Three Friends Start Over at 67

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 5, 2018

Have you dreamed of starting over – maybe in another career, city, country or even continent? Do you crave new surroundings, conversations, activities, friendships, romances, routines, or even commitments? Do you hunger for something new, something different, something even exotic? Or do you just want the freedom to be yourself, to make all your own choices, to schedule every moment doing exactly what you want?

Three of my friends amazed me recently by rebooting their lives at age 67. Janis after years of planning moved to Guanajuato Mexico, Linda after a lifetime of dedication to husbands and children moved to Denver, and Peggy who thought for a decade she’d be the happiest living on a lake near her brother finally found she was right. Seeing these three women start over by themselves in a new place amazed and inspired me. I’ve been living in the same city for 48 years, married for 40, worked at the same university for 36 years, lived in the same house for 12. (Janis, Linda, and Peggy must think I’m boring!)

I’ve often wondered if I shouldn’t do something different with my life before I die. Up until I got married at 26, I had never lived in one place longer than 18 months, with the average closer to 12. Marriage, work, and getting older settled me down. In my late forties, I started having a heart arrhythmia which eventually gave me a touch of agoraphobia. My ticker was eventually surgically fixed, but I’ve kept the slight agoraphobia. Then my wife Susan started working out of town, and for eleven years I lived mostly alone (she came home Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon 2-3 times a month). For the last five years since retiring, I’ve been holed up in the house spending my days pursuing hobbies, and evening socializing with friends. But most of the time I was alone and I got to like that.

Janis, Linda, and Peggy were three women I’ve gotten to know in recent decades. I’ve often listened to them talk about their hopes for happiness. All three have gone through many changes, each different, but including buying and selling houses, retiring, losing or leaving husbands, dealing with children and grandchildren, traveling as much as possible, but ultimately, each thinking about where they could go to be exactly the person they wanted to be.

I am reminded of what I’ve read about women finding themselves in their post-menopausal years when they realize that men and children have dominated their lives, and it was time to put themselves first. I believe Janis learned that in her twenties after a brief marriage, but Peggy and Linda were devoted wives and mothers most of their lives. My wife Susan found a lot of independence when her career blossomed in her fifties and she moved out of town to follow it. And I also discovered being alone strengthened my soul. However, Peggy, Susan and I never learned to live completely alone, like Janis always has and how Linda is experimenting.

JanisThen there is moving to a new location. Janis living in Mexico blows me away. She is a life-long tourist. Her true love is travel. She was a flight attendant for Eastern before it failed, then became a lawyer, and briefly returned to work as a flight attendant in 2001 but that was nipped in the bud by 9/11. She’s been studying Spanish since I’ve known her and finished a B.A. in the language last year. She moved to Guanajuato to immerse herself in conversation and culture. The idea of living in alone another country astounds me. I’m much too chicken to ever do that.

Linda decided she wanted a life where she could make all her own choices and moved to Denver. She’s also a frequent traveler and wanted to live somewhere where people were progressive and liberal. That’s been my dream too, but I’m even too chicken to move to another town in this country.

LindaLinda wrote to me, “First, we’re all so different and so I don’t think what any of us have done would work for you. We’re very different people. What Janis and Peggy have done sound great—but wouldn’t be something I would want to do. I hadn’t really thought about it but 2 of my 5 or 6 best friends have done exactly what Janis and Peggy and I have done—Decided they didn’t like where they were and picked up and moved across the country. I think where we find ourselves when we retire just isn’t necessarily where we want to be and we’re more likely to be financially able to do what we want to do. For me, Denver is so comfortable. The people I’m meeting are well-educated, well-read, welcoming and just nice!  I’ve never had so many people go out of their way to get to know me. And the opportunities for learning and for meeting like-minded people seem way more than I’ve ever noticed in other cities. Maybe it’s just because my head is in a different place. Anyway—this was a great move for me and I am completely content with my decision!

Peggy recently moved to Denver to be near her daughter and grandson but found that Denver was not a good fit for her. Ultimately, she decided to move back south to fulfill a longtime dream of living on a lake. She has been talking about living on a lake ever since her husband died when she was in her fifties. It’s just taken her this long to get free of the distractions of children, jobs, and boyfriends.

