In my ’80s

November 29, 2018

What times we live in!  Before making too great a fuss about these “times,” I readily admit that during my 80 years there were many occasions that could be labelled critical. I can not make the case that today’s challenges are the most threatening of the 21st century, but they are big enough to grab our attention. 

How big an issue would be the replacing the world’s richest and most powerful country by what is now the second richest and powerful?  I am referring to the United States and China.

What I think about China has been informed very recently by the Sunday New York Times special feature entitled “China Rules.” Surely that big section will find its way to the internet.

The modern China story has these parts which I oversimplify..

In 1948 the Communists ousted the Nationalist government. Mao Zedong became the chairman of the Communist Party. The  Nationalists evacuated to the island of Taiwan.

Mao shaped and reshaped China from 1949 until his death in 1976.  China was closed to other countries. The party control of all things led eventually to the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in which China’s research and educational systems were paralyzed. Student bands of “Red Guards” searched and destroyed anything considered bourgeois—anything representing capitalism, religion, tradition and the West. Most of China’s cultural heritage was destroyed. Mao’s rivals within the party were purged. Intellectuals and people with “counterrevolutionary” backgrounds were dragged from their homes to endure fatal “struggle sessions,” sent to labor camps or detailed to custodial work units.

In 1978 Deng Xiaoping, as next party chair, began a series of economic reforms that led to less government control of business and landownership. He allowed Chinese to study abroad to bring home information to advance China’s development. He allowed foreigners in. KFC opened its first store in 1987.

The United States and other free-world countries made a significant assumption that Chinese people, on learning about free enterprise, would eventually want China to become a democracy. Sure enough, this loosening of government rules led to a popular yearning for more freedom which tragically ended in 1990 in a government crackdown of protestors on Tiananmen Square in which up to 10,000 protesters were killed and/or imprisoned.  Thus the Communist Party communicated its intention to retain control. The free-world’s assumption took a blow.

However, despite the Tiananmen Square “massacre,” the government not only allowed people to establish businesses, it also welcomed foreign investment so long as government rules were followed and all forms of criticism of the government halted. In 2001 China was admitted to the World Trade Organization. Immediately money began to flow into China as businesses worldwide (yes, many from the United States) took advantage of Chinese wages and know-how to produce less expensively what consumers in the free-world wanted to buy.

Again the assumption by the West that China would become freer and also a cordial partner in economic development was given new force. China would become like the rest of the world. But this assumption has not turned into reality.  While China has become a productive nation, in many ways more advanced than any other country in its standard of living, use of electronic gear, in its construction, transportation, industry, in its making millionaires and billionaires — while China has become a nation of power, it has NOT moved toward democracy. The state remains in control. The public does NOT criticize the party. (One of my grandsons visited China this past summer. He became immediately aware that no one, no one, publicly opposed the Communist Party.)

The free-world and particularly the United States is becoming critical and fearful — critical of China’s stealing of intellectual property and company secrets, fearful of Chinese clout around the world as it invests in countries and places heretofore of no interest to the United States. China can now make its own alliances, control its own destiny, and upset the current pecking order of national powers.

All of this provides background for President Trump’s attempts to reduce China’s  industrial clout by imposing tariffs on Chinese products. The United States’ is newly anxious about China’s military exercises in nearby seas that US would claim rights on.

U.S. is now king of the mountain. President Trump is a nationalist, intent on this country’s superiority. Will China, by sheer size and power, replace the king of the mountain? 

In my ’80s

November 28, 2018

Let us decide together that senior living occurs in a span of time when a sense of appreciation, excitement and pride can kick in.  

Appreciation is a two-way transfer — our appreciation of details we had heretofore missed, such as the edge of snow on a fence.

And for many of us, appreciation comes our way, not necessarily in Nobel Prize chunks but rather in notes such as “seems the more I get to know you, the more … .” 

Excitement for a senior, while different in expression from the ecstasy of an eight year old on her birthday, may nonetheless lift a pulse. Music excites me, music such as Rachmaninov’s piano concertos. I’ve known seniors who raise an arm high after hitting a 79 in 18 holes. Or Warren whose excitement over a shelf filled with newly canned fruit reaches a couple of states over.

Pride was not coveted in the Mennonite circles that I moved in as a child. Similarly the Amish eschew pride by trying to exhibit “deh-mut.” But come on, see the close connection of gratitude and pride, workmanship and pride, fulfillment and pride. OK, I happily confess: I, a strictly amateur photographer, am proud of occasional pictures that transfer from my camera to this computer.

For example, this one, showing the Narrows Bridge over Sugar Creek in Parke County.  

Senior living surely has its challenges, sometimes extensive limitations, but let’s welcome the opportunities for appreciation, excitement and pride.  

In my ’80s

November 27, 2018

This morning I posted on Facebook a photo with this caption:

The structure of this bulb (original size half inch diameter)
was written into the seed from which it grew. 


Dick Kauffman, a long-time friend responded

Entelechy. Hadn’t thought of that word in years.

I didn’t know the word so I looked it up.

entelechy: noun (plural entelechies) 
the realization of potential
the supposed vital principle that guides the development
and functioning of an organism
or other system or organization.

A provocation for today. Thanks, Dick.

In my ’80s

November 25, 2018

Seniors sooner or later discover that they aren’t “up to date.”  Certainly true in my case, made the more obvious when I’m with younger people.

— a faddish coffee blend 

— the easy use of an app

— familiarities with pop figures

—  participation in a rugged mountain climb

— latest novels

— yoga culture

— sports celebrities

— hot Broadway musicals

— language idioms

— latest clothing styles

The list can go on and on. Perhaps we need the reminder that younger people don’t want us to try to be “mod.” Nor to brood about being out of the loop.

