those negative thoughts about who will care for me, how will I drive around in the van, how will we live? You’ve heard me express these fears before; as discharge-to-home gets closer, they get more real. By the same token, I have similar fears about Peggy’s going to a conference in Key West this week, and how my visit with my sister Lisa will be—she’s coming to be with me while Peggy’s away--and how it will be after Peggy’s hernia surgery, now scheduled for June 29, while I should be focused on the moment, just this moment, letting these future events take care of themselves, as they will.

A lot of this is partly due to the fact that I had hoped I’d be home well before now, but of course that hope was a kind of chimera. What did I know? Both kids have helped: recently, Mike made very therapeutic remark, why are you in such a hurry? I once had a dream about Sara—I was climbing up a steep sandhill, sliding down every time, and she appeared. I said, well I couldn’t get to the top, and she said, so what? –and that relieved all the pressure. You can’t do anything to change the future; what you have to have is trust, or faith, that the people around you love you, that they’re doing everything for you, that they’re going to take care of you when you get home, and that although the journey and the adaptation will be very difficult, it will still be okay. Julia’s making a schedule. Peggy’s figuring out the finances. Contractors are working on last-minute remodeling projects, in addition to the ones we’ve already done. And friends are we hope planning visits. We heard somewhere that it takes three years to settle into one’s new life, as it were—we’re over half that time already, but why worry; the present is now.

The morning of the first van ride I was chanting, calming, smiling and for a few moments there I could feel what “this is the only moment” means. It’s about being in the present moment, not regretting the past, not being anxious about the future. I’m talking myself into being optimistic now. It’s a question of faith—it’s going to work out. We’ve already done something wonderful— including survive this long--and we’ll continue to do wonderful things. We’ve written stuff we hope speaks to some of you out there, and we’re in a place that cares, and if there’s more time for home improvements, well that’s all for the better. I really want to be home. But, why hurry? I don’t know what kind of life lies ahead—but it has to be moment to moment.
What about the van? It’s sitting in the hospital parking lot, out behind the building, where they’ll let us keep it as long as we’re here. When will we drive it? I can be sane about this or I can be crazy. Maybe Mike’s remark, “what’s the hurry?” is the sanest of all. What’s the hurry?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Calling a Friend

            Yesterday I called a dear friend to tell him how much I love him.   He and I have been close to one another for thirty-five years, ever since we took a fairly wild sailing trip from Boston to the northern tip of Nova Scotia in 1975.  That was just before I drove across the country to my new assistant-professor job at Utah in my 1968 Volvo, packed with all my belongings except thirty-five cartons of books.


            My friend, a dental surgeon who is Dutch in origin though now an American citizen, has been struggling with cancer and other illnesses for the past eight years. It is unlikely that we will ever see one another again, given the difficulties involved in my traveling and his current condition.   I have been thinking about him ever since his last phone call to me—he has called me often since my accident—in which he told me that he had finished remodeling his dental-surgery office on Marlborough Street into an apartment again and given the keys to its new owner. 


            This man was one of the most vigorous, energetic, adventure-seeking, almost daredevil people I’ve ever met, with a love of escapades and adventure that has persisted all his life but is coupled with such level-headed sanity that it’s a wonder to behold. He taught me how to scuba-dive in one day, for example, and has engineered all sorts of ingenious trips.  And he’s been a kind of older brother to me, a kind of model, especially for this remarkable combination of adventure and sanity.  And that’s not just about hiking and skiing and sailing and the like; it’s been true as the cancer has seized him as well.


            It was a rare form of liver cancer, they told him when they first diagnosed it, and they gave him six weeks to live.  Six weeks.   He called his relatives in the Netherlands, he called his friends, and he and his long-time live-in lady-friend decided to get married, not just for some obvious practical reasons but as a renewed form of commitment in the face of adversity.   Just the same, we knew he was dying.  Peggy and I went to the wedding, hastily arranged in his club in Boston, but when we got there we realized that it was the most extraordinary of gatherings, of ceremonies: something you could only call a wedding-cum-funeral, both a celebration and a mourning, a positive step in the face of disaster.  He and his bride and all of us there expected that he’d be dead in six weeks.  It’s at times like this that you learn to be able to say, I love you.  But he was also saying, Never give up.   Here we are at the wedding, in the photo above.