PeggyPeggy wrote to me, “After 27 years of marriage, I have spent the time since my husband’s death in 2006 trying to find my new place in the universe.  I have read many times that life is a journey and not a destination.  I’ve learned through my own experiences, both good and bad, that there is probably not just one place for me. So, I believe that if I am not happy in a place or relationship, it is reasonable to move on to another.  However, each time I move on I hope for a longer stay where I can find happiness and someone to share it.  To have the courage to do this, I remind myself that the final destination is Death and that we are not promised tomorrow. Jim thinks I’m brave, I think I’m just following the life I was destined to lead. So, I expect to continue my journey wherever it takes me (maybe with someone special) until I reach that final destination.

Maybe I’m awed by my brave lady friends because of my agoraphobia, but I don’t think most people make such big moves late in life, especially by themselves. However, I can think of several women bloggers who have. Are women more willing to start over later in life? Maybe I don’t travel because I’m too content where I am, even though I know there might be better places to live elsewhere.

I assumed I would grow old and decay in place in my current house. Before Janis moved to Mexico, she had said life here was getting stale. That got me to thinking. Was I not making enough effort to get more out of life? Am I going stale? For years Janis was my TV buddy and we watched television together several nights a week. We have many overlapping interests, but we’re also very different. I’m sure our TV life was part of the staleness. However, Janis also said without the challenge of being a lawyer or going back to college, just being retired can be boring. I’ve often wondered if my life shouldn’t have more varied stimulation than books, music, movies, and television, but they give me such great pleasure that so I don’t feel retirement is boring. Susan has always resented that I didn’t love to travel and even asked me to try Zoloft hoping it would make me less anxious about taking trips. Maybe I don’t travel because I like what I’m doing more.

I told my oldest friend Connell about writing this essay and he immediately replied I was deluding myself if I thought I could travel. He knows me extremely well. Yet, I still felt guilty for not trying harder to see more of this world. My goal for retirement was to teach myself to write. I could live anywhere as long as it had few distractions.

Before I retired at age 62, I saved for years so I could reach my dream destination of free time. Maybe it’s my tiny touch of agoraphobia because I’ve always wanted to stay home and worked at my hobbies. Yet, is my reclusiveness hurting me? Should I push myself to be braver before I get too old? Or am I already too old? I’ve had more physical problems than Janis, Linda, and Peggy — or is that just a rationalization. Stephen Hawking traveled often despite his severe handicaps.

These women wowed me. They decided what they wanted and made it happen. They had to take risks and sell houses, leave family and friends, and essentially start over, almost from scratch. I wonder if there’s any place on Earth I’d give up everything to go live?

Being married is security. Owning a house is security. Having old friends is a security. Having a familiar infrastructure of shopping, doctors, support services, entertainment is security. Because Susan moved away to work for eleven years, I feel I could move away to do something on my own for a while too. One place I thought about is New York City, on the Upper East side near Central Park. I want to live somewhere where I won’t need a car, in a rented apartment building several floors up, but near lots of cultural events that were within walking distance or a quick rideshare. Or cities would work too. I’d still need a place to hold up in that comforts my agoraphobia but makes it easy to take excursions two or three times a week. (Ha-ha, I don’t expect to transform that much.)

Linda wrote to me, “But I do think you might regret not living in New York at some point. Why don’t you find a place to rent for 3 months and just get the experience of living somewhere else without a long-term commitment? I’m pretty sure I’ve suggested this before. I think you would really enjoy it and it would be an adventure. Without moving everything you own.” I’ve already been thinking about that and I’m encouraged by her advice, but I just don’t know if I have the balls to do that. I am going to do some extensive research and planning. That helps me overcome my anxieties.

I wish I was a brave traveler like Janis. I feel guilty for not ever traveling outside this country. I have lived in far more places in the U.S. than Janis, but that was all before I got married. I’m even chickenshit with my foreign travel fantasies because I’ve only ever been tempted by London, Paris, and Tokyo. I’m just too conditioned by always traveling in books, not reality. Janis sends me photos, videos, and stories that make me feel there’s more to this reality than the United States.

