There are several lessons that I have had to learn over and over. By the time the next Presidential election comes around I will have passed my 90th birthday. The little electric circuits in that amazing organ between my ears will have further hardened, and my memory will have become much more fragile. So here I am the day after the election, and I need to pay attention to lessons I have too readily ignored.
The first is a need to breathe deeply and take my time before registering any strong opinion about a current issue, particularly when I have an obvious emotional response. The cake must be given time to cool before it can be properly cut. When I have forgotten to put my mind in gear before I launch into a verbal or literary barrage, I have not only often been wrong, but also embarrassed. So I am drafting this column on the morning following the devastation wrought in the election. While my emotions are in overdrive, I have decided keep my foot off the gas pedal, at least for now.
Some things are clear. Nobody much will really care what those of my generation will have to say. There is only a modest place for the old liberals who still think we are the wave of the future. We are not. We may be the wise old men and women of the past, but unless a new much younger generation seizes the reins linked to the important issues before the nation, what we have dreamed about will just be that—fading fantasies.
In the next weeks I will still occasionally write about a few political issues, but I will probably change directions and do more introspection than I will issue proclamations.
Those who live near me realize that I am having a major problem in locomotion, and use either a cane or a walker to get around. In this less than robust state I have found that most people—particularly strangers—are ready to go out of the way to be helpful, even when I tell them I can get across the street by myself. I have had to learn to graciously accept what they so readily want to offer.
Something happened a few days ago that I will not forget. I had driven to my bank, and had parked in one of those blue-signed handicap spaces. These days I need to take my time getting in and out of the car, so as I was hauling my leg from the door to the street, there appeared an older gentleman who was probably of Asian extraction. He did not offer a hand but gave me a much more important three-word gift. He said, “Be very mindful.”
I had often heard that expression from friends of mine who may be Buddhists, or at least know about that religion. But here in the parking lot of a bank I finally began to understand what mindfulness might mean. At the latter reaches of a very active life I may be learning to pay attention to what is going on at the moment. Among other things, it means to be a better listener to what someone has to say. It means to look seriously at nature—not to find an image to paint, but for its own sake. It means to be fully committed to a conversation that is taking place, without letting my mind wander as I plan what I should say next or think about what I am going to do that afternoon. It means digesting what is immediately before me before pontificating about it.
So, many future columns will be more focused on what is more interior and personal. I’ll still deal with the political and social issues that will continue to consume me, but I will take my time before firing up my Mac. And my reaction to yesterday’s election will take time to incubate before I am ready to proclaim.
To the unknown gentleman who suggested that I be very mindful of getting out of the car, he will take his place in the pantheon of saints who have helped shape me.