An old friend sent me a link to a Roger Angell piece about growing old (he’s 93) from the New Yorker. I read it slowly and with a Kleenex box at the ready. In a moment of grandiosity my friend suggested that I might have written that, or something like it. There’s no way I could have done that, even though I could say “Amen!” after every line.

The most stabbing part of the essay was when he spoke of outliving so many people. This is a condition that sort of creeps up on you. You discover it when in some midnight hour you decide to find “old Joe” with whom you palled around with in high school and find that he died in Korea or succumbed to the big “C” a few years ago. If only you had known …

Angell lives in an apartment in Manhattan and talks of a large support community leaving cooked chickens at his door and here I am living in the lap of paradise – knowing dozens of people while hardly ever seeing anyone. I cook my own chickens, thank you very much!

It’s mostly my fault – not seeing people as much as I think I should be seeing people. I am not the conversational dynamo I once was. Being essentially deaf sort of puts a damper on conversation and rips the heart out of the desire to be around people in the first place.

I always wonder if anything I say is relevant to the on-going conversation. There have been times when I enter into a conversation only to be greeted by a stunned silence. Not because I have uttered some profound titbit of eternal wisdom but rather the unspoken response is more like, “What the fuck are you talking about!”?

I have a new bionic ear now that promises to deal with this condition and in fact it is working quite well. I feel very fortunate to have this technology available to me. I am more likely now to be able to keep up with conversations. It’s a work in progress – a process with which I am quite familiar.

One of my fantasies is being a part of a group of older guys who have breakfast somewhere every month or so to just be there and talk about stuff we all remember. I have an old friend out west who meets six or seven retired army and air force guys at McDonalds for 50¢ senior coffee. I’d pay more for better coffee, myself. I’d pay a lot more for better ambience. There was a time 50 years ago when I was in the clutches of purpose and calling that there was a small group of ministers who managed to have warm and supportive relationships with each other. We golfed, lunched and hung out. Of course, when I bailed out of the crusade, that was that.

There is today in Baton Rouge a group of my old high school buddies – all retired engineers – who meet monthly. I am in touch with one of the group who tells me that now and then I am mentioned. It’s a strange feeling, but I like it.

I’ve stopped trying to find old friends from long ago. It’s a dead issue – no pun intended. I have lots of live friends, albeit mostly the age of my children. Even so, we don’t see each other enough. What’s enough? It’s what it is.

The take-a-way from all this is this: Be in your life. Don’t think about it – live it.

Now if I can just remember to do that.

The following is a quote from a note from an old friend. It’s in response to a statement I made about how it seems that it gets harder and harder to keep up with the work of friendships the older you get.

"I … sometimes feel a gradual growing distance in friendships. My perception is that for 95% of my life this didn’t occur. However perceptions, mine and others, are unexplainable, more mysterious than women.” (I didn’t know anything could be more mysterious than women, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day)

I’ve thought about this a lot and have concluded that there are some real reasons for this “gradual growing distance” that seems to infect those of us who are more or less fortunate enough to live a long time.

To begin with, older people have more going on in their lives that they have to deal with every day.  The inventory of things you can no longer do or do well.  Failing eyesight, hearing, lung power and bowel action, balance, dwindling strength, diminished libido, the expanding list of actual diseases.  These things begin to occupy more and more of one’s thoughts.  At least that’s how it is here.

There is a more subtile element going on here as well.  We men often act as though we think we’re all alone in this struggle to survive in the aging process.  This is its own disease.  A couple of old guys can spend hours together every day and not know what’s going on with each other.  Women can’t do this.  They talk – share – confide – laugh and cry.  It’s personal.   Men have to have some un-personal activity or subject matter to talk about.  Poker, football, golf, fishing.  Nothing wrong with any of that but guys can hang out for days around one or more of these activities and never know one of them is sick or sad or afraid.  This would never happen with women.

I don’t know just where I’m going here except that it seems easier for men to adjust to isolation.  And that’s a self defeating talent.  A kind of default self-maintaining virus infected algorithm.

When I was growing up, there were many overseeing adults in my life. The entire neighborhood was my mother. In order to maintain my sanity – or more to the point, the sense of who I was – I found myself hiding out in my garage attic or my tree top lair or off somewhere on my bicycle. I was expert at escaping.

The outcome of this early “training” was the often repeated desire to become a hermit. To go off and live in a cabin in the woods. Beyond authority. And as I now know, beyond companionship, wi-fi, a good liquor store and probably beyond medical care. I suppose what it boils down to is – beyond reality.

Isolation from time to time is necessary to reset one’s clock to standard time. It increases the value of community and companionship.

So there are two old guys sitting on a bench. Sharing their fears, pains, hopes and even dreams. Laughing, crying and yelling at each other – from time to time reaching out and touching one another … to be reminded of their humanness… .

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS – You go off to school or work sometime in your early life and discover opportunities where you never thought they were and as a result never go home again. Well, that describes my early life. I could cut to the chase and say here I am in a remote corner of America feeling as much at home as I ever did in the land of my birth.

It’s here that an interesting sidebar should be inserted. The pictures I have stored in my mind of my friends and my life in the land of my nativity are all dated and faded. Because I never see those people, I see them as they were not as they are.

For you who have lived your lives close to where you grew up it’s a different feeling and experience. You and your friends have grown up into maturity in a partnership of shared lives or at least a shared place. When you see each other the changes you see are gradual and you see yourself in the lives of others.

When my brother died photographs were posted of people I last saw many years ago. Suddenly, my own age was palpable. For a while there was a website dedicated to news and events of my high school class. They would have a monthly luncheon and I would look at those pictures in amazement. Hardly a one would be recognizable to me in a random encounter.

I have spoken to many natives who say they would love to have lived somewhere else. But the draw of the familiar, of home is powerful and usually overrides most other considerations.

I sometimes envy those of you who grow into old age among your people. I have friends for whom I am grateful beyond words, while my immediate family is gone and old friends are slipping away. But isn’t that the way it goes? Yet, there is an element of life that I missed and do miss. On the other hand, I feel sure I would not change a thing. Our histories are the culmination of countless choices which if only a few or even one were otherwise, none of this might be happening.

We take life as it is. Even if we want to change things – that change must begin where and as it is now. I like it the way it is.

I feel deeply indebted to and grateful for each of you who have a part to play in my life. Thank you.

Carry on.

ONMONHEGAN for 2015 ended yesterday. Until September 10, 2016, then…

Obviously, I thought about it. While thinking and meditating (an insider’s term for thinking), I decided to continue coming here until I just can’t. Once I fairly breezed over these rough trails where now I am more careful and judicious.

I once read an interview of a well known poet (and here you must forgive me for failing to remember who this well known person is) and the interviewer asked him about his habit of writing a poem a day. “What if”, the questioner said, “you get to the end of the day and you have not come up with the poem for the day?” The poet said, “I lower my standards”.

That’s how I will continue coming to Monhegan. There are some of the more difficult trails that I will not attempt, or if I do I may slither down the more precipitous pitches on my butt. Dignity is highly over estimated. Not up to past standards? Not to worry – the views are the same. And that’s what I come for. Oh, and the thinking, aka – meditation.

And now for the poem for the day:

ONMONHEGAN

Looking out to sea
The ocean holds me in her arms
Sunlight glistens on the water
Diamonds Stacked fathoms deep
I see worlds below
The past and the future
I see Leviathan and she sees me
I see the souls of countless seamen
Who await the trumpet’s sound
Or perhaps it is I who waits
Window after window opens
I fall into the depths
Mysteries are revealed
Not always understood
I reach out unconsciously to touch the rock
the rock is there – I am dry

        jh