Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The view from 58

I turned 58 today. I distinctly remember my fourth birthday party, at my paternal grandmother's house at 1243 Azalia St. in South Memphis.

As I commented to one of my cousins, I am the age my maternal grandfather was when I was 12, in 1964. He always seemed "old" and "dignified" to me; I have to wonder now if he too thought of himself as basically the same person as the boy had had once been, only with gray hair and not-quite-so-good eyesight.

In another month, I plan to drive to New Jersey for my 40th-anniversary high school reunion. I hope to tour Gettysburg where, as I hear, you can hire a private guide for a couple of hours, and I expect to definitely pick his brains!

The same grandfather I mentioned related to me how, though he didn't remember the man's name, he once sat as a child in his one-room rural school house in West Virginia as the children were addressed by the elderly John McCausland Jr., brigadier of the Confederacy, the last Confederate general to die, which he did on his farm near Point Pleasant, in 1927. McCausland had burned the town of Chambersburg, PA in retaliation for Union depredations in the Shenandoah and, so my granfather told me, spent the rest of his life unwilling to have his back to a window, for fear of a revenging gunshot.

Here is one of my favorite quotes, from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, even though I've never really lived up to it:

From Maximus I learned self-government, and not to be led aside by anything; and cheerfulness in all circumstances, as well as in illness; and a just admixture in the moral character of sweetness and dignity, and to do what was set before me without complaining. I observed that everybody believed that he thought as he spoke, and that in all that he did he never had any bad intention; and he never showed amazement and surprise, and was never in a hurry, and never put off doing a thing, nor was perplexed nor dejected, nor did he ever laugh to disguise his vexation, nor, on the other hand, was he ever passionate or suspicious. He was accustomed to do acts of beneficence, and was ready to forgive, and was free from all falsehood; and he presented the appearance of a man who could not be diverted from right, rather than of a man who had been improved. I observed, too, that no man could ever think that he was despised by Maximus, or ever venture to think himself a better man. He had also the art of being humorous in an agreeable way.

That is certainly Stoicism at its best, and if anyone ever really lived that way, he was admirable.

Here are some thoughts on life that I posted recently on an online message board:

1. Don't ever "settle" in a relationship. You may lie down by yourself at night, but you can still have your dignity and your peace of mind.

2. Sit down quietly, even for half an hour a day, and read something that has nothing to do with finding a mate, getting your next promotion, or improving your investments.

3. Get in the habit of saving, even if it's only $10 a paycheck to start. If you don't, when you reach 40, you'll wish you had.

4. As you approach the age for which Viagra was invented, remember that the most potent sex organ is the brain.

5. Exercise, even if it's nothing but a brisk, half-hour walk each day.

6. Try not to reach age 50 and have to say, as Samuel Johnson did, that he had known about as much at 18 as he knew when he reached 50.

7. At least once a month, turn off the phone, the computer, the TV, and any other electronic devices and live all day without using any of them.

8. Do the same with your car.

9. Realize that you may think you're hot stuff now, but one day, there will be people who seem to you about 15 years old, who will be sitting in business meetings with you and barely concealing the fact that they think you're an old fart.

10. If you're a parent, no matter what your kids do, you can't stop loving them. Even after they are grown and gone, you will think about them every day.

11. If you are religious, be very clear as to why you believe. Try to be sure it is your belief and not merely a legacy from your parents and grandparents that you kept following from nothing but habit.

12. If you are not religious, be very clear why you don't believe. Don't be a skeptic for no reason than that you are still mad at your Sunday school teacher of 40 years ago or from a secret fear that the Deity wouldn't approve of your private life.

13. Set some outrageous goal, like climbing Kilimanjaro at 60. Whether you realize the goal or not, the mere fact of trying seriously to make it come about may take you to interesting places.

14. If you have a remarkable ability of some kind, or a notable achievement, accept any recognition for it graciously but always be ready to give as much credit as you can to those who worked with you.

15. Don't engage in idle flattery, but try to make others feel important and appreciated, as much as you honestly can.

16. Don't tell your kids how you walked 2 miles to your violin lesson when you were their age. Even if it's true, they either won't believe you or won't find it relevant to anything they're interested in.

17. Every so often, ask yourself, if you knew you would die this week, what estimate you could make of your own life.

18. Don't give advice that you either haven't followed or wouldn't care to even now.

Another one I thought of was "From time to time, ask yourself, 'If I went missing, where would they look for me?'"

And finally (from the same message board—something I wish I'd said but didn't): "In any compromise between good and bad, bad is always the winner." How true!

© Michael Huggins, 2010. All rights reserved.

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