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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Money and Time

 If a country is governed wisely...
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens, 
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

-- Tao Te Ching

There is a lively debate going on nationally lamenting the tragic decline in our morality and values. In politics we ask where are our traditional values of honesty, courage, and integrity? In our personal lives we are still looking for the codes of individual responsibility and accountability, civility and compassion? And, in civil affairs the values of respect, deliberation, and wisdom are missing.

I had an "aha" moment last week when, in the shower, I realized that all of these values require time and attention which is something in short supply in our world that prioritizes work and consumption. These traditional values can not be bought or sold or invested in. They cannot be manufactured, advertised, or marketed. They require the nourishment of our time and commitment.

It seems to me that we have traded our time for money. I know I did and do!  In fact isn't that the mantra we value most... "time is money"? And yet the discussion still goes on about the absence of these important and primary social and personal values. How do we decide when we have too much time and not enough money and when will we know when we have too much money and not enough time? You know I don't think I have ever heard anyone discuss this topic publicly. Why is that?

The "rich" are the people with lots of money and no time. And people who have a great deal of time and no money are called "poor".  Furthermore, success is measured by being busy, working hard, and making the "big bucks". But secretly we buy goods and services we hope will bring us peace, nourishment, joy, and respite from our lives. Disappointed, we then turn again to more work and consumption.

So what if we were to expand our definition of wealth to include those things (values) that grow only with time. A walk in the woods, taking a nap, reading a good book, talking face-to-face with our friends and neighbors, and playing games with the children. "What if we were to live, for even a few hours, without spending money, cultivating time instead as our most precious commodity?" How would we be different? How would our communities be different? The world? Here's another gift that the aging process and retirement presents us...time to be our best!

The revolutionary notion here is for each of us consider that the fruits of our labor might be found in resting and the unhurried harvest of time.  Time to return to our values.  For "with all the money in the world, and no time, we have nothing at all."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

white plastic wash basin

I’ve been working on this particular memory for the past handful of weeks. The memory crept from the right side of my mind, from the back and bottom toward the top and front (though I don’t suppose the mind has geographic analogs to the conventional locations given to the brain). I felt it as it was creeping and once the memory announced itself to my conscious awareness, my entire body shivered with pleasure. 

My daughter Isobel, our dog Happy and I had returned home from a short camping trip and I was sorting out our supplies and washing up the dishes and utensils in the white plastic wash basin that we use when we go camping.  We are a household in which dishes are hand-washed —we are mechanical-dishwasher-less – so hand-washing our camp-cooking supplies once we returned home wasn’t an unordinary occurrence. What was out of the ordinary was that I decided to use the camping white plastic wash basin to wash the dishes, rather than using my typical in-the-sink method.  That’s when the memory wiggled its way into my mind (Such memories tend to come to me when I am in a relaxed and un-analytical and embodied state of being.).  A couple of days later I told Simeon about the memory, but I couldn’t follow it any further until it reminded me about itself again tonight.

As long as I can remember, and I only remembered this once the memory reminded me to remember it, my Gramma Jewell has used a white plastic wash basin to wash the dishes.  As far back into my own history as I can cast my mind, my Gramma Jewell has had this practice, and she continued this practice until my aunt moved her and my grandpa out of their home to live with her, followed by moving my Gramma into an assisted living facility after my grandpa died. After that, my Gramma didn’t get or need to do dishes any more, and until my aunt moved them, my grandparents lived in the same home for decades, in Menlo Park, California.  And they lived in a strangely modest way. For my entire life, or at least as long as I can remember, they had the same furniture and style of dress, they adorned their walls with art rented from the library, and their diet was sparse and narrow-band. There were other seemingly related practices, too – they walked or took public transportation rather than drive their old-model car.  And during one of the California drought summers, my Gramma, so as to conserve scarce water supplies, pulled up by hand all of the lawn in the front yard until all that was left was a hard earthen surface (Though now I suspect it was as much about water conservation as about preventing my grandpa, who was quite a bit older than my Gramma, from having to mow the lawn.). Despite all of these indicators of a kind of carefulness and frugality, never have you met more generous folks! Nor more well-traveled. In addition to helping the rest of us live, they used their savings to visit the Wall of China, New Zealand, the British Isles…when I was little I fantasized they’d take me with them on a trip someday.

