An Exciting Time To Be Living

img_3925 img_3940 img_3938 img_3922It’s summer again, and I’ve just spent much of Labour Day weekend having a great time at the Ashkenaz festival. If you’ve never gone, I highly recommend it for next year if you’re not one of those folks who is lucky enough to have a cottage to go to.  As I sat and listened to some great musicians – from as far away as Venice and Japan, and as close as Toronto – I couldn’t help but marvel at what luck I have to live in Canada.  There we were out in the open in one of the most multicultural cities in the world and we could not only celebrate our Jewish heritage but we could do it with music that was a blend of klezmer, Arab music, Gypsy music, Italian renaissance music, Japanese street music … and on and on the list could go.  In the crowd on Monday afternoon, dancing along to some great songs that were a blend of Jewish and Palestinian musical traditions, I saw people from nearly all parts of the world (I’m guessing) who represent a wide range of religious and spiritual practices.  Aside from the fact that having the chance to get up and dance with my sweet David always makes me happy right down to my bones, it was just overwhelmingly powerful to me to know that as a Jew I could proudly dance and sing with the rest of the world.  No small thing in today’s world where all around us are countries struggling with how they will define themselves as world citizens. [If you live in the U.S. it seems to me that you need to do some deep thinking about what kind of a country you want to be, given that you’ve actually given someone like Trump the ability to pose as a reasonable candidate for President – but that’s only my opinion of course.]

backtoschoolLabour Day weekend has always been a momentous few days for me.  First as a student and then as an educator, it was always the clear mark between the freedom of summer vacation and “get back to work” time.  In days gone by I would have been prepping my classroom and lesson plans and laying out the clothes I would wear on the first day back to school.  Even in the 14 years I worked at the Ministry of Education before I retired there was still a flurry in the air as school boards reopened offices and everything ramped up for another school year.  The big question hanging over me was always “are you ready?”  That wasn’t such a hard question to deal with when it meant getting school supplies together; that’s an activity that I’ve actually really missed since my kids grew up and even my nieces became adults. As a teacher there was lots more to it, although getting school supplies now meant buying the things I’d need for my classroom that the board couldn’t afford to give me. There was always the struggle to deal with the gap between what school actually is and what I wanted it to be.  To use the words of American singer-songwriter Conor Oberst as he mused over returning to school: “In theory, I always think I should totally go back to school, because I don’t want to start sinking slowly… I want to learn, blah blah blah. Then I think about actually going and sitting in classes and, man, it sounds terrible.” Somehow I managed to get through many many years of schooling (I think I was a student for the better part of  my life) until finally, as a single-Mom of 3 wonderful children, I earned my Doctorate of Education.  At the time, having Dr. in front of my name increased my salary by about $45/year … and after taxes that was enough to take 1 friend out for a stingy dinner.  I don’t regret the years I spent in school though. I do wish that I’d been more involved in sports (maybe my body would be stronger now), music (perhaps the piano wouldn’t shun me when I sit down to play the same pieces I was playing when I was 14), and science (which I struggle with daily so that I can understand the world I live in). I still frequently think about returning to school myself – maybe Rabbinical training, maybe another Ph.D., maybe a degree in a new field – and then I think of the workload and my energy level, and terror sets in and takes over and I turn to other thoughts.

This year – as has been the case since I retired 8 years ago – there’s no back to school for me, and instead I feel anxious about how to start into this new year.  I have a month until Rosh Hashanah when the Jewish New Year will begin and I look forward to celebrating that once again. David and I sat down and coordinated our calendars for the next few weeks so there are already meetings to attend about delivering our Great Trials that Changed the Course of History classes at the Instituto Allende (in San Miguel, Mexico) in February and George Brown College in the spring … and maybe even the University of Toronto before too much longer.  I have training for delivering Kosher Meals on Wheels later this week, and then that will become part of my weekly routine – deliver meals on Thursday mornings and work in the kitchen on Thursday afternoons for the Out Of The Cold program. I am still trying to get a plan together for writing the book Loving Together / Living Apart which likely will start to percolate late next spring. I continue to set aside time almost every day to either do a workout with my personal trainer Aaron (a wonderful fellow who can make me sweat and groan and struggle … and still laugh) or spend some time in a swimming pool either participating in an Aquafit class or counting lengths.  There’s a wonderful journey to China in mid-October and then I face one more major surgery in November in which the mess of metal that’s been extant as part of my arm for the last year and half will be removed, hopefully making space for at least a better recovery of arm-use than I have now … and less pain.