            Now, eight years later, he told me that he and his oncologist have decided to discontinue the experimental treatment he’s been doing ever since his cancer diagnosis because the physical costs of taking the drug, especially weakness, have ceased to be outweighed by the benefits in possibly longer life. He also told me that he’d decided not to put his boat in the water this summer because he is too weak to sail it.   I have these premonitions of mortality again.  Ever since that phone call I have been thinking a great deal about my friend, especially in the early morning, and I thought that if I believed in heaven I would want to spend as much time as possible with him, forever—or better yet, in the Elysian Fields, where we could wander about talking of things we used to discuss: history, practical things like home preservation, renovation, gardens, and the bird he sees from time to time out his bedroom window.  Escapades, of course.  And his cat. 


            I visited my friend, two summers ago on a trip I made to the East Coast with the explicit design of spending three weeks visiting or spending time with old friends.   That was something that I had wanted to do right after my retirement—indeed, one of my goals in retiring at that time.  At that time this friend was pretty much bedridden.  I spent two nights at his home, and his other home in Bristol, Rhode Island.  We talked and talked and talked, and I knew when I left that I wouldn’t see him again.  As it turned out, I didn’t know exactly why, or that it would be me who couldn’t come to him rather than the other way around. 


            This entry is a kind of tribute to someone I’ve loved but, realistically, can’t expect ever to see again. We both know that.   Of course there’s the telephone; there’s Skype; there are even photographs and videos.  But being with someone in person is somehow more powerful, more intimate, more real, and being with someone in person when you realize it may be the last time is even more so.  At that remarkable wedding-cum-funeral eight years we also thought we’d never see each other again, but we were wrong; and here it is eight years later and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be wrong again. 


Gerard Manley Hopkins talks about the thisness or “inscape” of an object.  I lie in bed thinking about my friends, about each one in a distinct way.  Inscape is the indwelling landscape of something, here as I’m reinterpreting it, of a person.  I lie here and run my mind over and around my various friends, all of them different, with not only obvious differences in exterior matters like appearance or education or occupation, but with deeply different inscapes as well.    It’s not just that I have time to do this, as I lie in bed, but that what a friend is has become a much deeper matter to me as well, since I can’t any longer be a friend in the conventional ways—going skiing, hiking, sailing to Nova Scotia, or even just going out to dinner together.  I suppose my inscape is changing too, but what’s most present to me as I lie here treasuring my friends is how the inscape of one’s friends evolves too. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


            It is an irony not lost on Brooke, and Peggy too, that his accident occurred about four months after he retired from the University of Utah, after teaching there for thirty-two years.    What kind of retirement is this???  Not like any others, it seems.  Many of our friends and colleagues who have retired are spending their newly free time in ways they’ve planned and dreamed of for years:  one close friend has been running an environmental organization; another has organized his life around traveling to interesting foreign places and reading extensively in preparation for these trips; one became a lawyer, at an age when other people are often giving up; others are involved in public service of various kinds; some keep writing books and lecturing and pursuing academic interests even if they’re not receiving paychecks anymore; some sit on boards and do extensive community service; or spend years observing bird life or sailing or mapping the flora of a region, becoming expert as they do. One even got a theological degree, then ran a museum, and now writes for a local newspaper on politics in the Middle East.  Some say that they do “nothing,” although if you watch them carefully, they actually do lots of interesting things. There are even Candides who have retired to their gardens--but beautiful gardens they are!   We admire all these things, and envy being able to do them.


            Brooke himself had planned to switch over into adult education and to do various treks in the mountain ranges of the world, as well as enjoying the freer life that retirement would bring.  But in truth, he says, I had no particularly focused retirement plans.  I retired simply because, at 66, I felt that I’d reached the end of something.   Between the actual time I retired, June 30, 2008, and the accident that November, I must have done something, but I can’t remember exactly what it was—


Peggy would sometimes quiz me about my retirement plans.   I’d tell her I wanted to be able to walk around downtown and explore the little side streets; that I wanted to ride the FrontRunner train to Ogden; that I wanted to go on treks, read books, plant a better garden.   I never really had much of an answer.


But I’m ”retired” anyway.  It is pretty strange kind of retirement, spending this year and a half in the situation we’ve been recording in this blog, way more of a retirement in one sense than I’d ever expected and at the same time in another sense far and away the hardest work I’ve ever done.  It’s ironic in the extreme.  In contrast to the traveling I’d thought we’d be doing, I’ve spent over a year in one room.  In contrast to visiting friends, seeing where they live, how they live, doing whatever they like to do with them, they have to come to me.  I don’t read books, though thanks to loyal friends and to Books-on-Tape, they are read or read themselves to me. 


