The Big Seven (7 and final)

December 31, 2017


If you are a senior, may I beg of you never ever to apologize for those occasions when you do “nothing.” For people still in their careers, “nothing” means downtime. For seniors, “nothing” can be uptime. The trick, in my opinion, is to endow “nothing” with variety, interest, skill, experience and personal appropriateness.

During the past decade I had more than a dozen enjoyable diversions.

— reading books and magazines
— amateur photography
— listening to classical music
— doing cross-word puzzles
— walking in the woods
— short distance travel
— eating out
— sitting by the fire
— scribbling in my notebooks
— nurturing tomatoes
— seeing an occasional movie
— puttering around in the garage and/or shop
— chatting with family and friends
— watching baseball games

And — you won’t believe this — sitting quietly in an empty room and staring at the wall.

As you can see, some of the “nothings” were active, some were passive. Several required brains, several required muscle. Some I did with others, some I did alone. Some cost money, others were free.

Occasionally something on the diversion list jumps into the avocational list. For example, I have a casual yet persistent interest in phenomenology. Don’t ask me yet what it is, because I’m way back at the beginning, not able to separate phenomenology from ontology. The current level of interest sends me to Wikipedia and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. If this pursuit gets serious, it will have to graduate from diversion to avocation.

Conversely, an item that has securely occupied the avocation group during my decade of the 70s, might well slip to the diversion group, and items now on the diversion group might have to be eliminated totally because of age-related limitations. Burning eyes limit evening reading. Deafness excludes music. Sciatic pain discourages walking. Shaky hands don’t hold coffee cups well. A stroke might force an end to photography. Death of a loved one may lead to more limited social interactions.

Nonetheless, I don’t want to capitulate to old age without examining carefully the kind of resources that others have used for their diversions. I never played pool, but remember seeing the men in the senior center enjoying tournaments in the basement. Maybe I would enjoy pool. Let’s say I can no long drive to the theater; I/we might find enjoyable evenings via Netflix or something like it. We currently have no pets in the house; I have learned that many seniors rally through relating to dogs and cats, fish and birds.

For the time being, what are my wishes having to do with diversions?

  • I don’t laugh much. I don’t tell jokes. I don’t have funny bones. But I would welcome during the next decade diversions that brighten spirits, that admit smiles, that communicate goodwill.
  • In order to have money for avocational ventures, I want to keep diversion expenses low.
  • I want to maintain (perhaps “develop”) both private and social diversions in order to forestall a closing in on myself.
  • Family solidarity seems the more important as I age. I hope that my diversions complement and/or supplement those activities that make a family strong.

Thus I come to the close of this series on The Big Seven. Perhaps, just perhaps, the series encourages you to come home to your own pivots, your own perspectives, your own ways of seeing yourself. If that’s the case, drop me a note sometime. I’d like to hear about it

And we come to the close of 2017. As is our happy fortune, we will be with our Soup Group, formed more than 50 years ago. We will eat together, play a game or two together, sing together, open gifts, reminisce, update each other, take a group photo and probably retire before the big ball in Times Square begins to fall.

Happy New Year.

The Big Seven (6)

December 30, 2017

The avocational

Just this week a man, after brief introduction that involved a statement of my age, said to me “So what do you do?” I’ve heard that questions many times and wish only for a fuller discussion with the questioner. Indeed, what do older, retired, less energetic, less relevant, less mobile, less hirable people do after they’ve gone over the hill?

Especially for somebody like me who doesn’t watch TV (except for an occasional PBS program and/or a special news report), doesn’t go out many nights (except for an occasional concert), doesn’t graze on the grasses of the internet, doesn’t watch pro-football (it’s become a matter of conscience, this modern gladiation), and doesn’t much enjoy happy hour with two drinks.

So what do I do?

