In my 80s

April 20, 2019

I meet monthly with a group of about a dozen men, although the average attendance at our breakfasts is about eight, due to various responsibilities.

This morning, after a stimulating conversation about the coming crisis in rural health in America (one of the fellows is a director of a rural health program); the initiative of coal advocates to slow down the reported shift by our major utilities away from coal to solar- and wind-generated power; the support of people in early stages of dementia; the impact of new tax laws on large families; and of course the mess in Washington — after all of this we got up to say our goodbyes until the next get-together.

After talking with me, one of the guys — let’s call him Wayne — didn’t head to the door, but rather turned back to the table, saying something I didn’t catch. I supposed he wanted to use the rest room. I left the restaurant and headed to my Honda. Only then did I see what Wayne had in mind. He stayed back to help another member who moves very slowly, using a walker. It was raining; Wayne held an umbrella over the buddy with the walker as they slowly crossed the street to a car.

That’s what kind of friends I have.

In my 80s

April 18, 2019

Look deep under my finger nails and you’ll find dirt. I’m a farmer in mind and heart. Yesterday a farmer whom I met through this blog invited me to visit his farm in New Paris in northern Indiana. I shall do it, soon as I can.

Two days before that Rachel, a friendly energetic, artistic Kiwi, “nominated” me to post on Facebook ten farm/farmer photos, b/w without captions. I picked out my first five.

Now, a search through the files for another five.

In my 80s

April 16, 2019

Who influences me? Whom do I listen to? What do I watch? Whom do I read? Well, I can name one of my opinion leaders, David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times. Here is his essay published yesterday.

by David Brooks

Four years ago, in the midst of the Obama presidency, I published a book called “The Road to Character.” American culture seemed to be in decent shape and my focus was on how individuals can deepen their inner lives. This week, in the midst of the Trump presidency, I’ve got another book, “The Second Mountain.” It’s become clear in the interim that things are not in good shape, that our problems are societal. The whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis.

College mental health facilities are swamped, suicide rates are spiking, the president’s repulsive behavior is tolerated or even celebrated by tens of millions of Americans. At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies.

Here are some of them:

Career success is fulfilling. This is the lie we foist on the young. In their tender years we put the most privileged of them inside a college admissions process that puts achievement and status anxiety at the center of their lives. That begins advertising’s lifelong mantra — if you make it, life will be good.

Everybody who has actually tasted success can tell you that’s not true. I remember when the editor of my first book called to tell me it had made the best-seller list. It felt like … nothing. It was external to me.

The truth is, success spares you from the shame you might experience if you feel yourself a failure, but career success alone does not provide positive peace or fulfillment. If you build your life around it, your ambitions will always race out in front of what you’ve achieved, leaving you anxious and dissatisfied.

I can make myself happy. This is the lie of self-sufficiency. This is the lie that happiness is an individual accomplishment. If I can have just one more victory, lose 15 pounds or get better at meditation, then I will be happy.

But people looking back on their lives from their deathbeds tell us that happiness is found amid thick and loving relationships. It is found by defeating self-sufficiency for a state of mutual dependence. It is found in the giving and receiving of care.

It’s easy to say you live for relationships, but it’s very hard to do. It’s hard to see other people in all their complexity. It’s hard to communicate from your depths, not your shallows. It’s hard to stop performing! No one teaches us these skills.

Life is an individual journey. This is the lie books like Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” tell. In adulthood, each person goes on a personal trip and racks up a bunch of experiences, and whoever has the most experiences wins. This lie encourages people to believe freedom is the absence of restraint. Be unattached. Stay on the move. Keep your options open.

In reality, the people who live best tie themselves down. They don’t ask: What cool thing can I do next? They ask: What is my responsibility here? They respond to some problem or get called out of themselves by a deep love.

By planting themselves in one neighborhood, one organization or one mission, they earn trust. They have the freedom to make a lasting difference. It’s the chains we choose that set us free.

