Hanged in a Fortnight?

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”  Samuel Johnson

1950 – it is a great year.  Lorna, our second child, joins our family.  In February all four of us—Sheldon and I, and Ralph and Lorna—are living in our new and cosy trailer.  Life is good, secure, and the future is open before us.  What is this that Johnson is chattering about?  Is he saying that having no options is a good thing?  How could that be?  For us, the world is our oyster and the path ahead presents endless options.

Fast forward to 1952.  Where did the last two years go?  I am only thirty, and already things have changed.  Things are not as simple as I used to think.  We made some big decisions in the past months.  Sheldon decided to accept a promotion.  On the crew he was the Party Chief, and in charge.  Now he is the low man on the totem pole in the exploration field office staff.  Every day seems to bring new opportunities, challenges, and options.  Confusing.  Samuel Johnson, you are at least partially right.  Is life always this way?  There are so many important decisions to be made with so little guidance.

Another jump, a huge one of sixty years.  It is now 2012 and it seems that I have been thrust into a completely new and different phase – OLD AGE.  I am ninety, and Samuel, my friend, you are right.  Suddenly my mind awakens to the fact that there are no live options here.  There are only realities.  I am not in a new phase but at a destination, the final one.  Death will be the next move.   

When my mind absorbs these realities, many sensations follow.  Relief, amazement, curiosity, and joy all troop through my mind.  Being new to this recently recognized state I add a familiar caveat: “This may change without notice”.

My next disclaimer is important.  This article is NOT a guide for others to follow.  It is a description of one person’s trip through unknown territory.  Should I follow with my eyes closed waiting for the axe to fall, or do I remember to see what beauty, what gifts, what surprises will come to light on this final journey?  We all recognize the difficulties that exist – pain, weakness, loneliness, chronic illnesses and more.  I know my own hurdles, but not those my neighbor struggles with or the ones he relives in memories from the past.  There is no “one size fits all” for aging.  Each person travels his/her own path.

Speaking only for myself, though, this new situation offers much…

Release, that gives me freedom to speak easily and naturally about feeling, emotions, and love.  What was I waiting for?

Joy, the spirit that encourages me to recognize the abundance of beautiful things encountered each day, the acts of kindness, the beauty of nature, and the love of family and friends.

Contentment, my “pearl of great value” in my last journey.  In the Eastern myth the hero found a pearl so beautiful that he sold all he had in order to possess it.  I am content to be in this last phase and satisfied in my own skin.  The price for this is that I accept the reality of the person I am.  Realize that this is not feeling any conceit about who I am.  I well know most of my entrenched shortcomings, but I do not intend to publish that list!  There are many areas where I can improve, and I will try.  Given that, I accept what and who I am, and am content.

Have you joined me in wondering how this essay should be labelled?  I’m still not sure but I’m open to suggestions, critical or otherwise.  If I had my druthers I’d call it “An Open Invitation to Debate”.  Any takers?

My path leads on.  When your path crosses mine, stop me for a friendly debate.  Life is amazing.  It is good even when the path is rough, it is fascinating but seldom fair, and it is worth living until the last breath is drawn.


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10 Responses to Hanged in a Fortnight?

  1. Dorothy

    I don’t find much to debate here Marjorie. It is such a pleasure to read your essays and I hope there will be many more. Today’s resonates with me as my 62nd birthday approaches. I know now that as life carries us along, if we are smart, we recognize that we don’t have as much control as we thought. Through the grace of our friends, family and a higher power (God or however you wish to call it) we learn to accept ourselves for who we are, to do the best with what we have and to appreciate what we have been given. If we are lucky we learn this lesson early and it is truly the key to contentment.

    • Marjorie

      Dorothy – It is such a pleasure to hear from friends, who also happen to be readers of blogs! I am gratified that you approve of the ideas I tried to express. I found it difficult to express what I was feeling inside, so your response is much appreciated. One life is not long enough to learn all that it offers.

  2. Jim taylor

    Oh, YESSSSS! There’s more I’d love to say, but I’d probably end up spilling out my life story to say it; better just to agree wholeheartedly. And, I suppose, to wish that I could have learned acceptance and contentment years sooner…


    • Marjorie

      Hello Jim Taylor – I understand your saying “There’s more I’d love to say” — that’s how I felt all the time I was struggling with this. You have to thank for it’s reasonable brevity, my Creative Writing class teacher. He keeps saying, “More words are not necessarily better”. As with most lessons, that is hard to learn but the importance of the topic to me made me try harder. Very glad you liked it.

  3. Getting to your age in life has nothing to do with your spirit which is young and curious, mentally frisky and loving and content. That it is better to accept, let go and sigh deeply with gratefulness is a lesson taught but never learned it seems.
    Such fretting I see all around me.
    You are a joy to read and I wish we lived closer to each other.
    Thanks for your essays.
    Old age concentrates the personality and yours is a now a pearl!

    • Marjorie

      Barbara – So you still are out there in Ottawa! Could your silence somehow be linked to my silence? It has been a long time since I posted anything. For some reason I had real difficulty in deciding – first of all what I had to say, and then how to present it – but then just did it! Thank you for your encouragement. It came at a good time

      • Yes, I’m BACK in Ottawa (after almost 6 month in total) in California.
        I was silent because I didn’t have easy access to the internet while I was there. But it’s good to re-connect, eh?

        • Marjorie

          Barbara – Yes, it will be good to be in touch again. I hope to do more blogs starting in the near future, and always appreciate feedback. My output in the last few months has not been great, but the waves from the move are settling down!

  4. So glad to see you online after a long break. Your writing is compelling on every topic you address.

    Glad to read that you still have some areas where you want to improve. Helps validate my view that we should celebrate our desire to live in forward motion at all times.

    • Marjorie

      Judith – Great to hear from you and get your opinion. It is truly nice to get feedback. After working at something like this, eventually nothing sounds quite right, so I just say “it’s finished”.