Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Paying Paul

The well – known mystic G.I. Gurdjieff once led a spiritual community in France. Almost all of those  living there got on well together but there was one old man who was just impossible. He was easily irritated, picked fights with everyone and refused to help clean up or do any chores. Finally, after many frustrating months of trying to stay with  the group the old man decided to leave on his own and set off for Paris. The other community members were overjoyed. Not so Gurdjieff, who followed him and tried to convince him to return. The old man refused at first but finally agreed when Gudjieff offered him a very large monthly stipend. When Gurdjieff returned with the man in tow, everyone was aghast. And when they heard that the man was being paid, (at a time when they themselves were paying to live there), they were furious. They went to Gurdjieff en masse and demanded an explanation. Gurdjieff listened to their complaints , laughed and explained, ” This man is like yeast for bread. Without him living here, you would never really learn about anger, irritability, patience and compassion. That is why you pay me, and why I hire him.”

In the Active Adult community that I live in, there is a ping pong club of which I am an enthusiastic member. It’s a great bunch of fellows except for one sore-head,” Paul”. None of the others gets along with him. Paul is past 85, has been playing for over 50 years and still plays fairly well. He persists in trying to ‘coach’ others, even though they don’t want his advice. He also yells at others, accusing them of damaging the ping pong table or of coming close to injuring him with their swinging paddles, and cracks the same stupid ‘ jokes’ over and over again. In short, he is a pain in the you-know-what. We have lost at least ten potential members who were turned off by his antics.

The other day, Paul was absent and I was talking to some of my buddies at the club. I told them the story about Gurdjieff and posed the question, ” Should we be paying Paul?”

The answer was unanimous. ” Yes… to stay away and leave us in peace!”

Read Full Post »

My wife and I had a great Thanksgiving, a family re-union in Los Angeles which was attended by all her siblings ( three sisters and a brother) and their children. It was also an occasion to celebrate the marriage of our nephew, Ron. He had gotten married earlier in a civil ceremony and this was an opportunity to get to know his wife and witness the solemnization of their bond. The ceremonies were to take place at the beautiful house of a family  friend and they were to be held outdoors to take advantage of the sunny California weather .You can guess what happened. It almost NEVER rains in Los Angeles but… two days before the event the weatherman predicted an 80% chance of rain. A mad scramble ensued and somehow our hosts managed to get a tent erected in their backyard along with the requisite space heaters. They must have breathed a huge sigh of relief but it was a little premature…

The outdoor heaters kicked on and off because the circuits were overloaded and the ground turned marshy because of all the rain. Also, the dining tables within the tent were so closely packed that it was difficult to move about or to replenish your plate.

Luckily, the rain held off during the actual ceremony and a good time was held by all, not least the wedding couple who were untroubled by the inclement weather and the attendant problems. They whole-heartedly enjoyed every  bit  of the ceremony and, thanks to their equanimity and good nature, so did we all.

I should not have been surprised at their sunny demeanor…

At a pre-wedding party the previous day, Ron and his wife had given each of the attending families a gift bag containing  some of the things that brought them happiness and comfort: a favorite video ( upbeat, of course), a bar of chocolate, a card game, bags of  spicy, salty crunchy snacks, a bag of rice ( to heat in the microwave and use as a heating pad) and sundry other goodies. All very, very nice but most importantly they came in a bag bearing the words” Everything is as it should be“. These are the words Ron and his wife try to live by, the words that enabled them to have a good time that rainy evening when others might have been in a sulk.

Everything is as it should be“. What a wonderful thought! At first, it might seem the same as ” Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be” or ” It is what it is.” To my mind, it’s similar but not exactly the same. Where the other two have an element of fatalism, of bearing up under difficult circumstances, this is more positive. It carries a sense of ” God’s is in His heaven and all’s right with the world” and is something to bear in mind, good times and bad.

It is a mantra for living.



