Not so Golden Years by Phil Osophy

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Life for Crystal and me has recently been about taking care of our aging dads. Baby boomers are the current sandwich generation. We still have some responsibilities in helping our children and are also responding to the needs of our aging parents. However, as much as I hate to admit it, we are getting ever closer to the sandwich’s bottom slice of bread. Already our children are deciding who will take care of Crystal and who ‘gets stuck’ with me. As of now, Liz gets me (sorry Brad) and Lisa gets Crystal. I’ll let you know when that debate is over. Of course, you might question, as I did, why in no proposed plan were old Crystal and old Ron together during their “golden years”. I’m sure that is some kind of oversight; or maybe not?

“Golden years” might be a misnomer. What about physical/mental decline and increasing dependence, is golden? You can ask my dad, there is nothing golden about it. But maybe there is some purpose. Early in my nursing career, I was giving a bed bath to a ninety plus year old lady. She screamed and complained. She no longer understood what I was doing or why I was doing it. I felt like God gave me at least a partial answer. At our weakest moments, we are giving others a chance to serve and show love. I thought of that often as a nurse. I was proud of the opportunities I had to make lives better. I think of it now as our dads need more and more assistance.

Sometimes, however, it’s just hard. One day at a time, that’s the way to live; that’s all we can handle. But, at times, we can’t help ourselves. Have you ever been lying in bed and unable to stop the tapes in your head? We run the various scenarios over and over. The right answers elude us (by the way it’s currently 4:30 AM).  The ‘what ifs’ become dominant. What are we doing and why are we doing it? The answers become more and more difficult. Maybe Solomon had it right. Life is meaningless. Or is it? Maybe there is some ultimate purpose in life that is above and beyond what we can grasp. Surely the great philosophers must have the true answers.

I was in a philosophy class for a total of one day. I started to read the text book, got my assigned reading list, and decided, before the class ended, that there had to be a less painful alternative. This was supposed to be my fluff elective class. Reading six books dedicated to a subject I couldn’t care less about and writing papers was not achieving my purpose (fluff). I dropped the class immediately and got into a German film class. I thought we would be watching movies and talking about them. Of course, according to our instructor, you can’t ‘really’ appreciate the films unless you first read the books from which they came. Of course then you should write a paper or four papers comparing and contrasting the books and movies. I couldn’t win.

So that was that. In four plus years of college, and many more years of life, I never learned anything about philosophy. What I did learn, however, was something equally useless. I learned that, my least favorite movie of all times was the political satire Kafka (Castle) by Thomas Mann (a good German). As bad as the movie was, the book was ten times worse. It was a lot like the movie but took so, so, so much longer. But what do I know? Mr. Mann won the Nobel Prize for literature for his effort. Little did Mr. Mann know that, many years later, his works would be used to torture college students. By the way, I think I got an A in that class. I conned Crystal, whom I was dating at the time, into typing my term paper. I remember nothing, save the fact that I hated Kafka. Oh and there was also this guy named Siddhartha (book/movie by Hermann Hesse, another good German). He was a man who walked around a lot and had opinions about everything. I later found out that his other name was Gautama Buddha, and he started some religion.

Last Sunday, our pastor got my attention with his sermon entitled Transcendent Purpose. He made some fairly well reasoned arguments that Jesus was the only person to have a purpose beyond the normal human experience (transcendent), that will never be lost (because he is coming back). So that’s it for the rest of us? We live; we suffer; we die. It all seems quite futile, doesn’t it? Each day we are one day closer to Heaven. At least that’s something to look forward to. However, we still have to live each day. We still have aging parents who want answers when we are fresh out. Some of us, who are blessed with children, are asked for even more answers from them. Heaven help us, if they ever find out that, we too are just surviving, and are making this stuff up as we go along.

Maybe the only real answer is from another movie, Disney’s The Lion King. Influenced by William Shakespeare‘s Hamlet , it’s the story of betrayal, murder, and a young lion’s journey into adulthood (a great story for kids). Simba, the young lion, eventually takes his rightful place as the king of the jungle. He is told by the ghost of his father that life is a circle and he has always been destined for his position.

Simba’s travels took him many places. He made lifelong friends, found his future mate, and learned much from those around him. He helped those he could along the way. In the end, he realized that between what he had learned from his parents and life in general, he could be the good and rightful leader of his clan. He had evolved into the leader he was always destined to be. He would rule his extended pride with the love and wisdom of a truly great leader. Now, while the wisdom came from a combination of his parent’s teachings, and his life experiences, I believe that the love came through his parents and from God. I believe that is our true transcendent purpose in life, to pass on our love. Hate is everywhere. If you doubt it, watch the news sometime. We have to start somewhere. Showing more love won’t put a nickel in your pocket or change the bully at work. The only person you can really change is you. A random act of kindness here, a kind word there, a hug for your child or spouse, forgive a neighbor, tell the truth in love to that relative, and who knows what will happen. If that’s how you choose to live, you are part of the solution. If that’s how you live, your life may not have transcendent purpose; but you will have made a positive difference. Your little corner of the world will be at least slightly better for you having been there. Your influence will continue even when you are gone. That’s what I truly believe. Of course, I’ve already told you that I’m making this up as I go along.

If Descartes, Nietzsche, etc. have a better way to live please let me know. Maybe passing on love is a common theme in philosophy. I wouldn’t know. They didn’t cover it in my day of class. Sometimes I think about taking a philosophy class, but then I eat something, and the feeling goes away.

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The last time Crystal and my dad were together Christmas 2013

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