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Life does have a way of moving forward, whether we participate fully or not.  So how am I spending my time? How am I living so that I just might make a difference in the world? Sometimes it means just sitting in my backyard and listening to the water trickle down the rock in my garden.  I watch the birds fly in to have a drink and then fly off again.  It’s a very peaceful place to sit and cogitate.  I think about the words of Nelson Mandela (yes, his trial will soon be included in our course) who said: “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” I try my best to set aside some time every morning for sitting in the garden and thinking because I do believe in the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson: ” … during those first moments of the day, which are yours and yours alone, you can circumvent these boundaries and concentrate fully on spiritual matters. And this gives you the opportunity to plan the time management of the entire day.” I know that I’m entering – or perhaps have already entered – a new part of my life.  I don’t feel like I’m in the final scene/act quite yet but I do know that the number of years before me – especially the number of years in which I can be a participant in living as I define it – is dwindling.  Brandon Boyd said there is something beautiful about mortality; it makes our decisions mean more.  Sometimes when I’m sitting outside I chew bubble gum; I can get lost in the bubble but afterwards I’m still left pondering mortality.  American writer and surgeon Bernie Siegel said that an awareness of one’s mortality can lead you to wake up and live an authentic, meaningful life.

What does that mean to those of us who have redefined ourselves post-working-life and are now engaged in making so many more choices about how we spend our time and who we spend it with? I hope that you’ll give some thought to what that means to you and then add your thoughts as comments in the blog so we can all share them.  What an exciting time to be living!

 

  1. Patti M
    September 7th, 2016 at 15:53 | #1

    A great post Syliva.
    I am turning 64 this week and I find myself wrestling with the number. There is the old Beattle’s song “When I’m 64” which contains the lyrics suggesting 64 is very old. But then there is the new longevity conversation going on which suggests 64 is not old.
    In any event, the same questions that you are asking are the very questions that I have been considering as well.
    I find myself enjoying a few hours of solitude each day whether my husband is home or not. He is the easiest person I know to be around, so deciding to meditate or contemplate is simple.
    But I also find that I miss being in the centre of the action making decisions, accomplishing things and interacting continuously.
    One thing I find though in the past few years is that I continue to clearly identify the people that I wish to spend my time and energy and money on. That list now is shorter and only has people on it that I love dearly or those who I am volunteering my resources to.
    Again, I go from thankful to wistful at times.
    So I find the retirement years does contain moments of great clarity and loving memories and moments of wistfulness along with regrets and all of things that make us human.
    Now as for exciting time to be alive. I truly think the Boomers really did live in the best of times. And to watch Hilary Clinton campaigning (as I pray daily that she wins) is to witness something so wonderful. This was not possible in our mother’s generation. This is a great thing for us and future generations. And speaking of inspiration to women our age!
    One more thing to celebrate. We now have a balanced cabinet in Ottawa. Balanced in gender, diverse in religion and race. That is a wonderful thing.
    Cheers,

    Patti

    [Reply]

    Sylvia Solomon Reply:

    Thanks for sharing your experience of life Patti. The Beatles song haunted me for the full year (at least) before I turned 64. I am happy to report that those who needed me (in the myriad of things that means) and feed-ed me (again, in many ways) before 64 are still there. I, too, have “trimmed my gift list”, the gift being my time and energy. I think that those of us who are really taking on the challenge of what it means to live much longer in full (or near-full) capacity and strive to keep on giving of themselves to make the world a better place need times of quiet to focus our energy. Glad to know you’re out there doing this too! And finally, yes … for sure … our mother’s mostly couldn’t have even imagines the world we’d get to live in.

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  2. Esther Andrews
    September 8th, 2016 at 15:35 | #2

    Very enjoyable post Syl. I’m way past 64 so the song doesn’t bother me, don’t think it ever did. I always felt it a priviledge to be able to enjoy the simple life of the 50’s, the excitement of the 60’s the fun and energizing 70s and 80s and the immense more recent technological advances. Of course, I thought I was doing all the correct and expected things in retirement, being with friends, travelling, volunteering, ‘paying it forward’, learning and teaching. This is what we both do. Recently I heard of a course that tells us we are all wrong. We should have kept working (and a bunch of rational for that), loved our jobs and the productivity thereof. Think I’ll skip that one! I’m cheering you on Sylvia, can you hear me! Much love.

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