Read Full Post »

When we are very young, all our thoughts are about the present and the very near future. “When can I go out to play? What will we have for dinner? Will I be able to go to the movies this weekend?” As we grow into adulthood, our thoughts are still focused on the present and the future, though they are more long term. “Where will I go to college? Whom will I marry? My career? Where will I live?” In all this time, there is little thought of the past.

When we are working and raising a family, there is not enough time to think of anything but  the present. Juggling the demands of job, home, children, commuting, and money, we are just too caught up with getting through the next day, the next crisis. If we think at all about the past, it is to think how much easier life was ” back then”.

It is only after the halfway stage of life, when the past is longer than the future, that we begin to think more and more about the past. Some call this “nostalgia” which the dictionary defines as “ a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”  A good definition, but what exactly is it that we long for?

It seems to me there are several components to this desire and they can be characterized as follows: ( Note that these are not arranged in any particular order. They vary from person to person and from time to time)

1.A yearning for a simpler time. No one can deny that the present provides more material gratifications … but it is also much more complicated. Our role in the order of things seems much diminished. To some extent, it may be that when we were young, our personal world was more circumscribed and this led to a feeling of security.

2. The way we were. It is a feeling that hits us particularly when we look at old photographs or videos. Did I ever really look  that young ? Did I really have that much hair?Was I really so slim?  The feeling also hits us when we see others doing what we once could do, but no longer can. Playing tennis for two hours without stopping. Eating and drinking whatever we want. Returning on an intercontinental flight late on Sunday evening, going to work the next morning and putting in a full days work. Sometimes, particularly among those who defined themselves by their jobs, by what they did, there is a wish for the days when they still felt relevant.

I remember a visit to  the military academy at West Point many years ago when I was not yet forty. A pack of cadets was running laps around the track and as I saw their lean yet  muscled hard bodies and I thought what it must be like to be so young and fit. I said it out aloud without conscious thought and my mother, then in her sixties, mused” If that is what you feel, imagine what I must feel like.”

3. Times when we were happy and carefree. Summer vacations. Playing with my cousins till dark. Picking out books at the school library. Coming home in the rain and getting soaked. Railway journeys with my parents. Those were happy times or were they? The mind remembers only the good things, the happy times in the past, and it chooses to forget unhappy events. No matter. What is real now are our memories; they are all that count.

4. Places where we were happy. I often think of my grandfather’s house. Constructed of reddish laterite blocks, the expansive verandah rubbed smooth and oh so cool even in the heat of summer, set in a garden with fruit trees: mango ( 17 0f them, all different strains), jackfruit,  almond , breadfruit,  cherry ,  sapota and many , many coconut palms. I loved everything about it.The upstairs room wherever no one ever went except myself and where I found a treasure trove of old bound copies of Readers Digests from the forties ; the sand pit; lying on the cool stone of the verandah listening to the patter of the summer rain on the Mangalore tiles and watching it drip from the eaves onto the crotons and form little puddles. The last time I visited , in 1997, there was no trace of my grandfather’s house… it had been demolished by developers and in its place were multi-story apartment buildings. Inevitable, I suppose, but wrenching .

5. People we used to know and whom we miss. Not just those who have passed on but those who have moved away and out of our lives. School mates, college mates, colleagues and old friends. Even those whom we still meet  fairly regularly are different. They have changed and so have we; there is less in common now.

It helps to accept that change is constant, that we cannot live in the past. With this understanding, the past can be a source of pleasure rather than melancholy as we relive the happy times. And, of course, we have to focus on the present and  build up a store of happy memories because they are what will sustain us in the future. Today’s happenings can be a source of our future nostalgia.


Read Full Post »

Several religions ascribe souls to all living things, not just humans but animals and plants as well. Shintoism ,the ethnic religion of Japan, believes that rocks, trees and places possess kami (spirit, essence), which I take to mean they have a soul. It is a view I somewhat empathize with. After all. who has not felt in awe looking at a majestic redwood tree or a towering sequoia or a spreading banyan tree? Or a magnificent monolith such as the colossal Ayers Rock in Alice Springs ( Australia)? I am not sure that is the same as thinking these things have a soul, but they definitely seem to have something above and beyond their physical reality.