I’m most impressed with Janis’ travel bravery, but I’m the most envious of Linda’s location and activities. She immediately volunteered to work for the Democratic party, joined a thriving Unitarian church, and found many fascinating people who are pursuing a variety of creative activities to befriend. And she lives in an apartment several floors up overlooking beautiful scenery, another fantasy of mine. Linda shows me I don’t have to live in the conservative heartland. I could go and live somewhere that isn’t so politically depressing.

Peggy’s new life is the most opposite of my psychology. She’s out in nature every day, doing lots of physical and social activities. Peggy likes being with groups, which I don’t. But this represents bravery on her part because after her husband died, she spent years barely getting out. In a way, Peggy has returned to her high school age, hanging out with people who love social activities, sports, dating, eating out, and doing things in gangs. Susan is like that and wishes I was too. I’ve never been that way though. I love people but prefer them one at a time. However, Peggy shows me I should make more of an effort to get out into nature and to socialize more. This week she’s at Cruizin’ the Coast which attracts folks in antique cars. That’s something I would love to see.

These women are making me rethink my own life choices. I assumed I made my choice when I retired, but now I’m thinking I still have time to make other choices. I worry that I’ve let security and anxiety keep me from doing more – but can a leopard change its spots?

I turn 67 next month.

JWH

 

 

 

 

Living Life As It Happens Versus Making Dreams Comes True

Do you measure happiness by the number of dreams you’ve made come true, or by accepting life as it comes to you?  It’s very hard to control reality.  If your whim is to go to the movies, that’s not to hard to make real.  But if your whim is to travel to Europe, that requires a lot of effort to make into a reality.  If your dream is to become a Nobel Prize winning scientist, then you’re moving into the world of chance, no matter how hard you work.

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Recently, my wife and I were talking about our regrets, and things we wished we had done when we were young.  We are both lazy, and neither one of us have strong motivational drives.  I said it’s a shame we didn’t do more when we were young, but maybe we did the things we really wanted to do, like watch TV, go to the movies, play with our cats, hang out with friends and family, read books, and so on – just ordinary everyday things.

Our friend Olivia has been on hundreds of vacations, while Susan and I have probably been on less than 50 each in our whole life.  If you measure success in life by where you’ve been, then we have little.  We know many people with beautifully decorated homes that we envy, but our house has the couch potato décor of two TV watching experts.  We’ve met rich and successful people, and by those yardsticks we come up short too.  But have they read the thousands of books I have?  I’m a bookworm, so I live to read.

If success in life is measured by making fantasies come true, we haven’t done very well.  The trouble is I have at least a dozen good fantasies a day – that’s about a quarter million daydreams in my lifetime.  Which ones should I have made come true?  You see, I think our society is too bamboozled by desires.

Because of television we see how millions of other people live and we think we should have their lives too.  If we see someone go to Colorado for a ski trip we feel bad if we can’t too.  If we know someone with a Porsche we feel bad we don’t have an high performance sports car too.  Susan’s brother and wife are going on their second trip to Europe, and Susan probably feels bad we’ve never had our first. 

Me, I feel I go to Europe all the time.  The two books I’m currently listening to are from Russia and England.  The last movie I watched from Netflix was French.  I regularly read The Guardian.  I watch a lot of TV from England, read a lot of books by European authors, and regularly read histories about Europe.  I love European painters, and have seen many of their great work here in traveling exhibits.  I’m studying classical music, most of which has European origins.  In high school I studied German, and in college Spanish.  And I can’t count how many documentaries I’ve seen on European history, art and science.  I once started an internet business with a guy from Paris.  It’s not like I don’t know about the place, I’ve just never been there.  I’m fascinated by Western civilization, but have little desire to see the relics, and if I did, the main reason would be to see the paintings.  Most of what I actually like about Europe is in books and music, which transcends space and time.

One of the things I realized from my discussion with Susan was that I live in my head, and I think most people don’t.  To Susan and most of my friends, the real world is where they can see, hear, touch, smell and taste external to their bodies.  Success is measured by experience or accumulation. 

I live in a different world.  I think life is philosophical, and you live it as it happens.  Success is measured by how well you digest it.  It’s not what you see, but how you see  it.  It’s not what you earn, but how you earn it.  It’s not who you know, but how you know each other.

What’s funny, is by my method of measuring, or theirs, no matter how much external or internal success you find, it’s never enough.  If you don’t die with regrets, then you never looked very far.