In my ’80s

November 23, 2018

Memories of enjoyable moments during decade of my 70s.

  1. — living in a comfortable house on 300 N Bolton Avenue
  2. — writing the book Seventy Stories
  3. — taking a camera with me all the time
  4. — traveling with my brother to Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
  5. — finding brain fodder in Atlantic magazine
  6. — managing compost operations at The Juniper Spoon
  7. — picking up some consulting projects with Advancement Associates
  8.  coaching a half dozen seniors in writing their life stories
  9. — staying connected with four grandsons through their teen years, high school education, college, internships, travels, writing, and entrepreneurial ventures
  10. — walking El Camino in France and Spain at the invitation of my son
  11. — breakfasting monthly with “urban farmers”
  12. —enjoying the comfort of a long marriage
  13. — exploring Indiana state parks
  14. — weekending with eight college buddies and their spouses
  15. — watching the Red Sox in Fenway Park with Ingrid
  16. — visiting Chicago with Lali and family
  17. — reading and re-reading Harrari’s two books Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus
  18. — attending five Mennonite Arts Weekend events in Cincinnati
  19. — volunteering at Indianapolis Museum of Art
  20. — visiting friends living within a seven-state loop
  21. — gardening
  22. — posting one photo on Facebook each day
  23. — attending the inauguration of Rebecca Stoltzfus as Goshen College president
  24. — working basic level cross-word puzzles
  25. — corresponding with a friend in Canada
  26. — supporting four Mennonite organizations financially
  27. — exploring southwest Indiana with friends
  28. — supporting six civic organizations financially
  29. — attending family reunions
  30. — doing coffee with friends
  31. — meeting with Bagels and Bards writing group monthly
  32. — chatting with our neighbors
  33. — attending a grandson’s high school graduation from Interlocken School of the Arts and weekending in nearby Traverse City
  34. — crossing from Chile to Argentina via the Andes
  35. — writing a blog
  36. — completing two photo-journalism assignments with Mennonite Disaster Service
  37. — participating in Shalom Mennonite Church congregational activities
  38. — hiking a river from Rochester, NY to Lake Erie
  39. — listening to classical music on YouTube
  40. — interacting with Lon Sherer
  41. — hiking to the highest point in Smokey Mountains National Park
  42. — traveling with Ervin and Phyllis Beck to see plays in Stratford, Ontario
  43. — watching two grand daughters grow
  44. —exchanging notes with former students
  45. —cheering the Chicago Cubs through the World Series
  46. —spending evenings by the fireplace
  47. —hanging out along Lye Creek, Sugar Creek and Pleaant Run
  48. —planting trees at Gretchen’s home
  49. —walking along the Outer Banks of North Carolina
  50. —doing an Elderhostel in Quebec

I would very much like to read your lists. Life is to be enjoyed.

In my ’80s

November 22, 2018

The span of later life— that is, life expectancy beyond 65 — is expanding. For a person aged 65 in this country, they can expect to live another two decades, and many of them three decades. What, then, is later life for? 

Acknowledging first that later life includes on its agenda death and dying, which may introduce prolonged difficulty, and acknowledging second that many people face limitations that reduce the possibilities of comfortable senior living,  I want to affirm later life as a privilege, mentioning two opportunities that are writ large on my screen, both of which define for me now what later life is for. 

Enjoying life

Senior life has the potential for being a lot of fun. The pressures of career are gone. Expectations, in general, decline. One is therefore free to pursue those many interests that had to be delayed in midlife.

I like to hear from other seniors the sources of their enjoyment. I like to share with them the pleasures of my own senior years.  Something has become evident to me: one can’t just sit back and wait for interesting things to happen; enjoyment is a result of being mentally, physically, socially and spiritually plugged in to life.  

Giving back

I delight in learning of the many opportunities for giving to family, friends, neighbors and society at large. The chief contributions I can make lie outside our annual financial gifts.  Giving time, attention, encouragement and love each outrank criticizing and telling younger people how to do things right. 

Later life is a privilege. That I have lived into my 80s comes as a fresh surprise each day, a blessing  to be enjoyed and shared.

In my ’80s

November 20, 2019

There is no consensus, two people in yesterday’s blog said, on what later life is for. We all kind of agree that childhood is for growing and learning, young adulthood is for procreation, middle adulthood is for family and career, late adulthood is for enjoying the apex of life.  But apparently there isn’t agreement on how to define post-65 life.

That all of us seniors from all around the world don’t say the same thing about senior living is, of course, due to the readily known differences in that experience. Set up ten continua, each one identifying one specific aspect of life.  If I place an X on the line where I think my experience is more or less located, and you place a Y on the line where you think your experience is located, somebody in Yemen is going to put Z at yet a differ point.

wealth ———————X———————————————— ?————poverty

family accord —X—?-——————————————————family discord

good health ———X———————?———————————lingering illness 

friendships  —X-————?——————————————————loneliness

peace ———————X—————————————————?—————-war

confidence ————X——————-—————-——————?—————fear

rewarding activities ——X————?—-———————————-nothing to do

pleasant environment ——X————————————-————?—ugliness

faith ——X—————————————————?————-——————-angst

good memories ———X—————-——————————?—————regrets

No sooner do we locate the Xs but change intrudes — a stroke, a nearby shooting, a tornado, a market crash. In other words, a consensus reached on one day may not characterize the next day.

What I hope to say in an upcoming blog is that our job is not to force a consensus on what later life is for, but to take advantage of two other quite different opportunities.