I was taken aback, however, to read in a book* by Marie Mutsuki Mockett that some Japanese used to believe that even man-made objects such as chairs or tables acquired a soul if they had been around for a hundred years! Consequently, people often disposed of things that turned ninety-nine to avoid having to deal with them after they got a soul. This created a new problem because the discarded objects, indignant at having been deprived of their chance to get a soul, often became malignant spirits thirsting for revenge on their former owners. What a predicament! ( LOL). The author’s mother explained that this belief should not be taken too literally. The real message was that one should take care of things like umbrellas with respect because even an inanimate object deserves to be treated with dignity and that how you care for objects is an indicator of how you care for the people in your life. That I can understand.

I don’t for a minute think that man-made objects can acquire a soul but I started wondering about things I had that were a hundred years old or more. There are only two. One is a falling apart copy of The Parent’s Assistant by Maria Edgeworth. It is a book of moral tales intended teach young children the virtues of thrift, hard work, modesty etc. It used to belong to my maternal grandmother and dates back to the 19th century; I loved to read it as a kid. The other item is a gold medal that my paternal grandfather earned for standing first statewide in his medical exams. It is safely stowed away in a satin pouch. If it has a soul, it won’t be mad at me because it is as comfortable as can be. The book is another matter. It is shut away with other books in a cardboard box in the attic and is probably furious at me.

Old things may not have a soul but we treasure them for other reasons, usually for their connections with the people they used to belong to. In my case, these are usually books. For instance, there is a book of poetry that my mother studied in her college days, the flyleaf of which is inscribed in her bold hand with her (maiden) name. There are three bound volumes of recipes, dating back to the early seventies, from the long defunct Illustrated weekly of India which my parents lovingly collected and gave me when I first came to the U.S. I don’t often cook from those recipes( almost never, in fact) but I will always treasure those books. Then there is the copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables which my wife was awarded for being the best student in her class, circa 1967. And my son’s second grade essay on George Burns from 25 years ago, complete with his depiction of a smoking cigar, which earned him a ” Great job!” from Mrs. Reid.

All these things, except the gold medal, have no intrinsic value and do not mean anything except to me. The gold medal I will pass on to my son but the rest will be consigned to the trash by someone one day and that is the way it should be. They have been treasured in their time and that time is over.

* Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye. Marie Mutsuki Mockett. ( Norton 2015)

Read Full Post »

When print newspapers were still popular and I used to get one, sometimes two, daily I often read the obituaries. Not all of them, and not every day. Just once in a while. Before you think  me ghoulish, let me tell you my reasons.

Many of us read biographies of famous people to learn how they got to be successful and , perhaps, to use those lessons in our own lives. All very well, particularly when one is young and still making one’s way in the world. However, if one is looking for life lessons, or lessons on living a happy life, reading obituaries makes more sense. Not those of famous people , like the ones you read in the New York Times, but those in the smaller newspapers which are those of ordinary people like you and me. Their stories are more relevant and they have a lot to teach us.
Most of the obituaries deal with mundane details – age, career highlights, place of birth and death, survivors etc. but one or two get into the details of a life well lived. I remember one for instance about ” Jack”, who retired at 65 and spent the better part of the next two decades learning new things. He read voraciously, mostly books on history and other cultures, learned Spanish and French and taught himself to play the piano. Isn’t that a great retirement and an example to emulate?

The last page of The Economist magazine is devoted to a single obituary, usually of a person who never achieved fame though he did something notable. A recent obituary was that of Nicholas Winton, a seemingly unremarkable man, a stockbroker by profession who, before the Nazis overran Czechoslovakia in 1938, rescued almost 700 children and found them homes in England. He did this single-handed, without  any help from the British government and he did it because he felt it was the right thing to do. Doggedly, he got the entry permits, forged them himself if necessary, brought the children over and found them good homes. He never thought of himself as a hero and his story only came to light half a century later. In 1988, he was the subject of an episode of the British TV show ” That’s Life”. At one point in the show, the entire audience got to its feet and applauded him – every one of them was a child he had saved, now grown up.  And this man, who had never been one to show his feelings, wept with long-suppressed joy. What a moment it must have been ! Sir Nicholas Winton passed away last month, aged 105.

