Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Life After Life (Los Altos Town Crier, December 6, 2017

Your first life is as a child, as you encounter the world. My grandson asking the big questions at 6: “How did the galaxies start? What was there before the tiny lump of all the matter in the Universe?  Why did God explode it?

Your second life is governed by hormones – will  I be pretty? Will I be attractive?  Can I find a mate?  Will we have kids? Can we have kids?

Your third life is financial – edging up on the second life.  Can I afford to have kids?  Can I send them to college?  Can  I pay off my mortgage?

And your fourth life is after the first three lives lose their ability to engage you.  Your mortgage is paid off.  Your kids have their lives, and check in with you now and then.  Now what?

For a decade or so, everything is fine. You take courses at the local university.  You learn to paint, or to play the piano.  You travel. You design quilts, or take up pottery. Maybe you start a blog about your travel, or your craft work. You sign up for local government committees.

And then… you realize that your relevance is ebbing.  Younger people no longer seek your advice. You run out of things to say on your blog.  You read about the places you visited, and the current travel advice has nothing in common with your decade-old experience.

And then… things start to fall apart. Your fingers no longer quite do as you command as you practice your piano, or your typing.   The words don’t spring to mind as you write your blog, or your letter to the editor.

And then you fall. You break. You are slow to heal.

And then you are suddenly old.

It’s not the “Golden Years” seen in the advertisements in the AARP magazine.  It’s a life of constriction, where you move a bit less freely, food is a bit less flavorful, conversation is a bit harder to follow, reading or watching television is a bit harder to focus on, every day.  Until one day you realize that the world is moving past you, that the world doesn’t even see you.

And now what? Your friends (that have survived) and children (if you are lucky enough to have some who are still around) remind you of all the happy times you have had, all the things you have accomplished.  But your life always has been focused on the future.  Now that future looks uncertain, even painful.  Will you need care?   Will you lose your freedom to move without assistance? What do you have left to give to the world?

You have already lived four lives .  What will the fifth life be? In some cultures, the old are seen as repositories of wisdom.  In American culture, always touting youth and new frontiers, it is all too easy for those facing the fifth life to feel pushed to the side, superfluous.

So this is my challenge for the New Year – to list the gifts I have, and consider how to make them useful to my wider world.  To keep my future in mind, both its opportunities and its hazards, and to maximize the former while minimizing the latter.  Explore new paths, but wear sensible shoes, and be careful not to fall.



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4 thoughts on “Life After Life (Los Altos Town Crier, December 6, 2017

  1. John B Gordon on said:

    Regarding your “Can we still learn from history?” column in the Jan. 3rd Town Crier (not yet posted at this blog), I saw no insight or value to it. In fact, I found it astonishingly disconnected.

    You spend seven paragraphs waxing on about the Greeks, Asian Art, poetry of Pindar and author Edith Hamilton. Then there is a paragraph about Latin and other language learning.

    Then you refer to Joe Simitian’s talk at the Commonwealth Club. Interesting, I heard it. He makes very good points. We are a big, complicated nation with sometimes-conflicting points of view. We need to “listen, learn, understand.”

    Then you close by saying that you are “not sure classical Greek is going to help us [bridge certain historical, cultural, and philosophical gaps with folks in red states] here.”


    Given where your piece was going, your primary/early references were horrible ones to begin with, and your conclusion basically rendered them worthless–pointless–unless you were just trying to show off your faux highbrow literary knowledge. “Pindar’s poetry far outshines Kiplings.” “Perhaps the real lesson here is how many ways to perceive beauty, and how tragic it will be when on one can read classical Greek any longer and Pindar’s genius will be as irrelevant to our lives as Mayan carvings.” Ugh.

    All that has nothing to do with the very good points that Simitian made.

    Maybe you should have added, “Oh, and hey, Pindar said that Midwestern Conservatives yearn for a simpler life and limited government.” heh

    In other words, you could have started with eight paragraphs of, say, piston-engine mechanics, then referred to Simitian’s comments. Then you could have closed with “not sure piston-engine mechanics are going to help us here.” (Duh) Same thing. No news here.


    • John Gordon – Rereading the column in light of your comments, I have to agree that the last two paragraphs make a sharp turn in a different direction from the rest of the article, leaving a reader subject to mental whiplash. I should have left off those concluding paragraphs, and stayed with musing about what we gain in sharing a language, and what we lose when a language dies.

      You are not quite fair in accusing me of “trying to show off [my] faux highbrow literary knowledge.” I was quoting Hamilton about Pindar’s poetry vs Kipling’s, and stated quite clearly that I felt “impatient at her claims for Pindar… never having read a word of Greek.” My point (not clearly made, evidently) was that my ignorance prevented me from either challenging or supporting her claim, and from appreciating the form of poetic beauty she so admired. I felt that the inability to appreciate beauty in any form is “tragic” – but probably should have avoided that much-abused word.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to the article with your evaluation of its faults – I will take your criticism to heart and hope a future effort may earn your approval.


      • John B Gordon on said:

        Thank you for considering my inputs and for taking the time to respond. Sorry if I got a bit harsh with the critique of what I perceived as haughty references. You write well, though I got lost in the seemingly non-aligned topics. Again, thanks for listening. You are a good sport. jg


      • John B Gordon on said:

        Allyson – I was abusive in my comments. I apologize. I am not normally like that. I should have just said:
        “Your writing is very good. I just feel that the introductory topic (8 paragraphs) didn’t seem to fit with the reference to Joe Simitian’s honorable trip and useful conclusions and your final paragraph. However, keep up the good work. John Gordon


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