In The Big Seven, I make two categories to deal with this topic, which foretells that I think there is much to say. One category, dubbed “the avocational” pertains to dedicated work that has a commitment attached to it. The other category, called “the diversional” reaches to what I call creative time wasting. Or, if you please, loafing.

Let’s begin then with the avocational, but not with me. Rather, I’d like to share with you what other seniors do. Yes, I also ask the question “So what do you do?” and hope for a long conversation. Here is a sampling of what my senior friends tell me.

Seniors in avocations

  • Retired insurance executive leads study tours to Cuba, working through the Martin Luther King Center in Havana.
  • Retired naval engineer takes a full load of college-level science courses.
  • Retired physician enjoys woodworking, making specialized furniture.
  • Retired school social worker leads children in nature studies at his prairie cabin.
    Retired couple works short-term assignments with Mennonite Disaster Service, he in carpentry, she in the kitchen.
  • Retired school health teacher volunteers at a self-help retail store.
  • Retired professor and wife direct adult-learning program.
  • Retired couple moved to a different state to care for grandchildren.
  • Retired biology teacher tends gardens at a senior center.
  • Retired executive coordinated a world-wide history project.
  • Retired college president leads a prison ministry.
  • Retired journalist reads philosophy and philosophers.
  • Retired administrator now serves on four boards.
  • Retired administrator does light house repair work, mainly for elderly people.
  • Retired professor writes poetry and publishes books of poetry.
  • Retired nurse assists in community children’s care program.
  • Retired electrician is adding two rooms to his house.
  • Retired academics travel the globe, revisit places where they earlier worked in voluntary service.
  • Retired physician wrote his own childhood memories for his grandchildren.
  • Retired mechanic teaches a Sunday school class.

The list inspires me, for I like action, I’ve been driven to be productive, I seek avocational challenges. Recently I accepted the suggestion of my son to walk El Camino in Spain. Now in retrospect, that journey of nearly 500 miles ranks at the very top of activities during the past decade. Yet there were other items worth sharing.

— contract-consulting in organizational communication
— publishing a book of personal non-fiction stories
— coaching memoir writers
— writing a blog
— working in gardens and greenhouse at an art museum
— gardening for a neighbor
— contributing to a writer’s group
— managing compost operations at The Juniper Spoon
— visiting 34 friends in a seven-state circle
— posting daily photos on Facebook
— setting up coffees with friends
— publishing a book of photos
— resetting a brick walk and patio
— serving on two boards, contributing to a third
— maintaining correspondence with friends
— traveling: Canada, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ireland, Spain and the western states

What a privilege — let’s call it a blessing — to be able to live long enough, and to have the time, the energy, financial resources and family support for such activities. When I arrived at my 80th birthday I wanted to shout hurrah,

Now what? A good friend of mine said, “The 70s were fun. The 80s are a trial.” I live in hopes that as physical, mental, verbal, emotional and financial limitations reveal themselves, I won’t despair of looking for other age-appropriate things to do.

One very valuable thing I’ve got is my list of The Big Seven.

1. Much of my 80s will involve family — travel, visits, occasional errands and tasks.

2. The 80s will be a great time to nurture friendships: coffee, and lunches and three-mile walks and discussion groups — bring it all on!

3. We have decided to remain in our house as for the time being. House and property chores will come calling with amazing regularity.
4. I hope to continue walking. My goal for 2017 is to walk in 20 Indiana State Parks.
5. Currently I am playing with the idea of starting a small group that discusses religious and spiritual issues. I intend, with my spouse, to support a selected number a charities. I hope to retain a congregational connection.
6. At the present time I have not made any professional commitments. Informally, I hope to continue writing the blog and posting photos on Facebook. I know that opportunities will come my way.

7. You can read about diversions in tomorrow’s blog.

In the decade that I have now entered, I pray for a lively imagination, for a willingness to venture, an eagerness to explore. I hope for surprises.