I was reminded about my penchant for reading obituaries when I came across a slim book ” Find the Good” by Heather Lende. It’s a wonderful book. Lende is an obituary writer for a small newspaper in Alaska and in the book she describes how she interviews surviving friends and relatives to find out about the life of the deceased. ( Hence the title of the book). One of the people she wrote about was Hilma, one of thirteen children born to a poor farmer family, As a young woman, Hilma worked as a cook and housekeeper in the Swedish Embassy in Washington D.C. There, she met a group of World War II veterans who had purchased an army base outside of the tiny town of Haines, Alaska. Seizing the opportunity, Hilma and her husband Clarence relocated there and set up the Halsingland Hotel ( named for her home province in Sweden). Running a hotel is hard work but Hilma and Clarence thrived on it. Clarence was disabled, so Hilma shouldered most of the burden. Everything she did , she did well. During the tourist season, Clarence and she worked around the clock, seven days a week to keep up with the busloads of tourists that passed through. The rooms were spotlessly clean, the floors were sparkling, the flowers at the hotel entrance thrived under her care and her cooking was sublime. She picked the berries for her home-made jam and baked the hotel’s breakfast biscuits herself. When the tour buses pulled in at dinnertime, she would make the guests, often sixty or more, a buffet style dinner; they’d spend the night at the hotel and next morning she’d give them a fine breakfast before they left for their cruise ship. Immediately the guests left, it was time to strip the beds and begin all over again. Hilma and Clarence themselves lived a spartan life, sharing a tiny room just off the kitchen.
It was a hard life but Hilma had her moments of fun. After working a full day, she would sometimes ski expertly across the town in the moonlight for fun, and exercise too. Sometimes too, in the mornings, she would zoom down the hill on her Swedish bobsled to run errands.
But was there more to Hilma’s life than just hard work and success? Did she know contentment? This little story will answer that question.
Sometimes, when the hotel was not full, Hilma and Clarence would leave their cramped little room and check into the best room available. There Hilma would have a long luxurious soak in the claw footed tub and they would collapse on the sundried sheets for a night of deep dreamless sleep.
By the time, Hilma passed away at age 98, she had outlived two husbands, owned and operated the Halsingland for thirty years and managed the adjacent Port Chilkoot Camper Ground and Laundromat for twenty years more.
Hers was a life well lived, wouldn’t you agree?

Read Full Post »

Poem By a Retired CEO ( circa 1975)

Our names are as they were.
We look the same.
Our wives are just as kind.
In fact, more thoughtful.
But we don’t feel the same, not quite.
The young men do not stand; we never felt they should.
Our old friends smile, but turn a moment sooner to the younger man.
And that is fair.
We’re just as good friends as we were, but not quite so important any more.
Not so important. No.
But wiser?

This poignant poem reminded me of an incident from over fifty years ago. A couple of years after I’d left high school, I visited an old school friend at his home. I rang the door bell and his father opened the door. This was a man whom I had been in awe of. I had usually seen him on his way to office, immaculately dressed, hair neatly combed, a serious look on his stern, bespectacled visage. The man who opened the door looked quite different. He had retired since the last time I’d seen him. He was clad in pajama bottoms and a rumpled shirt and in his hand was clutched the morning newspaper. He seemed somehow diminished, shrunken, a shell of his former self. The thought flashed through my mind, “This is what retirement does to a person.”

Retirement is particularly hard on those who have lived only to work, those for whom the job is their life. They work hard, they climb up the corporate ladder and, suddenly one day, the ride is over as the poem above articulates so well. Having given their all to their careers, there has been no time to cultivate hobbies or friends. The drastic changes that retirement brings are even more acutely felt in India where the distance between boss and employee is much greater, and where the loss of company perks results in a drastic change in lifestyle. Without the rituals of the office, there is nothing to do; the days stretch out into the distance, an endless succession of empty hours waiting to be filled … how? No wonder that, in the old days, retirement was often short. People lived only a few years, sometimes only a few months before they cashed in their chips.

