“Have a good one!” chirps the Millennial behind the front desk as I leave the gym after my workout.
What does that mean? What’s it to be a “good one”? What’s a good day or a good night?
I guess it could be a simple pleasure, a moment or two, or a series of good moments. Or an entire evening, weekend or some kind of social activity with friends.
It could be holding a baby in one’s arms, like when my son came home from the hospital some thirty odd years ago. It could be applying a skill or talent to one’s satisfaction, or watching one’s favorite sports team win. It could be landing a new job, or the joy of developing a new skill or eating a good meal, or winning a match against a tennis opponent, or a remembrance of a pastime or loved one or travel. It could be be a hug from your grandson or donating one’s time, energy or giving a check to a person in need. There are many “good ones”; these are a few that come to mind.
I think of this matter quite a bit now. What makes for a good time, a life of meaning?
Now that I’m closing in on the age of seventy, life takes on new challenges and risks. My next birthday early in 2020 will make be closer to seventy than sixty five. Im getting up there in age. But I don’t feel like I’m nearing “old age”.
Especially now that I’m in retirement, where I have more unstructured time, I go about my day differently than when I worked five days a week, commuted 45 minutes or more each way. Come home. See my family. Eat dinner. Make my lunch. Put out my clothes. Set up my coffee the night before. Brush my teeth. Go to sleep. Jump out of bed by 6:30am, and take on the world again.
I don’t jump out of bed at 6:30am anymore. I go to sleep later (than when I was working) and get up later but rarely set my alarm. First I meditate, read some literature and try to take it easy, even when I have “must do” tasks and responsibilities to pursue.
“Have a good one!”
French writer and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir wrote in “The Coming of Age” that the greatest pursuits to follow as we age, to give meaning to our lives, is to focus on “devotion to individuals, to groups, or to causes – social, political, intellectual or creative work”. I heartedly agree! Without the structure of 9 to 5 work, I still have needs for community, perhaps even more so. I’ve joined a few organizations that “do good”, and continue to pen “off the hook” to organize my awarenesses of my new life as much as for sharing with others. That alone is not sufficient, so I’ve joined the cause of climate activism, learning about the calamity upon us, and speaking of it with others. I’ve lowered my carbon footprint and need to do much, much more, as it is the greatest cause of all.
“Have a good one!”
There’s time for pastimes too despite the existential threats. I’m watching “The Crown” and other shows on Netflix like “Atypical”. Not just the serious dramas like “The Crown” but light-hearted comedies too, ones that have little redeeming value. I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child, and I really enjoy these and many other shows.
A good one is many things.
I don’t consider myself old or elderly, though I think I no longer can be considered middle-aged. It does take effort at trying to stay young, as author Arthur Krystal contends in “A Critic at Large: Old News” in a recent November issue of The New Yorker. I find that I spend more time in maintenance mode now taking care of myself, than when I was younger, …. but I don’t want it to take up too much of my time, because I want to do more living, more doing, more introspection too. I want to try new things and not be afraid of trying them.
Krystal says: “ A contended old age probably depends on what we were like before we became old …. if my children are grown and happy, if my grandchildren light up when they see me, if I’m healthy and financially secure, if I’m reasonably satisfied with what I’ve accomplished, if I feel more comfortable now that I no longer have to prove myself – why, then, the loss of youth is a fair trade-off”. I would add that old age is a matter of fundamentally attitude too. It’s an “inside job”, and not entirely related to how our offspring turn out or one’s stock certificates and bond funds.
I hope that old age will not be a life of infirmary or pain and suffering, though nobody gets out of this world alive. Pain and suffering are inescapable, but that alone is not the whole picture. Pain does not last forever. No problem lasts forever. And difficult situations often bring out qualities in us that that otherwise might not surface. That result might constitute “a good one”. All experiences help us grow, and this a blessing.
I can willfully do things to live as well as I can: be proactive, educate myself about my ailments and seek out medical attention as necessary. I can take it easy and also learn how to self-advocate, and be an informed consumer, citizen, client and friend. I’m fortunate to have doctors I trust and have excellent relationships with them. Part of having “ a good one” is going to the gym, eating more plant-based foods, and having the right attitude. I set goals for myself and try to meet them. I help others meet their goals too with my research skills. I believe all these things give meaning to one’s life regardless of what happened before one reached old age. Or call it retirement.
The actor Henry Winkler, a contestant in NPR’s game show “ Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, says he wakes up fresh and lives each day with gratitude and tenacity. I would add humility and focusing on oneself, seeking to expand one’s awareness, and making peace with one’s life, one day at a time, or making efforts to make it a little better, also one day at a time.
“Have a good one!”
Author Krystal says perhaps the most profound thought of all: “the goal, you could say, is to live long enough to think: I’ve lived long enough”. When that happens, it’s a good time to die.
I feel I’m not there yet. I have some more living to do first or at least I hope so.