Saturday, June 16, 2012

Unwinding Your Life, or, Time is of the Essence

Once you round the corner on age 50, you should be thinking about how you plan on spending the few remaining years you have left.

I have bad news for you.  Life does not go on forever.   I know, you think you have cognitively worked this all out, and realize your own mortality is very imminent and that life here on planet Earth is but a brief breath or two, between cradle and grave.

But most of us live in constant denial about death, and how little time we actually have.  So another day goes by, and we squander it by watching television - or worse yet, funny cat videos on YouTube.

We spend the first third of our lives growing up - learning to tie our shoes and not poop our pants, memorizing the arithmetic tables and learning the difference between "you're" and "your" - or at least most of us do.

The next third of our lives, we go off to work, and make lots of money - or what we think is lots of money - and most of us spend it as fast as we make it.  Most folks spend more than they make.   We have cars and houses and our precious collectables and a ton of other junk we accumulate.   A few of us are smart enough to accumulate some money.

And then there is the last third of life - the unwinding - where your health steadily declines, your abilities, both mental and physical, start to erode, and like a ride on the roller coaster, you throw your arms up and go "Wheee!" all the way back to where you started.

Most folks don't think about this last part too much, as they would prefer to view life as one never-ending process, that is uniform from start to finish - only without the finish.   We all secretly want to believe we are the Lazarus, destined to live forever through some freak miracle of modern science.   And we can delude ourselves into believing this, in America, because we tuck away our old people into places were they are never seen, and thus can delude ourselves into thinking that age and death do not exist. 

But, alas, they do.

If you played your cards right during that second third of your life, you may be a pretty good position to contemplate that last third - and be able to live comfortably without having to work again, or at least work much.   If you blew it all on eye candy and granite counter-tops, you are still looking at the front-end of a 30-year mortgage, a mountain of credit card debt, and car payments - and a miserable old age.

And if the latter is true, I pity you, but I don't feel sorry for you.  After all, these were choices made by rational and mature adults, not rash decisions made by teenagers.   If you fucked up life, there is no "do over" and no one else to blame.  You just have to bite the bullet and live with the decisions you made.   We all do, you know.

What prompted this thought was a friend whose parents had died, a couple of years back.   They are both in their 50's and sliding down the hill toward retirement.   They have enough money to be comfortable, and have plans on what to do with the remainder of their lives.   But it has been a few years now, and these plans are on hold.  Why?  Possessions.  Material things.

The parents left them a house jammed-full of possessions, and they feel that cannot merely sell all this "stuff" off, as it was so important to the parents, than it must also be important to them.  And after two years of making tax payments and paying utility bills on an unoccupied house, they have yet to even approach dealing with the issue.  Meanwhile, their plans of world travel are on hold.   On hold because of a cardboard box of old dishes.

"But those were Mummy's dishes!" they cry, "She loved them!   And they are valuable!"

Perhaps this is so, but if you personally find them to be ugly, what is the point?   And if they are so valuable, why no sell them?   You cannot sacrifice the rest of your life to a box of dishes.  It is idiotic.

And time is of the essence.   Spending two or three years pawing through your parents' posessions and weeping profusely seems like a waste of your most valuable resource at this point - time.   When you round the corner on age 50, things are of less concern.  Things, we got.   Too many things.   Time is what is running short.   Ditch the things and enjoy the time.

In a way, I find myself in a similar situation.  We have sold off furniture, houses, cars, boats, kayaks, a Jeep, a truck, a hot tub, and a host of other "stuff" in our lives.   But I still feel hemmed in and oppressed by possessions.   We have more artwork than wall space.  We have so much blue willow china that some is packed in boxes that  have not been opened for years.   It is worth anything?  Perhaps a bit - it certainly cost something.   But the oppression of owing "things" hangs over your head like a black storm cloud.

Unwinding your life is the name of the game at this stage.   This doesn't mean being morbid or sad, but to think in more concrete and rational terms of what you would really like to do in your remaining years.   And it is interesting, when the years grow short, things that seemed so important to a 20-something or 30-something suddenly seem silly and pointless.   And a waste of precious time.

Having a cool car or trendy clothing - or the latest smart phone - are deemed so important to the youth set.   But once you have had all that, well, you realize that it isn't an end in and of itself.   And you realize that the time and effort spend accumulating "things" was time you could have owned, free and clear, for yourself, instead.

But many older folks get caught in this trap as well.   Some folks spend their declining years trying to create the perfect lawn, or the perfect house.  I know a lot of older men who fall into this category.   And while their lawns look perfect for a few short years, when they die, the house is sold to someone younger, who lets it all go back to weeds.  What was the point of all that?

And I am lucky, in a way, in that I have positioned myself to be able to think about things like this - all day long, if I want to, and not have to hustle and work for a living. Most folks are so caught up in the daily rush to make a paycheck to pay all their bills, that they rarely have time to really think about what the point of it all really is.  And I can think about unwinding my life at this point, and living with a lot less "stuff" and enjoying life, more.