I never had the opportunity to go on a grand global adventure with my grandparents, though I do have intense memories of walking all over Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and “The City” (San Fran.) with them, and of sitting on my Grandpa’s lap when I was seven years old to watch Charlie Chaplin films at the Stanford University auditorium (And I should add that I had recently been burned by hot oil, I had a third-degree burn on my left arm which emitted a unavoidably rancid odor, but my Grandpa held me close nonetheless.).  I also remember my “R-and-R” trips to visit my Grandparents during my late teens and early 20’s when I was on break from my undergraduate and graduate studies. I always looked forward to talking with my Gramma about all the books I was reading and big ideas I was thinking about. We weren’t just Gramma and Granddaughter, we were comrades.

So tonight I was listening to the Democratic National Convention coverage as I washed-up dinner dishes.  And as I was washing-up the dinner dishes I caught out of the corner of my eye a hummingbird flitting through the persimmon tree in the backyard.  I had made a special dinner for Isobel to celebrate her first day of school: a little game hen, mashed potatoes, and roasted garden veggies.  I washed the dinner dishes in the white plastic basin which instigated this remembrance of my Gramma Jewell. Earlier, as I was harvesting veggies for supper and sowing carrot and radish seeds for a autumn harvest, a sexy hummingbird couple who was completely enthralled with one another took a temporary interest in me, hovering over me as I bent over the garden.  The summer garden is winding down—perhaps a week more of tomatoes, the beans are done and so is the lettuce.  The herbs are still going strong but it is time to sow new carrots and radishes (and maybe beets).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In between

By guest blogger Erica Wells

Life took an unpleasant detour last week, and in response, I began taking stock of my current situation. This activity of taking stock was less a physical task and more of an emotional endeavor. I searched heart, soul and mind, curious to see if reserves of strength or energy might emerge that would propel me through my crummy circumstances. Because so much of my motivation to engage in life comes from my relationships with others, in particular my family, that's where I began.

To one side of me are my children: young grade schoolers, no longer my little ones at home all day, yet they are still very much in need of support, nurturing and guidance from me and their dad. I see two young people poised to begin the adventures life has in store for them. I recognize the innocence their youth offers, the luxury of only knowing love and security, the purity of two minds largely undisturbed by hardship.

To my other side are four (grand)parents: an average of 50 years of marriage between two couples, each raised 3 children and each has 6 grandchildren. I see four lives being lived in full measure, accomplishments, regrets, success and sadness. Even more, I see the experience, wisdom, faith and perspective that decades on the planet can offer.

And here, in the midst of the youngest generation and the oldest generation, I am. Me, my husband, our siblings, many of our friends. This positioning in the life course is generally referred to as middle-aged, signifying the mid-point of our careers as human beings. But are we really? Isn't that presumptuous, albeit statistically accurate for forty-somethings? I'm troubled because the concept of mid-life assumes a particular longevity none of us can be certain of until it happens. I've been hearing the term mid-life crisis since I was a teenager and I know it's just a label, just words we're using to define something but not really thinking about what we're defining. And if you are like me and apt to read the obituary pages, you know that our individual mid-points vary wildly. Yet we persist in what I am tempted to argue is a just a convenient assumption that our forties represent the middle portion of our lives. Instead, I thought about alternative concepts, asked questions and allowed myself to be distracted for a while from my initial problem (isn't this always how it goes?). 
So while I bolster my resilience and forge a new path after this detour, I have discovered how fortunate I am to be book-ended in day to day life by loved ones from two generations, to be in between.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ten Minutes with John

By Guest blogger Susan Cain (Self-proclaimed "Sometimes weary but recently enlightened life course traveler.")

