By NAVEED GILANI
After graduating from college at age 20, I slogged for 45 years before getting myself a nice and comfy Lazy-boy. Now, when someone asks me what I did, I cheerfully respond with an ear-to-ear smile that whatever mundane or invigorating stuff I do, I do AT my PLEASURE, FOR my PLEASURE, and WITH my PLEASURE. This, my dears, is the truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God.
By the way, just to be sure, it wasn’t always like this till I stepped into my Lazy-boy era.
Danny, my youngest son, who embarked on his career a few years ago, is bustling with his youthful energy to take on the world as we all do at that age. I, on the other hand, am walking towards the sunset years constantly striving to contain my waning energy. Recently, when he and I were just shooting the breeze, he wanted to get some insight into what lay ahead for him and how to slay those dragons of life that are sure to appear without warning. Reminiscing the gone by sunny years I responded, “Imagine you are river rafting, it is a smooth run, you are enjoying the ride, then you suddenly see the fast-approaching rapids, you brace yourself for the turbulence, the pace picks up ferociously, the raft begins to rock violently, fear is triggered, adrenaline rushes, you paddle like hell to miss the boulders, you just want to stay afloat, you are drenched, then just when you are depleted the violence starts to recede, the river begins to flatten out, you are happy to survive through, the waves are much kinder now, you put aside the paddles and enjoy the rest of the journey”. Such is life, easy at an early age, turbulent in midlife, and hopefully mellow in senior years. How turbulent or how mellow depends on the cards you are dealt with and how you play them.
As I capture these thoughts, I am reminded of the famous conversation between Cephalus and Socrates in Plato’s Republic. This happened over 2400 years ago when Socrates asks Cephalus whether age and experience of age have taught him anything. Socrates was a young man then and Cephalus was a wealthy elderly man living in Athens. Socrates says that his conversations with the aged are useful as he can learn from them what awaits him in his old age. Cephalus informs that when old people meet, they usually talk about aches and pains and how the vigor of youth has been spent. As for wealth, Cephalus talks about how as the end-of-life approaches one starts to worry about the time after death when one might be punished for moral failings. Having wealth in age provides the liberty of doing the right things, not to cheat nor defraud others. Rich men tend to have a clearer consciousness and thus are less fearful of death.
Cephalus was right and I think so was I in my advice to Danny on the travails of life between where he is and where I am. Throughout the rapids I only had a singular objective, how to make the best of the turbulent situation, staying firmly in the raft, and ensuring that others with me for whom I was responsible do not come in harm’s way. Now they all have their own rafts except for the one I vowed to be with till death do us part. I am glad that the ones in their own rafts now, including Danny, are paddling quite well.
As Cephalus said, some of us do talk about the aches and pains in old age but with all the advances in medicine and lifestyles since his time, we don’t have as much cause to worry as he did. I stay very active and find myself unabashedly boasting about my physical pursuits to friends my age. On Cephalus’s count of wealth too, I am blessed to be ‘wealthy in age’; it is beyond material wealth; I am holistically wealthy in a bunch of ways with the clarity of consciousness and the liberty of doing the right things. It is nice!
So, I ramble on.….
Before reaching my sunset years, I too would often ask the aged what kept them busy at their age. Their answers were a smorgasbord of activities; some did nothing but chill, others turned to spirituality, some were devoting themselves to social and public service, some spent more time with their grandchildren, and yet others made vain efforts to hold on to their youth. They did all that and more but at a pace much mellower than before.
Well! Now that I am here in the mellowing age, I tell stories when I want to – sometimes the same story many times, I express my honest opinion on current affairs (for now current affairs only) and care less if people don’t look at events the same way I do, I compliment more and offer my gratitude more, I go where I want to, I read for pleasure, I take my time to read the daily paper, I enjoy my breakfast, I write when I feel like it, I choose to reach out to family and friends and appreciate the reciprocity, I consume many gigabytes of digital data, I go for walks, I cycle, I am learning to play classical flute with YouTube as my teacher, I am open to experimenting with whatever catches my fancy, and there is much more mundane stuff happening.
Over the years I have also learned that entry into every stage of this journey we call life presents a new and profound experience for us, however, informed we think we are of the oncoming turns. As I transition for the first time into these sunset years, I too am bustling like Danny but not with energy to take on the world but with an avid desire to do what I never took the time to do or had the means to do. My bucket list is long, varied, and disparate, ranging from skydiving to spending a day actively doing nothing. How much of the list I can check off before kicking off is not known but in the process, I am enjoying the liberation from the anxiety of all the ‘must-do’ stuff that I was accustomed to doing all my life. I am not running in the race anymore but surprisingly I can see the track ahead much more clearly and crisply than ever before.
I now fully and consciously understand that the nucleus of my happiness lies within me. I share this nucleus with my life partner. Our loved ones – children, grandchildren, and siblings are in close orbit along with their own orbit of loved ones. The strong emotional energy connecting the nucleus with its orbitals keeps everything in equilibrium and everyone happy.
My recent awareness of self and my place in the scheme of things has had a lowering of expectations of everything material and emotional. Yet, I am still trying to replenish myself, both physically and experientially. I do want to part with the fast-depreciating intellectual capital that I think I have accumulated from the journey hitherto. I can also pass on some visceral sense of touch and feel developed over the years that I feel can be beneficial. It is quite humbling that the takers for all that are few and those too are fast diminishing. But I am good with that because that’s the way of the world.
I acknowledge that I have had a great hand and a great run. I am therefore truly indebted to the one who dealt me this great hand and feels obligated to pay off some of the debts. Approaching my sunset years, I pondered on how to fulfill this obligation. Something socially responsible, perhaps since I had dabbled in social enterprise earlier in life also? I pondered some more. and here is the invigorating part, decided to spend some time off my remaining years for the benefit of the underprivileged children. Fortify Education Foundation (FEF) was formed thus. It is mandated to combat malnutrition by providing freshly cooked nutritious meals to children in schools. With my family and friends fully supporting we have met with great initial success. God continues to hold my hand firmly. I couldn’t have chosen a better path; it is fulfilling, it is uplifting, and it is rejuvenating – much more than I had ever expected. I highly recommend this path for all to take.
In keeping with the allegory of the river rafting, I stopped paddling a couple of years ago, now enjoying the serenity of the flow, the idyllic scenery of the shores, and the lengthening of the shadows. It is the best of times since 1955 and it is a PLEASURE.