A Prescription for Life?

I’ve been traveling a bit, spending time with friends in various places. Traveling gives me a chance to catch up on my reading, break my TV habit for a bit, think about what I love to do.

I’m wondering how many people are actually doing what they would love to do….

On the radio this morning, I heard the question posed this way: how can someone who loves to do mechanical things, work with his hands, find a way to do what he loves and still find enough income to support his family? That is paraphrased, but you get the idea. One response was that mechanics are in greater demand right now because people aren’t buying new cars and gadgets, they are fixing up the ones they have and holding on to them. So for some, the possibility of combining what they love with earning money is actually more real today than in the past.

I also watch the stories on TV about the fall and possible rise of General Motors, the pundits who are preaching doom and gloom about the economy. Many are saying that the changes being made by GM today would have made sense a few years ago, but management wasn’t willing to make them.

Perhaps this strange, unfamiliar, seemingly very difficult economic downturn is our “have to” in the process of human evolution. I wrote earlier in the year that I saw it as the “equilibration of hubris.” The over-emphasis on money, things, status, image–those are symptoms of hubris. The arrogance of human nature expressed in $5000 must-have handbags…… Perhaps this is our chance to “have to” become different kinds of human beings.

Today, more people are saving money than have in at least 20 years. Apparently they have noticed that they are the only ones who are truly responsible for their futures, so now they’re putting money aside to create more security. The boomer generation has lost its dream of retirement by the golf course.

Is that a bad thing? Is it imperative that over 60 means that work becomes irrelevant?

I watched my father-in-law retire from a business he didn’t love, spend 3 or 4 years building a house then run out of things to do except look outside at his lakefront property, fish, and do a bit of yardwork. He died within a year of the completion of his house. He was 72. In 1983 he seemed old. Today, as I am approaching my 62nd birthday, 72 doesn’t even begin to sound old.

What if he had found something to do that he really enjoyed? His wife, my mother-in-law, died a year later. She was only 68. Once he was gone, the lymphoma she had been fighting for a few years took hold and did its damage. Aside from her grandchildren, she didn’t have much to look forward to.

My father died in September 2006 and I watched my mother go through the slow process of adjusting to life without him. She also went through a traumatic illness from fall 2007 to spring 2008, but emerged alive and well from it. Now that she is living in a retirement community, she is engaged in all sorts of activities that suit her: decorating for parties, playing bridge, going to meetings about life in the community and solving issues with residents. She found something to do–and a reason to be glad she is still alive. As she is almost 85, it would be easy to give up and just sit there. By not doing so, she is still fun to be around. I actually look forward to our little jaunts to the doctor or to run little errands. She has taken a new direction and finds it interesting and stimulating.

So maybe having a fulfilling life, loving what we do is more about loving ourselves, loving being alive, and finding ways to express that. So if we don’t have the promise of the future we were sort of taking for granted, if we don’t have a guarantee that the world will provide for us, perhaps this is our chance to be glad we are alive. To go back to basics and learn to take care of ourselves, take care of other people, do the little things that make a difference. I see my mom doing that, and the more she does it, the more cheerful she is.

Looks like it is true that one way to live well longer is to live well with others and open our hearts, engage in community and feel purposeful. Sounds like a pretty good prescription.