Tired from a turn-around trip that began with a 6:15 am flight out of Portland, I waited at San Jose Terminal B, gate 23 for my return flight on Southwest. Together with my business partner, Patrick, we had spent much of the past week preparing for the new business meeting that took us to San Jose. While the meeting went well, we wouldn’t know if we won this account for probably three or four weeks. As I sat in the terminal, I thought about business, the slow economic recovery, money and retirement.  What could I have done differently to avoid such personal implications of the recent crash? When would conditions truly improve? Was I getting too old for this work? Looking up, an older man, somewhat disheveled caught my eye as he walked unevenly and tentatively toward the desk. With shaky hands he withdrew his ticket from his shirt pocket handing it to the gate agent, “Am I in the right place?” She responded automatically, “Yes” and offered nothing else. He looked around and walked towards the empty chair next to me. Almost automatically I thought, “Please don’t sit here—I’m exhausted and can’t make conversation,” but the thought passed just as quickly. I knew I wanted to help him feel more comfortable. We’ve all been on that trip—whether it’s our first flight, we’ve experienced a number of cancelled flights, or we are waiting in an international airport with signs and voices that are unfamiliar.

I began, “Hi, are you flying home to Portland or visiting someone?”

“I’m going to visit my son. I haven’t flown in a very long time and I feel so unsure of myself.”

“It’s fine. Together we can listen for the boarding call and then I can show you where to line up. When you get on the plane, you won’t have an assigned seat so sit in any open seat.  Has it been a long time since you’ve seen your son?”

Tears filled his eyes as he replied, “No, he and his brothers and sisters have visited me often recently. Their mom died three months ago after being on life support for too long.  It’s an awfully hard decision to know when to say “it’s time’ after more than 60 years of a life together. I just couldn’t let go and I think I made her suffer too long.”

Filled with his pain, I offered what seemed like empty platitudes, “There’s no way to know when the time is right and no one can guide that decision. It’s something you worked though, and when you were ready and you felt she was ready, you let her go.  There’s no timeline for letting go of the person you’ve loved so dearly.”

His smile of appreciation felt undeserved. 

“I’m John.”

“Hi John. I’m Susan. It’s so nice to meet such a brave man.”

With a weak chuckle he said, “I’m not brave. In fact, I know this will sound bad but I’m not sure I will choose to stay around much longer. That must sound awful to you, but each day when I begin to wake and reach over to the empty place on the bed, I can barely breathe. I lay in bed sometimes till afternoon. Just waiting for the pain to leave, for her to talk to me, for something…I don’t even know what. I’m so empty inside.”

Frozen in grief I couldn’t find words, and I knew that nothing I said could answer his need.  Still the energy connection gripped me. His heaviness was now mine as well.

Slowly and painfully I offered, “I don’t judge you. I have told my children that I would hoard pills or find some sort of poison so that when I’m done, I’m done. My father died recently—he was 95 and he very much wanted to die for the last two years of his life. It hurt me terribly to watch him. He even asked me to help him die and I could do nothing.  He thought he wanted to die when he was about 85 and my mother died. The first year was the worst.  After that he began going back to church, getting out a little more, and he found he had more life to live. Meaning and purpose may shift for you too.”

“I don’t know. I can’t see beyond today. I don’t really want to visit my son although I love him. It takes so much energy and I’m exhausted. I’m hoping that if I force myself, I might find some relief.  Traveling is hard on me. I’m uncomfortable asking for help or directions. I feel like people look at me like I’m just a helpless old man. I’m getting forgetful—happens when you are old.”

“John, I’m forgetful and I’m 63. I don’t know when this “forgetfulness” started for you but it started for me in my 20’s when I had four children!  It’s not exclusive to being older. It comes about because we accumulate years and years of to do lists, of birthdays, of 85 years worth of schedules and memories we want to hold onto.  People think so many things are old age related when in fact aging begins the day we’re born.”

He laughed and his hand grabbed my hand and he simply said “Thank you.”

The gate agent called for “A” boarding—my group. I asked John to move closer to the lines and told him that when they called for B boarding he would line up in the first column pointing to where he should stand. Noticing a seat near the line I suggested he sit until it was time to line up. As we walked together, I noticed a young woman making her way toward the seat. Touching her arm I asked if she’d mind if John sat. She nodded to him and said, “Of course not.”

John looked at her slyly and said, “Or I could sit and you could sit on my lap.”  Pleased with himself he lit up and we all laughed.

I was hopeful as I boarded the plane that his momentary joy might be a brief peek into a life of renewed purpose. He is such a beautiful soul and to have him leave this world early would be a loss for all those whose life he touched, including me. Ten minutes with John and my life is forever changed.