You have to find your own truth. This is the privatization of meaning. It’s not up to the schools to teach a coherent set of moral values, or a society. Everybody chooses his or her own values. Come up with your own answers to life’s ultimate questions! You do you!

The problem is that unless your name is Aristotle, you probably can’t do it. Most of us wind up with a few vague moral feelings but no moral clarity or sense of purpose.

The reality is that values are created and passed down by strong, self-confident communities and institutions. People absorb their values by submitting to communities and institutions and taking part in the conversations that take place within them. It’s a group process.

Rich and successful people are worth more than poorer and less successful people. We pretend we don’t tell this lie, but our whole meritocracy points to it. In fact, the meritocracy contains a skein of lies.

The message of the meritocracy is that you are what you accomplish. The false promise of the meritocracy is that you can earn dignity by attaching yourself to prestigious brands. The emotion of the meritocracy is conditional love — that if you perform well, people will love you.

The sociology of the meritocracy is that society is organized around a set of inner rings with the high achievers inside and everyone else further out. The anthropology of the meritocracy is that you are not a soul to be saved but a set of skills to be maximized.

No wonder it’s so hard to be a young adult today. No wonder our society is fragmenting. We’ve taken the lies of hyper-individualism and we’ve made them the unspoken assumptions that govern how we live.

We talk a lot about the political revolution we need. The cultural revolution is more important.


David Brooks has been a columnist with The Times since 2003. He is the author of “The Road to Character” and the forthcoming book, “The Second Mountain.” @nytdavidbrooks

In my 80s

April 15, 2019

Linking to yesterday’s blog that suggests why I do not live in fear despite the scary issues of our day, I must add another major factor. 

For all of my life I have lived outside of major conflicts. Instead of signing up for military training, I opted to define my conscientious objector status, and worked, instead in social and alternate services. Other major skirmishes, all over the world, did not happen in my neighborhood.

The tsunamis did their work around the Indian Ocean.

Earthquakes devastated Haiti and Guatemala and China, not northeastern US. Hurricanes have traversed these same locations.

African people know the effects of reduced rainfall, emboli and now measles.

Despots have despoiled people and their lands.

Tornadoes have come close but have not hit our house.

Domestic violence, violence against women, against gays, against Blacks, against people of other religions — all these have caused incredible suffering. 

Traffic crashes, house fires, landslides, hail storms, locust invasions — I have not experienced these.

Thus it is with no pride, no self-agrandizement, no credit to good luck or right decisions that I report my being spared each of those horrors. And I do not discredit those who, due to their proximity to threat, live in fear.

In my 80s

April 14, 2019

Yesterday I listed ten threats, scary as can be. Today the New York Times gave special attention to two of the ten. The “Week in Review” was devoted entirely to artificial intelligence, focussed on issues of privacy and freedom. The New York Times “Magazine” featured the climate issue and placed this note on the cover “Putting a price on the end of the world.”

Number 9 on my list — A difficult-to-combat virus or other kind of new illness had its place also in NYT. During the past week the “most read, shared and discussed post” was titled “A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy.”

And yet, at the end of yesterday’s blog I professed that despite these very threatening issues, I do not live in fear.

I know what it’s like to “whistle in the dark.” As a ten year old, it was sometimes my job to leave the security of the animals and warmth on the ground level of the barn, go to the second level and up a ladder into the hay or straw mow to pitch bales down through a hole into the ground level. Often this chore occurred during the darkness of early morning. The darkness concealed what?  An animal perhaps that got into the barn. A road walker (hobos we called them) might have ducked inside for the night. Yet I didn’t want to be a “fraidy cat.” I remember talking loudly when I was up in the mow, hoping my voice would frighten away any intruder. Sometimes I sang. Often I prayed. I lived in fear.

Today’s threats are far more ominous than dark barns; no human being can be faulted for talking loudly, singing or praying away their fears.

Why do I not live in fear?

—  For many people, the scariness of the times plays into a basic personality insecurity. Surely my parents and community deserve credit for rearing me to be a secure person. The barn’s trial was more than offset by the protection and confidence of family and relatives and close friends.