JWH – 4/19/14 

Samsara (2011)–Ron Fricke Shows Us the Diversity of Mankind

It is impossible to express how beautiful Samsara is to see on a big screen.  If you’ve seen Baraka or Chronos at the theater, then you’ll have the best idea of what you are in store for visually.  And this film is all about visuals.  It’s a documentary without narrative.  Beautiful hypnotic music, gorgeous exotic music, lush sacred music adds to the impact of the visuals, but this film is all about seeing.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, your mind will race through an encyclopedia worth of words as you watch Samsara.  It’s a rush.

I can’t emphasize this enough, but to truly experience this film you need to go see it in a theater.  I have Baraka on DVD and watch it on a 56” TV, and I love it.  But it’s not the full experience.  Nothing I can say can convey the full impact of the film.  No photograph or film clip does the film justice.

Now I warn you, this is an intensely intellectual film, even though it has no words.  Many people, will find it boring – if you have a fascination about this reality we live in, then your lifetime of thoughts will make this film great.  Your mind will create a narrative as you watch.  This show is a head trip, and your thoughts will script the film as you watch.  You’ll write it different every time you watch it.  The many scenes from around the world are meant to trigger deep philosophical responses. 

Samsara will probably only play one week in your town, so if its on, go see it while you can.

Be sure and set this clip to the highest resolution and watch it full screen.  Or visit the official site and watch the clip there.

Samsara was filmed in 25 countries with 70mm film, and converted to digital with a 8k scan, creating a 20 terabyte file.  That’s a lot of details to shoot up into your brain in one hour and thirty-nine minutes.  Most Blu-Ray films come in around 20 gigabytes, so Samsara has a 1,000 times more bytes of detail.

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Samsara is a spiritual ride around the globe, zooming in on monasteries and prisons, jungles and deserts, slums and hi-rises, the poor and the rich, the beautiful and the grotesque, the living and the dead, a baby in the womb, and people in their coffins.

Samsara and Baraka shows how immensely diverse our world is.  It makes you realize that your view of reality, the one you’re so obsessed with, is really so very small.  Just before Samsara came on tonight they had a preview for The Hobbit.  That preview entices movie goers to come see a fantasy world rich in landscape and full of colorful fantasy beings.  It was a thrilling preview until Samsara came on.  The real world Samsara made the fantasy world of The Hobbit seem pathetic and dull.

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It’s very hard to describe Samsara because it doesn’t stay on any scene for very long.  Each clip is glimpse of a subculture from around the world.  Only a well traveled world traveler will know about most of these sites and people.  There’s even a humorous look of gun owners from around the globe, and beautiful sequences of bullet manufacturing.

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Samsara spends quite a lot of time showing exotic locations of religious worship.  This was also true of Baraka.  I believe the filmmakers must be very spiritual people, but I see what they show in a different light.  I see the temples as relics of history, and their worshipers as primitive souls trying to hang onto a dying past in our fast pace world that’s constantly changing.  Our modern world, shown at night, looks like red blood cells coursing through veins.

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The Buddhist monks carefully create a mandala with colored sand, but in the end they destroy their creation.  I assume to make it again the next day.  That focus on creating the details in the image is a kind of worship, or prayer.  Filming Samsara is the same kind of worship.

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There will be scenes that might shock, disturb or disgust you, but they are all filmed so beautifully that I have to assume that the filmmakers see everything on Earth in a spiritual light.  Many of the scenes are just exotic people that live their lives so much different from ours.  Seeing the film makes me realize how parochial I am.

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If Samsara isn’t at a nearby theater, then buy Baraka on Blu-Ray.  You can watch the entire film online, to get some idea of how Ron Fricke sees the world.  Watch it at least long enough to study the faces of the snow monkeys bathing in the warm water.  Think about how they see this world.  Think of the snow monkey watching this film like an alien from outer space seeing our world for the first time.  I’ve watch Baraka many times now, and I want to be the snow monkey.

Samsara and Baraka will not appeal to a lot of people.  I’m sorry that’s so.  People really should spend one evening watching a movie that so much different from their usual multiplex fare.  Take a trip around the real world, it’s more far-out than any CGI world ever created – even Avatar.

JWH – 11/2/12