The Big Seven (5)

December 29, 2017

The spiritual

If you are expecting a central text for this sermonette on the key role of “the spiritual” in my life, you will be disappointed for I am not a “believer” in the traditional sense of that term. That is to say, I do not bow down to any human-construed Ultimate, such as a golden calf, a wooden cross or an inflexible dogma.

Conversely, I deem my person, my friends, this environment, this history to be ONE with the spiritual. Spiritual — Spirit. Like all other inarticulate human beings, I am unable to define Spirit excepting by using metaphor and more precisely nouns and verbs. I understand well the saying that God is a verb.

What feeds my own spiritual life?

  1. While I am not capable of satisfactorily defining Spirit, I can comfortably share a statement made by Marcus J. Borg in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.


This same Spirit has been known across time and space by people of
all cultures, traditions and persuasions.

Facebook II - 27.jpeg

Sunbeams grace a wall mount
 of St. Francis


2. I regard the seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association and churches to be of this same Spirit.

  • 1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person
  • 2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
  • 3rd Principle:  Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
  • 5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
  • 7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

3. Another interest of mine is the relatively new discipline of theopoetics which combines elements of poetic analysis, process theology, narrative theology, and postmodern philosophy. Theopoetics suggests that instead of trying to develop a “scientific” theory of God, as systematic theology attempts, theologians should instead try to find God through poetic articulations of their lived (“embodied”) experiences. It asks theologians to accept reality as a legitimate source of divine revelation and suggests that both the divine and the real are mysterious — that is, irreducible to literalist dogmas or scientific proofs. I find this approach meaningful.

4. Sacred stories — including Hebrew sacred stories — tell of a people’s assemblage of meaning through event, myth, proverbs and poetry, rituals and rites and traditions of a great variety. I enjoy reading of these, especially the Old Testament Bible.

5. The Christian apostle, Paul, wrote in a letter to the people of Galatia, “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” These, he says, are above the law.

6. Over the years I have assembled a shelf of what I consider to be soul-feeding books. Authors include Karen Armstrong, Wendell Berry, Marcus J. Borg, Willa Cather, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris, Mary Oliver, Richard Rohr and others.

As inarticulate as I am concerning Spirit, I nonetheless employ rather freely a vocabulary of responses to the sacred. That vocabulary includes terms such as fellowship, support, service and charity. Decades ago a seat mate on an airplane began to “witness” to me on behalf of her church. The more she talked, the more sure she was of her own salvation and of my lostness, even though I hadn’t verbalized anything. Finally I asked her to tell me of her church’s ministry to the poor people in the neighborhood. She immediately stopped her witness.

Inasmuch, then, as “the spiritual” is one of The Big Seven, it speaks to me not in terms of whether or not I am saved, but rather (1) whether I take the time to align myself with the Spirit, the sacred, the holy, the NOW; and (2) how I live this “faith” in all aspects of my life.

The Big Seven (4)

December 28, 2017

The physical

Hardly are you surprised that one of the Big Seven has to do with health and wellbeing. Indeed let’s pause for a moment and think of our many acquaintances who, in one way or another, must modify their activities because of a physical limitation. Yet don’t we all have to take into consideration health issues in whater we aspire to do?

I was quite young when my parents told us that “our bodies are temples” of the Holy Spirit. To this day I cherish that thought — that Spirit feels quite at home, thank you, here in this physical construct. That makes me want to keep a good house.

Like most of you, I tend to a basic health agenda.
— annual physical exam
— semi-annual teeth cleaning
— annual flu and pneumonia shot
— daily teeth brushing
— semi-annual fire alarm battery
— regular use of the car’s seat
— annual visit from health insurance representative
— eight or nine hours of sleep a night

My med prescriptions are of course personally tailored.
— Atorvastatin to keep cholesterol in check.
— Valsartin to protect 120/70 blood pressure
— Fish oil and vitamins.

A drug that I truly appreciate is Escitalopram, for it has helped immensely in my management of low-level yet life-long depression.

