Today I lost another of my generation. He was so young, 61 to be exact. I will be 66 this year. Last year a five year old kid asked me why I was still alive. I have pondered that question ever since- on occasion. The year before that, a different five year old told me that him and I were the same age. I said (with the condescending smile that older people use when a child makes sense): "How can that be, young fella, I am sixty five, you are only five! I have lived sixty more years than you.”
Without malice, without sarcasm, without any twinge of artifice (a gift only children, truly old kind people, and Saints have in common) he replied: “You only have today. I have today. We are the same age."
Yes. We are. Humbled by the sincerity and wisdom in his comment, I pondered that too. We all only have today. The past is gone, nothing we do today can change it even one iota. The future isn’t here yet- and may not be. So we are left with today. If we live it right, our past does become “better”, but the future remains unchanged. Again, we are stuck with just today.
Well, on my walk tonight, I thought about two things; wants and needs. As different as those two words are, they are- in many cases, interchangeable, but not at the same time. For a want and a need to be the same word, things almost always have to be desperate. LOL. You can be hungry and want food. You can also be hungry and need food. If they both happen at the same time, you are not hungry- you, my good friend, are starving.
Starving people do strange things. If we are starved for love, well… a whole class of Novels exist just because of that, as do online dating services, and strangely enough in today’s world, hookers. Sex is not love, but it can be very loving. As slippery an opening as the gap between wants and needs. Wise people soon find out that wanting something you don’t need is a dead end. Needing something you can’t ever get- like a cure, one more day, or relatives who you would want as friends, is a sure way to suffer.
I am old now, many of my wants have been granted. I wanted love- and found it, several times and several kinds. I even love mankind in the abstract now. Sure we made a few mistakes, and we honor Great Men who actually weren’t, and seem to have forgotten women have been around as long as we have, but in our own messy way, we have made the world (in spite of what the naysayers harp on about) a better place. We live longer, safer, and with more ‘stuff” than any time in History. If you have a roof over your head, food in the freezer, a smartphone, and connection to the Internet, you are in a very direct way, wealthier than the proverbial Emperor of China.
But I didn’t want to go Global (and believe me, when you live long enough, you see the Pendulum Swing - Socially and Economically- from Right to Left, or vice versa). Instead, I wanted to go Personal.
I wanted love. I am loved. I wanted to travel. I did travel. I wanted to live- and did live. I needed (maybe wanted) a house to raise my kids in, I got one. Now, well, I live above a garage with my Wife’s minimum wage job, and my Social Security check providing for both: our wants, and our needs. And that leads me to what I am thinking now:
I don’t have any wants I need to get. I don’t have any needs I want enough to get either. Take flying, for example (in a small plane, even old wise folks can’t fly without mechanical devices around them- they can soar though, and that is a different thing entirely). I used to be a Private Pilot, in theory, I still am. I thought my best friend and I would fly around the country, leisurely exploring all fifty states, after I retired. That did not happen.
Now, well, I could push myself to find a way to fly, even if it was with another pilot. The thing is, I don’t need to anymore, AND I don’t want to. The time when I would have loved to do that, has passed. My best friend is fighting to get his health back, I have no money, or an airplane. I know, and this might seem strange, that if I REALLY wanted to fly. To the point that flying was a NEED. I could make enough money to fly. I just don’t want to do the work it would take to make it happen.
That is one of the things Old Age has brought me, contentment. Is the effort to get a plane, worth the amount of time and energy (at this age) I would need? No. I have let that dream go, because I made so many other dreams happen (my life has been outrageously generous to me). Folks who knew me forty years ago, can’t believe I don’t swim much anymore. And I live near the beach! Folks who knew me twenty five years ago, can’t believe I don’t run anymore. Even I won’t believe it when I don’t walk anymore.
I have walked since I first learned, and still do. I do long one hour walks every day, and several smaller walks. On those walks, I sometimes visit old times, old friends, or old wounds, as I work to forgive myself for the times I failed myself, or others. Sometimes, I spend the walks steeped in gratitude for the simplest things. My health. My wife and the marriage we built together. My friends, who - in spite of age differences, distance, or beliefs, still like me in their lives. Or sometimes, I am taken up short by how challenge free most of my life has been. I am average in so many ways, that I now know how grateful you should be to be average.
Can you see color? If you are average, you can. I met a guy who was color blind, from birth. One of the things he told me, is how difficult reading is for him- because black and white print, are colors. He never said he sees the world in shades of grey - like color blind people from head blows, or brain damage say- because, well, grey is a color too. His world is strikingly void of rainbows, sunsets, and the flush of embarrassment. All things that I need. And want.
Are all your limbs in the correct places, with the right numbers of toes and fingers? If you are average, they are. I met a guy wearing oven mitts once. I thought he had been burned or disfigured. Nope. It is just that his hands, by some genetic mischance, or freak of nature, were huge. So huge that the embarrassment and comments from wearing oven mitts in public, were easier to tolerate than the comments about the size of his hands. And there was nothing wrong with his hands, they worked fine- they were just freakish.
Are you of average height? I think you are getting the hang of this now. Be thankful, even if you are on either edge of the Bell Curve, but still in the giant middle. To tall, to short, to fat, and to skinny, all have a baggage train of: teasing, bullying, and body image issues to lug around the tracks of life. But what if you are perfect, but tiny?
I ran into a lady the other day, who looked like she was 12. She was 39. She is what is known as a Proportionate Dwarf. She doesn’t have the wide hips, or short fingers of the “little people”, nor the small head and pointy ears of the Elf like, super pleasant people who have Williams Syndrome. She is, in every way but size, a perfectly average looking woman. She gets carded all the time. Her husband, well, people think he is dating a girl, not a woman. People treat her like a child, and she is anything but. She is a hero. Everyday, she goes out among those of us lucky enough to be average and not stung with a label. Imagine what her wants and needs might be.
In the end, here towards the end of my life, I find myself pondering my lack of wants. My needs are met. My wants are not motivation enough to need to do something about them. My gratitude for the life I have, and had, surfaces frequently in bouts of thankfulness. My death will go unnoticed in the annals of history, but not by those who cared. My life, likewise, will go unnoticed by most except by those I got to share it with. It did not go unnoticed by me. LOL
As an Old Guy, I can tell you this- if you want it, you can get it. If you need it, you might not. Meet your needs, and chose your wants. It makes it a lot simpler to decipher the differences. I want you all to be happy and fulfilled, even if you don’t need to be. LOL