December 28, 2017: My application for Social Security benefits was officially entered and accepted today; I join the millions and millions of others to join the ranks. This new stage in my life reminded me of a presentation written and read by one of my oldest and dearest friends Nate Keedy when I turned 50 years old. He called it “crossing the River Styx, joining the rest of us on the other side of 50”. And now signing up for Social Security benefits is like crossing another River Styx.
Nate read his letter to me at a surprise 50th birthday party that my wife Arlyn gave me. My brother and sister in law and a bunch of other friends converged at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Newtonville, MA. I want to share parts of it:
“I met Richard in social work graduate school in 1976. So I have known him for over half of his life. I don’t know if that sounds good or bad. Back then we lived in a three decker in Somerville with two other roommates, Paul and Alan. Richard was the studious one. He locked himself in his room, pouring over social work tomes all by himself with just his pipe while the rest of us enjoyed ourselves watching “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and contemplating waxy yellow build up. He worked extremely hard in school and then the next year, dropped out. Richard forsook the field of social work to seek a greater fortune in business. Of course with today’s economy he probably wishes he’d stayed in social work.” (This was winter 2002.)
Well, I didn’t really look back after leaving Simmons School of Social Work. And I am still the studious one, starting to research and make plans for new activities and pursuits as I re-invent myself nearing the ripe old age of 66. I have a lot planned. Most of it is in the works and I will share it here. Of course, I still believe ” life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans” (John Lennon), so it’s going to take some initiative on my part and luck to ensure that my master plan comes to fruition. Or maybe whatever happens will be just fine. Who really knows what’s in store for anyone’s future, be it tomorrow or a decade hence.
Making up for lost time
Some of these planned activities, these engagements, these pursuits are “driven” by a sense of making up for lost time. For example, when I made the mistake of entering graduate school in social work. I was too young to do that. Other mistakes and fears prevented me from doing other things in my tender years, so I will want to try new things as well. I was too young and untested to be in social work grad school; I did not know what my real calling was then. That was the gist of the lesson I learned there. But if I hadn’t made this mistake, I would never have met Nate, nor about some of the lessons of life that have been pivotal for me.
(Several years back, I rounded up the old Somerville gang. Alan was now living in Chicago, had published a few books to go along with PhD, and sent his regards, but Paul, Nate and I got together on several occasions meeting in Cambridge and New Jersey where Paul lived as a public policy publicist for the state university system of New Jersey. Aside from his immediate manager, his group reported into Governor Chris Christie. The three of us would have continued I’m sure if it weren’t for Paul’s untimely death while surfing in Fiji, commemorating his twenty fifth anniversary with his wife Susan.
As I look ahead, thinking about the future, I recall the mindfulness meditation teacher Mark Coleman, author of “Make Peace with Your Mind”. In it there is a poem called “Not Running From Here” which speaks of the importance of looking deep in oneself and not running away from yourself.
Here is a portion of the poem:
“You can always pretend. Try putting on a face other than your own. But that’s a game that’s never worked. And only burns a deeper hole inside.
And when you touch the emptiness inside you’ve spent a lifetime running from. This is the first step that begins the slow journey of completeness . … Keeps inviting you deeper into the roots of yourself. Claiming your place that has always been waiting right here”.
So as Mark maintains, while I become older there is still a lot of work to be done psychically and emotionally so as to allow myself to journey onward and be of service to myself and others.