This was the way it was. Things have changed.

For one thing, the days are long gone when you took a job with a company and stayed with it until you retired thirty five or forty years later. In these days of globalization, outsourcing and “lean” staffing, companies are not loyal to workers and vice versa. Everything is temporary and both sides are looking out for themselves. This has its negatives but it has also resulted in workers attempting to strike a better work-life balance , when they can. As one of my good friends is fond of saying” Your job is not your life”. Young people today are aware of this truism and I see this in the way they plan their lives.

They are aware that retirement today is likely to be much longer than in the old days. One reason is that, unfortunately, it can come much earlier than expected because of downsizing, outsourcing and mergers. Another reason is that people are living much longer than they used to, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. Consequently, people are thinking more about retirement than they used to.

They think about what they want to really, really do and sometimes, when they can, they go for it. Many are the stories about people who kicked over the traces, and quit their jobs to pursue their dreams. One of those is a good friend of mine who quit a well paying job in finance to open a Kashmiri restaurant. As a young student in Britain, he had run a successful catering business and loved it. In the years since, his only cooking forays were when he cooked delicious meals for his friends, including me. However, the siren song of starting a restaurant was too much. His son having graduated, his family responsibilities lightened, he took the big step, taking early retirement and starting a restaurant. It cannot have been easy. Restaurant startups are usually attempted by younger people, people in their twenties and thirties; my friend was in his mid-fifties. With guts and hard work, he has done it. The restaurant will celebrate its first anniversary in August, things are looking good, business is improving and my friend is having a ball in his ” retirement”. Good for him.

Even those who do not want to strike out on their own can plan for a happier retirement, and often do. One of my bosses did not have any interests outside of his job and his National Guard service, which together kept him totally occupied. A year before he retired, he asked himself what he would like to do in retirement and took adult education classes in Photography, Computers and Military History. Now retired for over twenty years, he is happy as a clam. He takes lots of photographs, reads voraciously about Military History and uses his computer skills as president of his retirement community association in Florida.

Yes, the new retirement is very different from the old.

P.S Of course, all this pre-supposes that one is well off financially and health-wise, something that unfortunately is harder these days than it used to be.

(The poem at the beginning of this post was taken from American Dreams Lost and Found, by Studs Terkel ( 1980).

Read Full Post »

Most parents, especially those who have emigrated from another country, want their children to do better than themselves. To that end, they will make sacrifices to ensure that that their children get an education and are spared the difficulties that they themselves have gone through. A great example is that of the Jews who emigrated to America in large numbers at the beginning of the twentieth century. Malcolm Gladwell has written about them in one of his books; I think it was in Outliers. The first generation was desperately poor and eked out a precarious living, often as pushcart peddlers. Their children had it a little better and had their own little shops. The third generation ( the grandchildren) owned department stores and were beginning to make their mark in the white -collar professions. The fourth generation ( the great grandchildren) became doctors, lawyers, CPAs and CEOs. This upward trajectory, with each generation doing better than the last, was a result of a steely determination and a recognition of the importance of education. I thought that this was typical of the immigrant experience of all those who came to America but it wasn’t so.

Maria Laurino details how different was the Italian American experience was in her book ” The Italian Americans: A history”. The Italians who emigrated to the east coast of the U.S ( about the same time as the Jews did) were almost all from Sicily and the impoverished south of Italy. They had been  contadini,  landless agricultural laborers toiling for the  owners of the large estates or latifundia. Lured to America by the promise of a better life, they were mercilessly exploited by employers and had to  work at the hardest , most dangerous jobs for a pittance. Almost ninety percent of them were uneducated. They did not see the value of an education and resented the compulsory education laws in America. They wanted , they needed, their children to work as soon as possible because the little they themselves earned was barely enough to put food on the table. At the American Woolen Company factory in Lawrence, Mass. , workers were paid just 16 cents an hour and many families survived on bread and molasses.  As Laurino writes “… ( they) were perplexed as to why parents had to do backbreaking work while the children were being” idle” in school. They had been raised with maxims like this one from Basilicata…. ” Stupid and contemptible is he who makes his children better than himself.” Harsh words but completely understandable when one puts them in context.

