Harvesting Legacy by Victor La Cerva
by Victor La Cerva (from a work in progress, Thanatopia)
Does old age really fill us with pleasure, if only we know how to properly embrace it? Can we feel the beauty of our declining years, and savor it? How did we get so old? One day at a time! Old age, though despised, remains desired by all, despite it often manifesting with the twin scourges of boredom and loneliness. As the palette of possibility grows dimmer, many of us are not content to regularly spend our remaining time putting various balls through hoops and nets and into holes, playing cards or other inane – or at least not very creative – pursuits. There are times when it seems that all is lost: faculties, family members, familiar places, friends, energy, and independence. We may gradually find ourselves with a disheartening obsession around our maladies, aches and altered sleep, subjects of little burning interest to others. On some days, confronting them without fuss or fuming, keeping the glass half full, and maintaining a positive outlook feels like a lot of work. Finding some engagement that removes us from the past – so much now to reminisce about – and our present burdens of responsibilities and bodily complaints requires some out of the box thinking. How might we shape our days with a sense of looking forward, without flinching or fantasizing? When we heed the call to reinvent ourselves, we deepen creative passions or discover new ones. We each long to share our passions and our creative endeavors. How to bring forth the fire in our belly, even if it has lain dormant for many years? Do we still have the energy and motivation to manifest a heart’s desire?
Perhaps the invitation of aging is to go deeper, rather than broader. When we look closely, we find inspiration everywhere. Family members reinventing their careers in their fifties, people in their sixties getting married, friends in their seventies taking art classes. Somehow each day, we manage to navigate the stormy seas between the life we now have, and the one we would like. We have learned to accept that our needs and wants are not always met by the world in the way we desire. Perhaps we mourn the part of ourselves who somehow perished in the oceanic abyss between our ideal and our real personhood. The road not taken may still call, haunting us with the myth of our lost opportunities. No one wants to grow old and die with a lot of “potential.” The urge to produce something of value, to make a difference, to have a legacy worthy of our finest self, grows in intensity with the years. We want to share the fire of a creative life well lived. Sharing our talents and passions sweetens the trials of aging. Getting older often provides the time and space to explore those creative aspects of ourselves we left by the wayside during the hectic years of work and raising children. Passions beg to be released from the basement to breathe the fresh air of possibility. Pablo Picasso reminds us: “I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working. Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”
A Persian proverb proclaims: “Every man goes down to his death bearing in his hands only that which he has given away.” How we define a successful life continues to evolve as we do, and aging certainly intensifies the examination of the purpose and meaning of our lives. We often think of inheritance in terms of financial prowess and physical assets. Yet an important chapter in the book of our legacy contains not only the larger contributions to society through our work, but those small acts of giving throughout our lifetime. The kindness we have shown through donations to charities, homeless people on the street, and initiatives through our local Elks, Rotary, Lions or Kiwanis community service clubs. And we must include in any accounting the priceless acts of service— bringing food to a sick neighbor, helping a teen through a troubled time, offering emotional support to a friend when they most needed it. All the time, energy and resources we provided in doing the best we could raising our children must also be acknowledged. When we actually take inventory of all the giving moments in our lives, we can feel deeply grateful, for we know that in the giving there is always receiving. What better praise can there be at our memorial than for many to stand up and share how we were there for them, or made a positive difference in their lives. Conscious aging asks that we continue to build upon our legacy of giving for as long as we are able. How many aged are there within our own family, neighborhoods, or community of friends, who are lonely or ill, and could use a helping hand? Harvesting legacy – similar to living our best life – happens one day at a time, those many meaningful moments floating like early morning dewdrops, falling falling to the earth.