I’ve spent most of the first year and a half of my retirement breathing, breathing; and now that the diaphragmatic pacer is in place and really working, I for the most part don’t even need to work at that anymore.  Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, there are interruptions, like the pneumonia I’ve just had, when I’ve had to go back on the vent as well as the pacer—but the pneumonia is abating and I’m working up my times on the pacer alone again.   But even when I’m doing 24-hours-nonstop off the vent, on the pacer, that doesn’t end the trials: now I’m working on coughing, since coughing up secretions is part of normal respiratory function, but I can tell you that coughing isn’t nearly as nearly as much fun as breathing.


Just the same, this “retirement” seems like a real retirement in the sense of embarking on something completely new.   For one thing, it has engendered this piece of writing, and what I suppose could be called, if it didn’t sound excessive, gaining some kind of terrible wisdom through suffering.  What I’ve experienced is in fact terrible, but so close to the bone, it’s like a postgraduate education in The Real, in something that brings you very close to the extreme of what you think a person can endure, what you think you can endure.  It’s certainly not what I thought I’d be doing when I was 68, way outside the usual retirement plans for travel, visiting friends, exercising, gardening.


Working on this piece of writing is also unlike anything I’d thought I’d be doing.  I hadn’t planned to write; I thought I was finished with that.   But finding myself, or rather ourselves, keeping this journal-blog is astonishing, to both of us.  People had asked me, when I was contemplating retiring, “are you going to be writing anything?” and I’d always said I didn’t think so, I’d written enough academic papers on Wordsworth and Winnicott and so on, but just the same here I am.


You know, you’re supposed to retire and change your life somehow, move to Tucson or take up chess or learn to play the piano, but here’s a real change.  I still get these flashes, could this really be happening?  Or, is this really happening to me?, when I thought I’d be hiking up trails, traveling in remote places in the world, spending the evening curled up with books I really enjoy, and of course cooking.  It’s like turning a completely sharp corner in one’s life, finding oneself on a wholly different journey than one ever expected, or could or would have chosen.   It’s said that suffering leads to some kind of wisdom; certainly this has brought me, both of us really, to a psychic watershed and forced us to change our lives and our relationships with other people (and with ourselves) in absolutely drastically different ways; it’s a terrible way to get there (whatever ‘there’ is), but can it be that whatever the way to get ‘there’ must be through something as extreme as this?   Surely not; but the alternative, or one of the alternatives, seems to be something that might be called the inertia of maturity.


Think about our house, for instance: it’s been rather drastically changed, but it wouldn’t have been changed much at all if this hadn’t happened—we’d have been too set in our ways, too familiar with our much-loved collection of miscellaneous objects from around the world, too comfortable, really, with what we were doing to change much of anything.  But this, awful as it is, forces you to rearrange everything.  Not just the furniture.  Not just the doors.  Not just a few of the walls.  But you rearrange your whole life. 


Your friendships rearrange themselves too, and some that were casual become far more profound and important; others ebb a bit.   Getting to know the hospitals’ staff is part of this.  Making new friends in new circumstances is part of this.  Meeting people, like other patients and their families, is part of this.  I don’t want to make this sound like a glamorous, exciting new life; in many ways it’s hideous, with way too much daily and nightly extreme discomfort to be even slightly attractive, let alone glamorous, but it’s something so deeply changed that it’s paradoxically more than one could ever have expected from retirement.


This isn’t some privileged road to take; it’s just that, having been forced by circumstances to take it, one makes every effort to extract meaning from it.  There’s no choice.  Or rather, there is a choice: first you choose to try to get something out of it, to use it for some kind of self-purification, so speak, and then all the other choices follow from that.  


Something in the tone of this note may seem to trivialize other people’s retirements, as if mine were somehow special.  It isn’t that at all; it’s that we need to think about what we have in common as some of us grow into retirement, people stepping off so to speak in different directions from their familiar worlds.  Perhaps my world is more different, and not one you’d ordinarily purchase a ticket for, but all of us I think are engaged in transformations into new lives, just some more subtle than others. Our activities change; our friendships change; we extract new meaning from our changing circumstances and impose new meaning on our worlds.  That’s part of the reason for making this writing so central in what we do—to explore not just the stark differences in our activities, your “normal” ones and our non-normal ones, but to try to understand some of what we’re all going through—it’s a way of trying to stay as “normal” as we can in this strange sort of retirement without losing the good parts of what’s new.