As a result of such attitudes, many Italian- Americans were deprived of the opportunities linked to education and took longer to rise to prominence.

Read Full Post »

We have begun playing at a contract bridge club in Bridgewater and I am once again struck by the number of players in their late seventies and eighties. It was the same at the Scotch Plains bridge club where we used to play previously. There, two players were in their nineties and one of them even filled in as the director. In a larger context, it is true that bridge is not growing in popularity among the young but it also leads me to wonder if there is a connection between bridge and longevity. I think there is.
In our senior years, two of our biggest enemies are boredom and isolation. As we age, many of the recreational sports that we used to indulge in are no longer possible. With retirement, many of office friends fall off and it takes time and effort to develop new ones. It is difficult to find like-minded companions who live reasonably close by and have time for you. To maintain a lasting relationship, you need to have things in common and one of the best is contract bridge. Golf is good too, and I do know some golfers in their seventies, even one in his eighties, but they are exceptions. Not many people continue to play golf in their seventies. Besides, golf is expensive and does not suit most pockets. That is not the case with contract bridge.

Bridge can be played at home with friends or on-line. Online bridge is great , particularly for those who are home bound or otherwise restricted. They can play with people from all over the world or, if they wish, co-ordinate with their friends so that they can play at the same table. By playing online, they can even make lasting friendships with people from different countries. But, as good as the online experience is, it does offer the same warmth of human contact that live play does.

Social bridge played at home with friends is fine but duplicate bridge has the advantage of eliminating the element of luck. Since everybody is playing the same deals, you don’t care if you have a bad run of cards. Playing duplicate at home is good but playing it in a bridge club is better. There is an added competitiveness in club play which causes players to concentrate more and gets their juices flowing. The mental demands of bridge keep the mind sharp, something I have noticed in the eighty and ninety year old players we have encountered. Playing in bridge clubs also allows one to make lasting friends. Some of the pairs we know have been playing together for twenty years or more. Many of them play four or five times a week in different clubs sometimes and compete in sectional or regional tournaments where they can accumulate master points towards becoming Life Masters. One 89-year-old I know has a set regimen : In the mornings he works out at the gym, in the afternoons he plays duplicate bridge at the club and in the evenings he goes out to dinner with a lady friend, not always the same one. The guy is sharp as a tack and going up against him at the bridge table is a challenge.

Competition, mental workouts, social contacts , all of them important for those in their senior years. Is it any wonder that so many of them are active in bridge ? Is it perhaps what keeps them young?

Note to myself: Must play more bridge.

Read Full Post »

“How long do you want to live?”
The answer , most people will say, is easy.
As long as we still have responsibilities to fulfill, are not a burden on others and are in good health.”
However, when the question posed is ” To what age do you want to live?” the answer doesn’t come as easily. It is very difficult to put a number to the life span we desire. The young may be quick to answer this question because 65 or 70 or 75 seems so far away when one is just twenty-five or thirty but, when the deadline approaches, it seems to come all too soon. At that point, the usual reaction is to want to extend it. ” I’m feeling fine. Another three years is reasonable… maybe even another five… or ten”. It is rare to find a mature person of middle age who says that he wants to live to a certain age and no more.

One such person is Ezekiel J. Emanuel a physician, bio-ethicist and author of ten books who currently is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School of Business. He comes from a distinguished family. His younger brothers are Rahm Emanuel , Mayor of Chicago and formerly President Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, and Ari Emanuel, a Hollywood talent agent.

