9 August 2017

Birthdays’ End: The Best Gifts Are Free. Growing Into Myself.

Liking Who You Are

When I met Maria and fell in love with her a decade ago,I was worried about the difference in our age. I am 17 years older than she is, and I like to joke that I have a lifetime of wisdom and experience over her, and she always get annoyed or laugh at me when I tell her this.

She is not only young in age but in spirit, she has the joyful sense of discovery that is usually the hallmark of the very young, and I wondered how she would feel about me when I got older…like, well now. She wrote a beautiful message about my birthday on her blog today and in the piece she said she loved me for who I was at 70, and the curious thing is that I believe it.

I hardly ever believe it when somebody tells me that they love me.

I deal with the elderly all the time, and I do not ever want to be a heavy burden on her, or dampen her great enthusiasm for life in any way. I have been thinking about how to deal with this, and as I have come to know Maria and love her even more deeply, I realize one of the great gifts I can give her is to respect her strength and many gifts.

She can and will take care of herself, she can and does make very good decisions about herself, she grows stronger and wiser by the day, and her art has deepened and grown, as have her friendships and connections to the world.  It is not loving to worry about somebody in that way, acceptance is the true gift of love, I think.

She really does love me at 70, and I love her back, and in this exchange of feeling I have also come to reassess my own life and come to like, if not  love, myself.  When you reach a relatively advanced age and look back over a lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, a rational narrative that runs through, as though composed by a novelist or playwright. Things that seemed random or accidental, writes the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, turn out to have been indispensable factors and decisions in the creation of a consistent plot.

But who composed the plot?

At 70, I feel stronger and healthier than I have in many years, I have nothing to prove to the world and no great future to worry about. I can finally just be me, and I am liking me, I am learning and changing all the time, and may one day become the human being I wish to be. The best gifts in life are free.

This year, struggling to stay grounded and positive in a world that sometimes seems to have gone mad, I had a great epiphany. Doing things I believe to be good is good for me, and grounding. I seek out the vulnerable among us, and ask them the same question: "What do you need?"

And if I can, and with help, I try to give them what they need. And if I can't, I say so and move on. I am well aware at this point in life what I can do and what I can't do, and I have grown strong enough to say so if I can't do something. These small acts of kindness keep me focused on what is important to me: empathy, honor and humanity. My life is not an argument, my values are not a survey to be decided by others.

A few weeks ago, I was shocked to receive one of those jarringly hateful messages from someone writing online, only this person was once a friend. We had an argument, i can't say I recall it, and our friendship turned into something angry and awful.

If you are a public person, I'm sorry to say this happens from time to time. I'm not sure why. I have always made some people uncomfortable, even angry, I suppose it is my nature.

Still, I was shocked by the message, it really was not an important argument, at least to me,  and I answered, simply to say I was sorry she felt that way. And I let go of it, I could feel it leaving me like a cloud blown away by the wind.

I am no longer able to respond in kind to hate or anger, or to stew or pout. It is simply beyond me now, for better or worse, no longer a part of the plot that has shaped and defined my life. It is not that I am saintly or pure, but age is a filter, when you have so much time behind you and so little ahead of you, your subconscious begins to act like a filter, screening out what just does not matter any more. That has left me free to focus my life on what does matter, and that is a breakthrough.

I am growing into myself, and it took me long enough. For the first time in my life, I like the face I see in the mirror. He is getting older, for sure, but there is humor and some truth in those eyes.

I have worked at shedding anger and resentment, for sure, but that is also the gift of getting older, what is important becomes clearer, what is not important recedes. How glad I am, that I am not capable of writing a message like that to anyone, if I ever was.

The greatest gift of my lifetime has been Maria, without a doubt. We simply  belonged together and have profoundly affected one another. I felt this so strongly on my birthday, which she went to great pains to celebrate, taking me to the racetrack, which I love, and a play we both loved.

We had the most precious day laughing, holding hands, observing, talking, remembering, just being grateful for one another. The 17 years is really not important, certainly not to her, and not even, any longer, to me.

Maria is the greatest birthday gift I have ever received, and it seems the greatest gifts in life are free.

Posted in General

Birthday Day, Part One. Post Time. It Is Not Easy Being 70.

Saratoga Raceway

Maria took me to the Saratoga Raceway today for my birthday and it was a sweet day, racetracks are always a kind of home for me, I spent some serious parts of my life at racetracks, betting on the ponies, traveling from one track to another.