You are surely much better than I in limiting sugar intake. My constant struggle at weight management relates more to sugar and carbs than anything else.

I used to have bladder cancer, discovered in 2000. Two surgeries and intravesical chemotherapy did their work. I am of course grateful to the medical staff for good work.

In the annual physical, Dr. Coss (the best physician I ever had), after going through the lab report, demands a full account of my exercise regimen. He’s a stickler on physical activity, so I am eager to tell him on my next appointment that I walked about 900 miles in 2017, many of them on El Camino in Spain.


Yoga is new for me, and quite enjoyable. Gaynell, at 70, leads our group of seniors with verve and nerve. I typically begin class with my mind stuffed with urgencies, but 55 minutes later I am of one mind and one body. I also use the Y for exercise in inclement weather. (Today I walked three miles on the tread mill.)

When I look over our year’s medical bills, which this year will augment itemizations in the tax report, two thoughts stay front center: (1) gratitude for social security and insurance; and (2) disappointment that our US medical system is convoluted enough to make life more miserable for poor people.

As I enter my 80’s I readily notice changes that are, I suppose, typical of senior health. My physical strength is diminished as is physical endurance. My memory is what might be called idiosyncratic. In many ways, I am an old geezer. And getting a kick out of it.

How long will I live? Will it be a sudden death or, instead, will my body and mind slowly dim like dusk? Even if they do, I hope this house will have cheery lights on inside.

The Big Seven (3)

December 27, 2027

The domestic

For those who haven’t seen earlier blog, The Big Seven refer to principle references that help me understand who I am and what I am to do.

Lest I begin the account of “domestic” by referring to it as “my responsibilities,” I know quite well that each of the Big Seven involve chores, assignments, homework and items for the To-Do list.

Perhaps a more accurate starting point is geographical — the physical property at 347 North Bolton, Indianapolis. There you find a one-story house enclosing 1800 square feet. Plus a full basement.


Just about everything that goes on inside that house requires pre- and post efforts, some of which are creative but most are routine. Cooking, cleaning, washing, drying, brushing, moving, dusting, removing, lifting, turning, fixing — and each of those words has sub categories.

There is a garage with stuff in it. And behind the garage a compost station.


The property is large enough for some trees: walnut, red bud, tri-foliom maple and gingko. When the serviceberries are deep purple, neighbor kids stop in for a bite. We’re trying to protect a huge ash from the borer.

Among the shrubs are mahonia, nine bark, viburnum, quince and hydrangeas. A variety of grasses include Pampas-type tall grass, Japanese blood grass and sea oats. A bed of succulents occupies the space between sidewalk and street.



The responsibilities for doing domestics make a diverse list:
—paying bills
—keeping up insurance
—taking out the recycle big
—answering the doorbell
—raking leaves
—limiting the euonymus
—cleaning the fire-place chimney
—filling out tax forms
—sweeping the front porch
—washing windows
—keeping mice out of the garage
—blowing snow
—picking up sticks after a wind storm
—servicing the furnace and air conditioner
—keeping the drains open
—maintaining the car


My To-Do list in New Yorker daybook always contains car chores — picking up a prescription, going to Aldi’s, getting the oil changed or taking toxic waste items to the pick-up on the third Saturday of the month.

Somebody’s got to do these things. Quite often that somebody is me, particularly items such as opening bottle and can lids. I’m not so bad in cleaning under the basement steps. What I’m really good at is managing the compost operations.

Lots of things I can’t do. I’m small brained and all thumbs in mechanical, technical, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and up-on-a-ladder work. I can’t eye a thread. I can’t make baklava. Nor am I fastidious. Details often escape my attention

All these things said, something important remains to be expressed. These little and big domestic responsibilities call for the best I can offer because house and home give me a place from which to begin each day and a place to say “good night.”


The Big Seven (2)

December 26, 2017

The social

Friends are my wealth. I am very rich. Friends constitute the second of my seven windows to the world and to myself. I am pleased to elaborate.

