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Archive for June 23rd, 2020

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Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

–Bertrand Russell, How to Grow Old

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Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one of those names I come across whose words seem to always make incredible amounts of sense. That is, the words and thoughts that my pea-sized brain can comprehend. Russell was one of those multiple threats, with great proficiency and expertise in a number of fields– history, mathematics, philosophy, logic and political activism, to name just a few. I guess you might just call him a deep thinker or a great mind.

The words above are from a short selection, How to Grow Old, from a collection of his essays, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays. It’s a surprisingly down to earth collection of observations about facing the aging process.

It was the section featured at the top that caught my eye. I was entranced by this idea of going through life beginning as a narrow, rushing stream that gradually widens and slows into a river that heads to the gathering of waters that is the sea.

It made me think of my own father’s life and how he never actively tried to widen his course, never sought to expand his interests in his later years. If anything, his stream somehow became narrower, even as it slowed.

That might sound like harsh criticism to some but it’s a simple observation and I think if it were presented to him at a point when he could still understand what you were trying to say, he might even agree. He might not like it and might tell you to mind your own effin’ business but he probably wouldn’t argue the point. Not much interested him as he aged and the things that once brought him a degree of enjoyment, such as sports, no longer interested him.

Not much did. His stream narrowed and slowed.

It is one of the things about my dad’s life that sadden me. On Father’s Day, I see all of the glowing tributes to other people’s dads, about all the good traits handed down to them from their dads and I am a bit embarrassed. Because for all the worthy traits I have inherited– and there are a few– it is the object lessons learned from the deficits in his life, behaviors and traits I want to avoid, that I find most valuable.

And while there are more than a few of these from which to choose and which I will not go into here, this narrowing of one’s stream is the one I seek most to avoid. I think I have been able to do it thus far. But, even so, though there are days when some genetic predisposition start whispering to me to stop paying attention, to show no interest.

To just sit and stare into the void. To slow my stream and narrow the banks.

But I fight that feeling. Fight it hard.

Years ago, I echoed Russell’s words, writing here that I sometimes see myself and my interests and knowledge as a river– a mile wide and an inch deep. I am still as shallow but I am forever trying to carve my course wider and maybe just a bit deeper.

I am shooting for two miles wide.

And two inches deep.

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