—  An early introduction to faith in God has served as a foundation upon which to build trust and confidence. The God of my childhood has changed significantly into something far greater with a corresponding expansion of confidence in the Ground of All Being. Meditation in this environment is renewing and abiding.

—  Fear has a way of paralyzing people. I am not inclined to shut myself in the cellar in shocked immobility. Meeting people, being available, sharing the follies and foibles of live, offering a hand, discussing critical issues, being a good citizen. These activities energize rather than enervate. 

—  On the planet today are many very intelligent people — artists and scientists, farmers and craftspeople, teachers and counselors, blue-collar and white color — smart people who shall continue to try to solve the seemingly insurmountable problems that face the planet.

—  Perchance — I hope not — but perchance the human race will undo itself into extinction. An unspeakable tragedy. But the larger verb of BEING will continue on and on. This week we saw the first photos of the “black hole” that is located 53 or 54 million light years away. You will recall that a light year defines the distance that light travels in a year — 6 trillion miles. It’s a big world and perhaps there are parallel universes. The end of this planet will not be the end. There is no end.

There is much more hidden in my subconsciousness that I haven’t yet identified. But I’ll close this blog here. You are most welcomed to write a response here or to me by e-mail:   

In my 80

April 13, 2019.

“This is a scary time.”  Why in quotes? Because I think that the fear of impending catastrophic disaster has been with the human race since its beginnings. Surely during my own lifetime there has been reason, every year, somewhere on the planet, for someone to say “This is a scary time.”

The scariest moments for me?

— World War II

— The Korean War

— The Cuban Missile Crisis

— The assassination President Kennedy

— 1968 assassinations and revolutions

— The Vietnam War

— The “Cold” war between USA and USSR.

— Watergate

— 9/11

— and right now!

What is most scary for me at the moment? I tried, but I am unable to rank the frights beginning with the scariest. So I simply list my top ten fears.

  1. Earth’s climate change.
  2. The concentration of wealth across the planet. That is, the one percenters. And entrance into that concentration of wealth of the hoodlums of the planet who will have greater and greater power to change laws and procedures for their benefit.
  3. Control of artificial intelligence (AI) with its logarithmic accumulation of data.
  4. The end of democracy including what is left of it in the United States.
  5. Hegemony of the most powerful nations whereby they use not only persuasion and entertainment and money to influence less-well-off nations but also overt destructive power.
  6. Religious wars.
  7. The continued rise of nationalism.
  8. Uncontrolled population expansion.
  9. A difficult-to-combat virus or other kind of new illness.
  10. 10. Destruction of earth’s natural resources.

That is a heavy list. Yet at the same time I recognize I am like people throughout history: they and I had (have) something to fear. An excellent example that is seldom parsed in religious circles was the expectation (and fear) during Jesus’ life of a universal and horrific end of time. Jesus himself referred to it and seemingly believed it would happen.

I, in my 80s, live a kind of contradiction of sorts: it’s a scary time but I do not live in fear. Why not?  If those ten are as scary as I make them, why do I not tremble from morning until night?  Am I able to explicate this contradiction? I shall try in a future blog post.

In my 80s

April 12, 2019

What a nice day!

  1. Daughter Gretchen has a birthday today.
  2. We grandparents visited Sugar Creek Elementary School this morning.

    This is Lucy with Joy.

      And here is Joy with Annie.

  1. After naps, Joy went to work at Global Gifts. I enjoyed fussing with the back garden, particularly around the compost barrel.

5. Joy got off work at 6. We went next door to Poke. My bowl contained brown rice, spinach, red cabbage, shrimp, black beans, cherry tomatoes, cream cheese, white onion, Thai sweet Chili and fried wonton noodles.

6. On the way to the car, we met a lot of people out with their dogs, and a young couple with this friendly fellow. 

7. Now at home, we give ourselves to a lovely evening of reading, crossword puzzles, Paganini, meditation and repose.