Some folks are quite contented to have just a few friends. A person once told me “I have three friends. I don’t need more.” My pleasure comes from close and happy relationships with many people.

Who are these people? Where did I meet them? How are our friendships nurtured?

The card shower, given to me on my recent 80th birthday, reveals where I have met friends. Three grade school classmates from the years 1942-1948 wrote to me. The local Mennonite Conference established a parochial high school. I remember those four years especially for friendships. Twelve classmates sent cards. College friends sent cards. I married into the Dan and Lillian Peterson Glick family whose incredible creativity continues to nurtures me. Eleven Glicks wrote to me.

Goshen College, the scene of 33 happy years of teaching, rewarded me often and now again with more than 20 cards from colleagues and students. We moved to Indianapolis in 1996 when I began a second career in organizational consulting. In the latter part of those consulting years, I did independent contracting with Advancement Associates. Five associates wrote to me.

In Indianapolis our second house was (is) on 300 North Bolton. I had not expected to find such community in the city. Seven families sent cards, many of them with multiple signees. My spiritual community is Shalom Mennonite Church. Eight families wrote. I like to spend a day a week working at Winter Wood, home of The Juniper Spoon, a catering company run by my daughter, I count six cards from TJS. I have several circles of friends in town; I heard from each of those groups totally 25 cards.

But these cards don’t account for nearly all of my friends. People I met at meetings, at coffee shops, in stores, in offices, in the classroom eventually turned out to be enjoyable contacts and later, friends.

How do I nurture friendships? I groove on one and one coffees. In recent memory I’ve had coffee with Bennie, Carl, Chad, Dave, Don, Elvin, Enrique, Erv, Lisa, Jay, James, Jim, John, Mil, Rudy and Sam and who did I forget? Often, after such a coffee I feel as though a third presence was with us.

Groups are wonderfully important to me. Joy and I are members of “Soup Group,” started about 50 years ago in Goshen by four couples. In Indianapolis we “urban farmers” gather for breakfast the third Saturday of each month. The six-member Bagels and Bards writers group shares breakfast the first Tuesday of each month.

I’ve carried on a intense 12-year correspondence with a friend who lives in Toronto, and occasional correspondence with a half dozen others, the latest a person I met on El Camino who lives in New Zealand.

When creating the Big Seven (see introduction to the series) I knew that friends had to be one of the seven. In so many ways, at so many times friends have been my reference, my orientation, my north star. What they experience is important to me. What they think is worth thinking about.

Among the cards I received at my birthday, Ben’s rates near the top. He is a grandson, junior at Duke University, about to spend a semester of study in Madrid and a summer internship at FaceBook.

Poppop, … I don’t know if you remember this, but one thing that you told me before going to college has always stuck in my head, and has been the greatest piece of advice that I’ve received. You told me to be very aware of who I surround myself with, because those that I spend the most time with will have a great impact on my life. It has guided a lot of what I have done at Duke.

I sing Barbra Streisand: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

Here is a group of El Camino walkers,
sharing dinner at an Albuerge.
Will any of these cordial people
eventually become friends?


Big Seven (1)

December 25, 2017

The familial — my family.

Surely you too have run across a wet towel comment or two about the crazed rush to buy holiday gifts, followed by the exhausting interstate drive only to end up at a tense family gathering that oozes the unhealed wounds of yesteryear.

But that’s not my statement. I did not rush to buy holiday gifts. December was fine fire-place tending month. Nor did I have an exhausting interstate drive; Interstate 65 was decent yesterday. And third, my palms are not sweating here in the annex to The Juniper Spoon (Lali’s business center) with my family. In other words, the opening paragraph doesn’t count. Cross it out. I’m OK with my family. My family is OK with me.

Our family gathered today is small — my spouse and I; three of our four children; one in-law; five of our six grandchildren; and a friend. That’s twelve people. And the dog Ringo. The cats aren’t allowed here.

