The Last, More or Less

The Last, More or Less

I dashed off the emailed words without much thought. I was, after all being honest about choosing to live my ‘retirement’ years in Costa Rica and simply said, I wanted to spend my last years close to the creatures that made me laugh, smile and wonder”.. The reply was from a friend who was troubled about my  ‘last years’ reference and hoped I’d rephrase to something more upbeat and positive like, ‘I choose for my next adventure…”

I found myself thinking about it a lot.

We who have grown up in the United States are fixated on a continually upward trajectory that appears not to have an end. Everything worth having is Better or Faster or Smoother!  We are fed a continual smorgasbord of technological wonders and new breakthroughs that make us feel behind if we still have last year’s model. The economy has to be growing to make us feel happy with our lives and confident in our leaders.  Many of us begin our days with a cup of coffee in front of the financial news from Bloomberg on cable – and the market direction dictates our state of mind.  Up is up. Down is down.  Given that we are a nation of Viagra and Prozac it seems that we also have a fixation on rising body parts and moods.   We get face ‘lifts’ and breast ‘enhancements’ and ‘body augmentations’ while we tune up, fix up and dress up. Any mention of a “downward spiral” thrusts in our mind’s eye an image of a plane crashing to earth.

Part of our fixation on better and more may be tied to our belief in ‘the American dream’. Whether we see the dream as about economic futures for our children or about the pursuit of material prosperity, we have internalized the message that everything we look forward to is upward in direction.  We look to having more.  Not less.  And not even ‘the same’.

Leave it to our bodies to jolt us into reality and give us a ‘heads up’. We simply cannot go on looking and feeling better forever. Eventually our uplifts and replacement parts wear out. And eventually we are forced to readjust our lives and slow down. And what’s true for our bodies may also be true for our world.

Why isn’t this an idea worthy of celebration?

Nearing 70 I doubt that anyone would argue that I’m definitely closer to the end of my life than the beginning. Having enjoyed an interesting and varied life, I began to think seriously about my final years several years ago when I was thrust into the cascading dominos of back surgeries, medical bankruptcy, predatory lenders, economic downturn and eventual home foreclosure. I made a decision to use any remaining resources I could find to remake a life in Costa Rica that would more closely fit my physical and financial limitations and hopefully permit a softer slide down. And I decided not to listen to warnings from accountants, lawyers, fear mongering news programs, well meaning friends or doctors. Instead I would align my course according to what felt right for me.

I think we are missing the point when we focus our attention on preventing decline or denying its presence. We are not seeing the amazing potential in our declining years. Perhaps a life well lived is measured not in dollars and stock portfolios but in magical moments and blissful pauses.  I know that right this moment I have only a couple hundred dollars in the bank.  So what? If something disastrous happens to me this afternoon I also know that events will unfold according to a magical domino effect that can only be started by the domino that falls first. Change. And I know that neither I nor anyone else can possibly predict what will happen or how it will play out. Chance can always alter a seemingly definite course.  And the beauty of life is that we never really know what is just around the next turn. No amount of insurance or protective gear or fabulous resources can fully prevent the next domino fall that leads through the downward slide to eventual death. That said, I ask this. What is wrong with filling our remaining moments with those things that make us feel really good? What is wrong with looking for the exhilarating experiences that make us laugh or smile or cry? And the best news? Most don’t require money!

In my simple life here I have found that the casual sighting of a sloth in a tree can completely change my mood and outlook in that specific moment. And sometimes it can affect how I feel for an entire day. The casual sight of a toucan flying overhead can make it feel like time has stopped. These are pretty powerful uppers! And a skype call from a son or email from a friend can thrill my heart. Add to those a peaceful pause in the morning, looking out over the San Isidro valley while practicing Tai Chi Chih and I can fill my hours with life affirming punctuations.  These moments are worth celebrating. And moment-by-moment they are adding up to a splendid ride downhill and maybe even a spectacular finish!

Maybe my friend was right.  I think I’ve just reframed my declining years to my next, best adventure of all!