Over the years my birthday has become unimportant to me. It is just another day in my life, to be treated like any other day, with the utmost attention that I am able to muster. I do appreciate the sincerity of the “Happy Birthday” greetings that come my way but it is difficult for me to see anything special about the day. On the other hand this year on, May 14, I turned 90 (assuming that my birth certificate is correct) and for whatever reasons this birthday is important to me. It is a fact that I am old. But that by itself does not define the kind of person I am.
My physical abilities have declined, my endurance is less, I walk more slowly, I spill food and occasionally drool. Mentally, other than having to write down things I used to keep in my memory, quite often not able to bring up a word that I know and, at times, slower to comprehend things, I seem to be in good shape. I read a lot, keep up with what is going on in the world, keep learning more about the human being and mix in some novels. I go to Spanish class three mornings a week where I learn a little Spanish and a lot about Ecuadorian culture, politics and structure, e.g., the government pays the costs of the political campaigns which last only two months.
Looking back, there have been marriages and divorces, children and step children, grandchildren and, in March, the first great grandchild. I had a very satisfying legal career representing injured workers and, after retirement, a wonderful nine years as a part-time groundskeeper at an eight acre retreat center where I did everything from planting flowers to splitting oak rounds into firewood. One of life’s little and very gratifying pleasures is when the second swing of the splitting maul strikes exactly in the groove left by the first swing.
I’ve been single since 1998 and, after 50 years in Oakland, California, I moved to Cuenca in July, 2011. Cuenca, with its tranquil atmosphere and friendly people has now become my home.
And here I am, feeling fully alive. I try to live in the reality of the present, my senses not being able to be anywhere else, which means that thoughts about the past and the possible future are not reality. I like Bryon Katie’s phrase of “loving what is, because if it was supposed to be different it would be.” Fully alive means participating fully in my day to day life and, while doing that, being the best person I can be. I also have a deep down sense of quiet joy, an underlying calmness. The phrase, “Life has never been better,” always pops up.
I am so humbled and grateful to be in this state and wonder how I, Swedish, English, Taurus, Stoic, left brained, introvert with a subconscious belief that I am just a dumb little kid from Tillamook who doesn’t deserve anything, got to this very comfortable place. Over the past twenty years I have come to believe that we are each on our journey which, even though it is ours alone, we need all the help we can get. Here’s a short poem to illustrate:
The Way It Is
There is a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change.
But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die;
and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
In February of 1998 I was at a choir retreat. On Saturday evening we gathered around low tables with lots of candles and our minister asked us to say something about why we liked being in the choir or the church. Many deep feelings were expressed, there were some tears, and when it came to me I felt absolutely cold and completely detached. I said something that sounded meaningful but felt nothing. The next morning I skipped rehearsal and went out to a bluff overlooking the ocean and just sat and looked, still with the feeling of being completely alone. Then some words, not spoken, came to me:
“David, if you don’t do something about yourself you are going to get sick, curl up, and die.” Although I didn’t realize it for several years my conscious internal journey had begun.
Sometime in the early 2000’s I was shopping at the farmer’s market for my favorite Pink Lady apples and got to talking to Ame, a young woman selling the apples. The conservation got rather deep and then she said, “It is better to be than to do,” which struck me hard as being completely true. Striving to become a loving human being is more important to the world than striving to become the president of your company to satisfy your ego.
Then in January 2011 I met a friend of Ame’s who spent half an hour telling me about Cuenca, Ecuador. I had been thinking about moving because eventually the cost of living would overtake my pension and I had always been envious of the more relaxed and open ways of South America. So in March, I came down to investigate and on my first night in Cuenca, on a deck overlooking the Tomebamba River, I immediately felt at home. In July, I moved. It was a couple of years before I understood that on that first night in the city something inside (heart, soul — insert your own label) the die was cast.
At the going away party at my church in California there were many cards and inscriptions were entered into a book. In going through them later, at least half of them talked about continuing my journey. Journey? What journey? I’m just bumbling along in my life doing the best I can to be, trying, like Jesus, to be loving, compassionate and forgiving. But many of those people had known me for 35 years. Maybe they know something about me that I didn’t.
Gradually I came to realize that my thread has not been a conscious one and in looking back over my life I see many instances where my actions are consistent with my now conscious goal of always trying to be the best human I can be.
In eight years in warm and accepting Cuenca I have continued to think, read and discuss and am more assured than ever that the most important thing a person can do in this life is to keep aiming at that goal. The world needs good people, our wiring tends to push us in that direction. We are made out of the same materials as the stars which means to me that everything in the universe is related to every other thing and we are in that sense kin to everything. And we can be at peace inside while taking actions to help our universe along its way.
Cuidese. And love, Dave