This immediate family unit is part of a larger clan — defined initially as my parents Mervin and Ella Good Hess (both now deceased). That clan by this time needs a tree to define itself. There are five children (Erma died fifteen years ago); fourteen grandchildren (Kelly and Jared and Valerie are deceased); and if I am counting correctly, 21 great grandchildren. And bless their hearts, a total of 23 in-laws, some of whom are dear friends with whom I relate across the fence because of divorce.

What kind of family are we? No, let’s begin in about 1950. What kind of family were we?

  • My dad led singing in church. Mother taught a Sunday school class.
  • Ours was a little house along Colebrook Road until we moved onto a farm as acreage renters.
  • Mother wore a head covering and a cape dress.
    Daddy plowed a straight row.
  • We had no radio or TV but we did have an outhouse.
  • We were quite happy. We played together.
  • Many a Sunday we had company or were company.
  • Farm work was not a 40-hour-a-week job. Holsteins and Guernseys and Jerseys made sure of that.
  • I did not enter a restaurant until I was about 14 years old.
  • At about 16 I heard a concert that featured something called Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but I left confused because it didn’t have verses like a hymn. I just went on and on.
  • My father, a non-voter, was nonetheless aghast when the milkman on the morning after the 1948 election told him that Harry S. Truman was elected.
  • At my mother’s insistence, we did not voice differences of opinion. We couldn’t argue. She hoped we would be of one mind.

That was us in 1950 — my parents and their five children. No kidding, I shall have lasting regard for every one of them and for my upbringing.

What kind of family are we today — we being the more than 50 people with lines tracing directly to Mervin and Ella?

  • We live close “home” in Pennsylvania but also in Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia. In January next, we will live in the United States, England and Spain.
Among us are brothers who can sing and wives who can play piano and grandsons who can play drums and one who can make violins. A few of us can’t even pluck a hen.
  • Oh my gosh. Daddy and Mother attended school only to the eighth grade. Their offspring have attended Bennington College, Boston College, Drexel University, Duke University, Earlham College, Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College, (a university in Ireland), Indiana University, Lebanon College, Lehigh University, Penn State University, (a Richmond, Virginia seminary — Union, I think), Syracuse University. Which ones did I miss?
  • As for diversity, yes, some are excellent in swimming, tennis, basketball, softball, hunting and, golf. But others also serve who only stand and wait.
  • Vocations? Advancement, agriculture, architecture, computer science, consulting, domestic arts and science, education, entrepreneurship, mechanics, the military, music, nursing, physical therapy, physics, nursing, sales and social work.
Harry Truman is long dead and gone, but we still “give em hell,” em standing for Republicans or Democrats or Trump or Clinton. We populate the entire continuum. I’m about the only one who really knows what this country needs.
  • We are devotedly Mennonite, devotedly Christian, small congregation, massive congregation, casual church goers. And non-participants in religion.
  • Yes, in our family we are homo sapiens. We include celiacs, hypochondriacs and even bibliomaniacs. Yes, we have marrieds and singles, live-ins and divorcees. Included in the fold are individuals who are near-sighted, stand on second hips, wear false teeth and even have part of their brain hollowed out. No kidding. We have experienced depression, addiction, expulsion and Friday night happy hour. We’ve got people who can’t pee straight.
  • We have some gregarious chatterboxes who won’t shut up, some mum moles (like me) and a whole bunch of people who can’t hit a whiffle ball whether they are talking or not talking. And sorry to say, the family puts up with several Phillies fans.

AND  this family has heart, with large chambers of love and compassion, generosity, patience, and respect. I know that if I knock on any door, they’ll let me in.

That’s us. In the words of Harold S. Bender, “These are my people.” Can’t help it — they have been and always will be for me a primary reference group.
Can’t you see why family is number one in the Big Seven?


A merry Christmas.