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Where have you been? (09/26/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Pause to smell the roses before you lose your sense of smell. Living can be a constant "search" when one cares to poke around. You're never too old to learn (or too smart). To continuously seek, eager to try something new, keeps one from growing stale and crotchety.

R&R, a midlife career change, sabbatical, and a long getaway are all buzz words which boil down to waiting for an unforeseen future, to do what you've always hoped to do - "one day." Traveling and sightseeing seem to be one of the most longed for pursuits, unfortunately slightly behind those regular power-packed shopping excursions.

Off they go, directly after Sunday church services, to Wal-Mart or the mall, with the whole bunch: a mother-in-law, her kids, his kids, a distant cousin, the guy next door, and the family pooch, noisily protecting his territory from smudged van windows.

The least likely possibility for fulfilling a late-life dream could be as bizarre as a trip to outer space, but who knows? Maybe some day! This story, from "The Little Brown Book of Anecdotes," strikes me with the ironic awareness that there exist human destinations as diverse as land and sky:

"Photographer Yousuf Karsh and his wife were having lunch with astronaut Neil Armstrong after a photo session. Armstrong politely questioned the couple about the many different countries they had visited. ‘But, Mr. Armstrong,' protested Mrs. Karsh, ‘you've walked on the moon. We want to hear about your travels.'

‘But, that's the only place I've ever been,' replied Armstrong apologetically." That would be quite an act to follow, the moonwalk. Who envied the other most? It's what you come away with, from each consecutive episode, which forms stepping stones to destiny. If you aren't aware of the impact yet, then you likely weren't paying attention.

If you go around hating yourself for growing old, you'll miss the ride of a lifetime. Emerson once wrote, "Traveling is a fool's paradise...I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from."

That quote could be a reflection of the last journey and final destination (pleasant or not) of those who live long and hard. At that point, what will stand out in memory will be the people we've known, family experiences, places we've been (the sights and sensations), outrageous good times, and, for some, a wealth of wisdom.

It's been said that, as earthly existence dwindles, it won't be the recollections of all the hard work we've done and the labors and careers abandoned due to deteriorating health. No one laments, "I wish I'd have spent more time working." NOT!

We often hear people complain that retirement isn't what it's cracked up to be...but then there arises all of these other things to do, places to visit, a slowed pace you come to appreciate and enjoy. Those "ifs" and "buts" only test our faith and feed our spunk and vinegar. Preconceived expectations may turn out to be all wet...so what? There's always Plan B.

Lillian Smith takes living to heart, "I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within." Volunteer work can smooth the brow and light the way for both givers and receivers.

The gift of character is given to those who humbly reach out and give while out of sight from the public eye. "We are here on earth to do good to others," advises Auden. "What the others are here for, I don't know."

"Where are you going?" you ask yourself, melding with long, silent shadows of a brilliant twilight. "I'm already there," you whisper.

Carpe diem. 


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