It was a sweet and learning time for me, for all the problems I did have, I never had a gambling problem, I never won a lot of money or lost a lot of money, I just won enough to keep me going for some time, from Hialeah in Miami to Saratoga Springs.

It was a great life for a very young man, I hung out with jockeys, trainers, horse junkies and a few mob types, great training for a reporter. I have not been in this game for awhile, I quickly lost $50 betting on five races, I came very close to one big score, but screwed up placing the bet I wanted.

The day was not about winning, of course, but about having fun, getting away, spending time with the wonderful person who is my lover and partner in life. We stayed through five races, had a lobster roll, hung out in the paddock, sizing up the horses and  jockeys. Maria is a natural gambler, she is serious and fearless, she won one bet, lost four. We had a losing day and a very winning day.

You really can't go back, and I don't wish to. I know so little about the horses I was betting on today, and watching. Mostly, I love to watch the people. Tomorrow, life resumes, I have one more air conditioner to bring to the Mansion and am driving to Albany to talk so some refugees. Life goes on and on, it was sweet to go back for a few hours.

We could not have had a better time, and a day with her reminds me of the importance of love in one's life. It is very important to me. Tonight, the birthday celebration continues, we're heading to the Dorset Playhouse in Dorset, Vt. to see a show we have been official warned has obscenity, smoke, sexual references and loud music and noises. Sounds great.

Otherwise, I could fall asleep, we are both wiped out. Saratoga is quiet different than it was in my prime time there, most of the swells are gone (there are a few left in the Clubhouse stands, dressed to the nines), there are hordes of lawn people from Queens and New Jersey. Times change, but the track keeps its essence.

I go once in awhile, every other year, and it used to make me sad, I often missed my life on the racing circuit, it was a good fit for me in many ways. I felt nothing like that today, that is the difference I think, from living an unhappy life to living a fulfilled one. And the difference from living without love to being loved. And loving.

Got to take a nap, shuck some corn, head out again. It is not easy being 70. My 71st year is off to a great start.


Posted in General

Staring Down Sheep: Gus, The Farm Dog. Smiling A Lot.

Staring Down Sheep

Gus continues his staring down of the puzzled sheep. He isn't exactly herding them, but he isn't backing down either. The sheep feel moderately intimidated – they aren't snapping to, as they do with Red – but they aren't challenging him either. I have no idea where this is going to go, but I am impressed with Gus's composure. He seems to feel he is in charge of most, if not all, of the farm. It will be fun to see where that goes.

The interesting thing about the small dog is that they make you smile and laugh a lot. Gus has a ton of personality, and smiling a lot is very valuable these days, or any days.

Posted in General

Off To The Races. Feeling Lucky Today

Off To The Races

My birthday was yesterday but we are celebrating it today. Birthdays make me nervous, they always seem a bit forced to me, but this one sounds like fun. Today sounds promising. We are heading to the Saratoga Raceway, trying buy some reserved seats online all morning, a digital nightmare, but I'm nothing if not willful, we are getting close.

Tonight, Maria is taking me to a play at the Dorset Playhouse in Vermont. A long day, a fun day. I can't say being 70 means a great deal to me, my concern about all the birthday obsessions is that we begin viewing ourselves in terms of our age, rather than in terms of our lives and passions.

The truth is, this year is shaping up as one of the best years of my life, despite the fact my knees hurt sometimes if I stand on them for too long. Old talk kills, and old thinking kills even quicker. Like Grandma Moses said, life is what you make of it, every single day.

This say is no different than any other day. I get up, determined to live my life, and grateful for every day of it. Today, I'll take a day off from the Army of Good, it is, as many of you know, draining and intense work, however good it is and feels. There is always something good to do.

We cannot change the nature of the world, but we can alter some lives and brighten some days and fill some holes in the lives of people. Tomorrow, I am off to Albany to meet with Devota and Mawulidi, and I plan to bring some gifts with me, thanks to your generosity. I'm hoping to knock down the mistaken loan Devota took out to help her son get through school and give Mawulidi enough money to buy his carving tools.

That would make for a perfect day.

If you wish to contribute to the Army of Good, to the refugee work and the work at the Mansion I will make sure the money is used widely and well, you can do so by sending a donation to my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or through paypal,jon@bedlamfarm.com. Please say "Devota" or "Refugee Fund" or "Army Of Good" on your checks, thanks.

We have done a lot of good. There is a lot more good to do. Doing good is so much better than arguing about what good is.

I hope to checkin later. I'm bring about $80 to the track. I do feel pretty lucky today.

Posted in General