March 3, 2020

Atop Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, 2010
19,341 ft

Old age is just a record of one’s whole life.

-Muhammad Ali


When I was younger, I decided that, rather than saving up money for retirement, I should use what money I had to do the things I wanted to do while I was still young and could enjoy it. What was the point, I argued with myself, to be old and feeble and have lots of money, but no vitality to take advantage of it? So, I traveled on a shoestring, learned how to do things that cost a lot of money, like flying small planes, went on adventures by third class in Africa, and spent what money I had building a laser instead of buying a car. I met a lot of people from many different cultures, gained a nodding familiarity with a few languages, learned that all people are much more like me than they are different from me and befriended many. I studied what interested me intellectually without regard to how viable that study might be to my making a living – relativistic astrophysics, Tibetan Buddhism, and the Ethiopian language, Amharic, to name just a few.

Now, I’m retired and have just enough wherewithal to live. No big nest-egg for me. And I don’t regret it a bit. Though the spirit is eager, the flesh, well, not so much. I’m seventy-one and, although quite healthy, my body will just not let me beat the crap out of it the way it used to. So, though I might fantasize about going and spending a summer climbing around the Himalayas, I can walk with Waldo and remember my time climbing Kilimanjaro and let the Himalayas go. I am content to watch Waldo as he joyfully explores his little piece of wilderness and reminisce about the time I raised a cheetah in Africa. Oh, I still travel a little, but not on the scale or with the exposure to risk that I used to. And I’m still mentally with it enough that I can study and learn what I want from the comfort of my easy-chair.

The need to go out and gain as much experience of life as I could, when I was young, has now, in my retirement, morphed into a deep-seated curiosity of how to integrate everything that I experienced. My mind is compelled to draw together all I’ve seen into some kind of Universal Understanding of Life. To answer the question, “What the hell was that all about?” To sort out the most important things in life from those that are merely chaff. And to pass on whatever conclusions and insights I gained to my children, grandchildren and anyone else who’ll listen.

Waldo is playing an interesting role in all of this. As I see him romp and play, explore the rail-trail, learn how to integrate his instincts with living in a city environment filled with and controlled by human beings and all of their accoutrements, I am pulled out of myself, enabled to see it all removed from my inner experience.   I see the world through the eyes of a young animal, new to the world, who struggles to develop an understanding of dog-life-in-the-city from a nearly clean slate. I experience with him, to some degree, what it’s like to experience life unencumbered by the concepts, ideas, preconceptions, hopes and fears that are intrinsic to the human condition. What does Waldo think the summum bonum (greatest good) is? A steak in his dish? Or maybe just the freedom to experience the moment as it unfolds?

The day is chilly, but not cold. Waldo trots along down the rail-trail, tail wagging, ears up and nose alert. He does S turns back and forth across the path, trying to take it all in. I fantasize what he’s thinking – What’s that smell? Did I just hear a bird? Or was it a squirrel? What’s that blotch of white stuff on the ground? It smells weird. Ugh, it don’t taste so good. I know, what I really need is a good stick. Here, stick, here, stick! There’s gotta be a stick around here somewhere. What’s that over there?  I’m right there with him and, for a second, I understand everything.

The most important thing in life is right here, right now, in this moment.

In the here and now with Waldo

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