I think the last time I ever made a big to-do list was when I was 17 and a freshman in college. The items on my list were largely professional ambitions and within three or four months I had forgotten everything on the list. I doubt I ever accomplished any of them, as I kind of reacted my way through life. I wasn’t anything like Lou Holtz who made a very ambitious list at an early stage in his football coaching career. When he retired from his lifetime appointment as head coach at Notre Dame about 15 years ago, he claimed to have achieved all but five or six of the 107 items on the list. His list included things like being invited to the White House for dinner, winning a national championship in football and being head coach at Notre Dame. It was an impressive list and I think it was published in the Wall Street Journal. He’s gone on to write a lot of motivational books and has received many accolades as a motivational speaker. He’s even coached for two or three years since then. About the only things we have in common is that we’re both old, and we’ve been married to our wives for a long time.
No, I wasn’t much like Holtz. Looking back over my life I see that though I started off with some ambition, I wavered and changed my mind a lot. John Kerry was criticized for his votes on the latest Iraq war. He admitted that “first he voted for it before he voted against it.” They called it a flip-flop. That willingness to reexamine an issue doesn’t go over well in politics, and it probably cost him the election in 2004, when he ran against a man who bragged of never changing his mind. I guess I like John Kerry, especially after they criticized him for windsurfing. He was a very good windsurfer, and I admire that. I also admire his courage in speaking out against the Vietnam war as a highly decorated veteran.
The bucket list created by the old men in the movie didn’t really make sense to me. Why would they want to run all over the world, when they were dying and they still had important relationships that needed healing? Why not just work on their relationships and watch some great movies that could surely entertain, while they enjoyed the comforts of home?
When I read the weekly column by the Yoder family in the Springfield Republican newspaper, I see that like the previous writer of this family finance column, they like to travel a lot. They call it an investment in building memories. I think it is good to have memories, but the ones that are most important to me are of things that happened, little stories of unexpected things, that might have occurred anywhere. It’s the human interactions that I remember, the things that fill out my knowledge of people I know or have known. I’m not an artist or a very good photographer, so when I’m at a famous place, I don’t know how to remember it. I need a story line, and just describing a hotel or a dinner doesn’t do it for me. Now that I’m trying to learn how to write, I’m learning that you need some description, so that’s something I will need to add to my repertoire if I’m to make much progress. At this point I don’t feel the need to visit famous places. When I look back on where I’ve been, my best memories are of those times when I’ve kind of surprised myself, doing things that were outside my expectations, changing myself or the way I view the world.
When I was young, I liked having friends who were just like me. That’s what I liked about MIT: we were a very homogeneous lot back then, nearly all male, nearly all left brained, not very athletic, with not very good social skills, with not much interest in writing or arts, but pretty good at math. Somehow, late in my first year, I seemed to change. I looked at the other side, and by spring of sophomore year I was out and on my way to some small adventures. I went back too soon, and was back on the trail of a physics degree. I worked on missiles and briefly Apollo before going off to grad school in physics to get away from the war machine. Now I’m finding that I want to meet and know people different from me. Two weeks ago I went to a Sunday church service, one of my very few in the last 50 years. I’ve got two ministers in my family, but I’ve never heard either of them preach, although we’ve had some interesting discussions. I’m especially interested in people who write. That’s one of the things I like about Greenfield. There are so many writers in the area. I took three courses in memoir writing at GCC, and I’ve been in a writing group since then, and I go to the once a month open mic meetings at Bart’s and at Greenfield Spoken Word. Sometimes I go to Shelburne Falls, or Millers Falls, or Northampton to read. I’m developing a passion for writing.
I was inspired by a book written by Helen Hills, a woman from Warwick in Franklin county, who volunteers as a visitor to elders. She came many times to visit my mother-in-law who was often depressed. Helen always cheered her up. Helen’s in her 80s with a husband in his 90s. She wrote a book based on 15 years of volunteer work with the elderly. Her book is called “Aging Well.” It’s full of wonderful wisdom about successful aging. She provides many pages of references to professional and popular articles on the subject. She points out the benefits as well as the downside of aging. Her main advice is to have a passion. That seems the main difference between those who are happy and those who aren’t, as they age.
If you ask me what my aims are now, I could make a short list.
- Do a lot more writing. Try to make it a passion. Learn to appreciate it and work to get better. Read it, and send it out to the on-line publishers, and make more friends who are writers.
- Be nice to my family, especially my wife. I know I need a best friend. I’m probably more in love than ever before. That’s a big plus.
- Make lots of new friends in all walks of life. I need to remind myself that I don’t know it all. I’ve still got a lot to learn. That’s something to look forward to.
If it was my last year of life, I would probably do it differently. I would look up all my old friends. I would write out a message for each. I’d try to visit or have them come, one by one. I’d give each a nice gift and I’d thank them for being my friend.