In an article in the October 2014 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Dr. Emanuel, age 57, states that he wants to live to the age of 75.A photo accompanying the article shows him whipcord lean and obviously in great shape. He writes that he is very healthy, with no chronic illnesses, and that he has just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with two of his nephews. He then goes onto justify ” Why I Hope To Die At 75″. His main points are:
1. While life expectancy has increased drastically, from 59.7 in 1930 to about 78 today, most of the increase has been achieved by extending the lives of those over 60. In effect, old age is being stretched out and most of our “extra” years are spent in a state of decline. As one researcher put it, improved healthcare has slowed the aging process not so much as it has lengthened the dying process.
2. Human productivity peaks at around age 40 and declines steadily afterwards. This is a statistical truth and, as much as we may want to believe that we are among the outliers, it will almost certainly be true of us also. Our later years will be a waste in respect to our contributions to society.
3.By continuing to hang on to life , we place great burdens on our children and inhibit their growth. We also degrade their memories of us. Do we want to be remembered as active, engaged, vigorous elders or as sluggish, forgetful and repetitive?
4.By setting a definite date for the end our lives, we can make the most of our time on earth. Specificity forces us to think about what we want to accomplish, about what is really important and what we want to leave as our legacy.

Once he reaches 75, Dr.Emanuel intends to stop all except palliative care. In fact, he writes that will refuse colonoscopies and cancer screening tests even earlier. He also feels that biomedical medical research should focus on Alzheimer’s, the growing disabilities of old age and chronic conditions and not on prolonging the dying process.

Dr. Ezekiel’s excellent article is well-reasoned and logical, his conclusions impossible to refute. Based on the article, it seems very likely that he will stick to his guns, that he will not change his mind as his deadline nears. But then he is the exception, not the rule. Most of us lesser beings, the vast majority of humans, cannot think of our approaching dissolution with such equanimity. When I was young, my mother told me of a distant relative, an elderly gentleman who lived with his son and daughter-in-law. He was an expert amateur astrologer and had accurately determined the hour of his death. That morning, he asked his daughter-in-law to phone her husband at work and tell him to return home immediately. He would not give her a reason but something in his earnestness led her to do as he asked. He also requested her to make him a strong cup of coffee and as she complied, he had a shower and dressed himself in his best clothes. She took the coffee to him in his bedroom only to find him lying peacefully in bed, his soul already having departed. They did not even have to prepare the body for the cremation. Few of us have such strength of mind.

Unlike Dr. Emanuel, most of us want to hang in there and enjoy ourselves as much as we can. Yes, we want to be useful, to be contributing members of society, to justify our existence, but we also want to keep on living even when we are not. We do not ask “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.” Unless we are in great pain, we want to cling to life as long as we can. I am reminded of the story of a man being chased a fierce tiger. In his panic, he falls off a cliff but manages to grab on to a bush . He looks down and sees that he is suspended over a river in the middle of which is a crocodile, waiting with jaws wide open. Then his dire situation becomes worse. He feels the bush beginning to give way. As he looks about frantically, he sees a raspberry plant in a fissure on the cliff. It has one ripe red raspberry growing on it and, as he feels himself beginning to fall into the jaws of the crocodile, he makes a last desperate lunge for the raspberry. This story perfectly illustrates the human predicament.

Intellectually I, and most people , may be in full agreement with Dr. Emanuel but, in practice, it is very difficult to follow his path. The experiences of family members stuck in nursing homes have made it abundantly clear that prolonging life with heroic measures is not worth it but, faced with such a choice ourselves, will we have the courage to do any differently.

