|Listen to the audio file of Chapter Six|
I turned 16 on May 7, 1945, one day before Germany surrendered to the Allies in World War II. I was a famished fugitive trying to escape the Russian onslaught. Exhausted and cold, I cowered in a ditch on the side of a road leading to the American front line and tried to recoup somewhat, and prayed that God would allow me to live until the ripe old age of 32. Yes, 32. What a wonderful prize and accomplishment that would be! First, just plainly to survive, and then to LIVE until age 32. WOW!
(If you want to read the details of how I came to be in that spot in the first place and on from there, then I suggest you get my book, “Enjoying the Ride.” It was published in 2002 and is available in many formats and from Amazon, online sellers, and elsewhere (including from www.straube.com, where it’s free and also available in audio version).
When I actually was 32 years old, married, with two children, and living in Canada, I prayed and hoped that I’d make it to age 64.
Well, I wrote “Enjoying the Ride” at age 73. And guess what, I’m still going.
Which is to say that all these preoccupations with time spans and age are really pointless exercises to go through. Time will move along and you’ll move along with it, one way or another, until, no doubt, the day will come when your participation stops. But, like in my case, that day could have come any day between the 16th and 32nd year, or between the 32nd and 64th, or in the time since then. For sure it will come one fine day, except that I have no idea when that day will be. For all that matters, it could be tomorrow. And that is true for any “today” I am going through from here on. The only way to deal with the nature of living is not to worry about it but, again, to live TODAY to the best of one’s abilities. And that’s just great. That’s what the world is here for, and that’s what you are here for in this world.
I married Hildegard when I was 22 years old. She was the ideal woman for me: beautiful, sporty, full of wit and energy, the smartest person I knew professionally and socially, and the most wonderful friend.
Well, in the 64th year of our marriage she died. As the autopsy showed, Hildegard had been dealing with serious diseases for a long time, and they eventually killed her. Yet nobody knew or would have known, including me, for Hildegard lived and interacted with the world very normally until her very last day. Maybe SHE knew but she made sure nobody noticed, even though it may have been very hard. That’s possible. But still, overall she even went through the end phase of her life essentially living a normal life. And when it was time to go, while she was resting in the recliner I am sitting in now to write this report, her eyes closed and her breathing slowed. There were three of us sitting next to her and I was holding her hand. Then she opened her eyes one more time, looked deep into mine with nothing but love, like saying Goodbye, and then she closed her eyes forever.
Yes, Hildegard lived a full life. Not in segments but in one continuous full life, from the day she was able to be responsible for herself until the day she died. And I think that is how life is meant to be for us. Doing it any other way is a distortion, which has its physical as well as mental consequences.
For me, of course, a time of great grief followed; grief that I am sure I’ll never be able to really get past. In my mind and in many other ways of my life, Hildegard is still with me and always will be, I’m absolutely sure of that. Our souls are intertwined and will be so for eternity. Frankly, it is very comforting to have this connection and to keep it intact.
Yet, Hildegard is on the other side of here now, no longer in this world – somewhere I’ll eventually join her, as well as many others, in a time to come. In the meantime, however, I am here today, and I must do what it takes to be “filling our time” until the day I am no longer able. Which means I am alive in this world and need to do what it takes to be fully present right here, right now.
Therefore I can, and I want to, do what it takes to be fully alive, which brings me back to the “Wants and Joys (A-G)” list mentioned earlier. It is alright, probably even mandatory for sanity and optimal health, to fall in love again, work out, learn, listen, read, create, make money, mentor, and make this a better world in whatever ways I am able to help do this. Yes, I am here working under this world’s conditions to do what can and should be done here and NOW. That’s all. Plus, that’s healthy and tremendously satisfying. No time for pain and suffering or worse: for being “old.”
Being chronologically old, real old like 88+, is a true attainment, a desirable state to be in. This is because you can be a wiser, smarter, fitter person than those below that age; plus you’ve proven so by the mere fact of having arrived at close to the peak of the pyramid.
People labeled as “Senior Citizens,” in my book, are those who live by the year, according to the present zeitgeist’s plan. They accept that label for having passed a specified “Senior Citizen” starting age, whatever that may be, as it varies in societies and localities. Whatever it is, for my purposes I see the Senior Citizens time span ending at one day before chronological age 88. Thereafter no more “Senior Citizen” – instead we’ll go with “Superb Senior,” as obviously that group is the top and should receive the greatest honor and respect.
In China, of course, they’ve known this for a long time. Respect for the aged has always been a part of Chinese culture. In China, in deference to older people, the word “old” has a connotation of honor. And that’s the way it should be, at least if common sense is applied. Thus the glorification of “the young,” as it has been in American culture for a long time now, is really a rather immature view of the world. A view which, however, it appears that Americans are slowly growing out of as well. Maybe just because the percentage of older vs. younger citizens has been steadily increasing. Whatever the reason, I think it’s proof that society has become more civilized and is using more common sense to appreciate and honor the truly old.
The world’s oldest civilization had these values well in place long before barbarians elsewhere became more or less civilized. Here are just a few examples of Chinese proverbs of 5000 and more years ago:
An old horse knows the way.
An elderly person at home [is like] a living golden treasure.
Old men have much knowledge and experience [just as] old trees have many roots.
And if I may add a personal observation:
Wait till you meet an old woman… You’ll be surprised.