Asked” To what age do you want to live?” most seniors will probably respond ” Five years more”, an answer that they will repeat next year… and the year after that.. and…

Read Full Post »

Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne of England in June 1953 when she was 27. She is now 87, has reigned over the U.K for sixty years and shows no signs of relinquishing the throne. Is this really fair the heir-apparent, Prince Charles? At 65, an age at which most people retire, he is still waiting for his mother to step down. The Windsors, especially the women, have enjoyed long lives. Charles’ great grandmother Queen Mary lived into her eighties and his grandmother, the Queen Mother, recently passed away at the age of 101. How long will Charles await his turn? How old will he be then? How many years will he have as King of England? Perhaps his mother should consider these questions and step down gracefully instead of hanging on .. and on .. and on. The only reason for her to continue on the throne is to try and become England’s longest reigning monarch. At present she is in third place , behind Queen Victoria ( 63 years) and Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I ( 64 years).
The British monarch is only a ceremonial head of state and whether the Queen abdicates in favor of her son or continues to soldier on does not matter so much. The monarch of Spain, King Juan Carlos, is another matter entirely. He ascended to the throne in 1975, two moths after the demise of Generalissimo Franco, Spain’s long time dictator. For most of his reign , he has been an exemplary ruler, rewriting the Spanish constitution to make it more democratic and fending off a military coup in 1981. He has ruled with firmness and wisdom and was loved by his subjects. ( BTW ,I love his telling Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez ” Why don’t you shut up? ” during a summit meeting in 2007). Lately, however , the King seems to have lost his touch. Last year, he was on a luxury elephant hunting safari in Africa when he broke his hip and had to be flown back home to be operated on. Very poor form for a man who was head of the Spanish chapter of the World Wild life Fund; he was promptly fired from that post. Rumors also linked him to a German businesswoman, 48-year-old Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein who had accompanied him on the African safari. His personal peccadilloes aside, his health is a major concern. In the last two years, King Juan Carlos has had to undergo numerous operations, is in pain from a herniated disc and walks with a cane. His health problems and his long recuperation from his multiple operations call into question his fitness to govern. No wonder that, with Spain in the midst of a financial crisis, 62% of the respondents in a recent poll indicated that they want to see him resign. It would make sense particularly since his son , Crown Prince Felipe ( 45) seems to be a worthy successor. The King , however, has other ideas and assured his subjects that he would continue in office and dedicate himself to doing his best by them and the country. Not the news they wanted to hear !!

I did not much care for Pope Benedict XVI whose outlook I thought was too conservative and behind the times. I applaud however the way in which he resigned. He was 78 when he became Pope and, after eight years as the Vicar of Christ, he decided to step down in 2005 stating that old age, and physical and mental weakness made it difficult for him adequately discharge his duties. It was a laudable decision ,( particularly since his successor, Pope Francis, is a breath of fresh air). How different Pope Benedict was from his successor Pope John Paul who carried on to the bitter end even when he was clearly ineffective because of his physical ailments.

Queen Elizabeth. King Juan Carlos. The Pope. Their actions do not much affect us. Those of U.S Supreme Court judges do. Once appointed to the Supreme Court, judges serve as long as they please, routinely working into their late seventies and eighties. Many of them do so not because of the prestige or for personal aggrandizement, but for ideological reasons. They hang in there waiting for a change in the Presidency so that whoever is appointed to replace them will be of a similar bent. In the process, they continue to occupy the bench even when they are in declining health. I also question whether someone that old , even if in apparent good health, is mentally as sharp as was in his earlier years. In all other professions the retirement age for employees, while somewhat elastic, is pegged at 65. Why should it be different for judges? BTW, judges are supposed to rule base their rulings on the merits of the case, irrespective of their personal leanings. Politics should not enter into their deliberations and voting. It has been increasingly apparent that this is not the case and that too often their political views color their voting.

Setting a fixed retirement age ( say 70 or 75) is not a solution since Presidents would try to pack the court with younger and younger judges who could influence the decisions of the Supreme Court for a long, long time. The only solution is to appoint judges to the Supreme Court for a single term , say 6 years. Not a perfect solution since politicians will try to find ways to get around the rule but at least it’s better than the situation we have now.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Mr. & Mrs. 55 - Classic Bollywood Revisited!

Two Harvard students relive the magic and music of old Bollywood cinema

Golden Ripples

About Food, Travel, Sports , Books and other fun things

47 Japanese Farms: Japan Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities -- 47日本の農園

A journey through 47 prefectures to capture the stories of Japan's farmers and rural communities


WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

%d bloggers like this: