Tuesday, September 4, 2018

...and it can only get worse

Apart from the practical necessity of having a will and a power of attorney, prearranging my funeral and writing my obituary, I am seldom preoccupied with death.  Nor have I ever been moved by the deeply religious paranoia of Ecclesiastes in the King James version of the Bible, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth when the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them...".  By contrast I am more vehemently prompted by the comment of my friend Pierre who observed years ago after the death of his parents (from whom he thought to add that he had inherited a vast amount of money - what I suspect was well in excess of several million dollars if not indeed far more), "You don't want to grow old poor".

Paradoxically what frightens me about growing old is not being poor (I view the degeneracy of age  more imperative than the size of my bank account) but rather the various inevitabilities which can arise while traveling there.  Pierre for example lives in a multi-million dollar riparian home (his ex-lover sold their former cottage for over $800,000) but I understand he has converted the bowling-lane-basement into a sex den where he regularly invites miscreants and perverts to perform unspeakable acts; and that Pierre has developed more than a passing affection for cocaine.  Now that scares me! For my part I can at least say that I have so far escaped the inevitable declension of alcoholism - something my poor friend John in Vancouver (who now lives in a one-room rehab apartment) has sadly failed to do.  He by the way has a lot of money - but a lot of good it does his addlepated mind!

This doesn't mean I have entirely abandoned the concern about money.  We made the decision years ago upon my retirement to distill our material possessions with the view to accommodating my late father's warning that "you can't have money and things", an adage he lived by with considerable force.  It reminds me too of an observation from a former client of mine that when his mother died she had an astoundingly large bank account (which I know for a fact because I settled her estate) but - what I hadn't guessed - she had nothing but a scrap of cheese in her refrigerator.

The other misfortune which appears to have graduated over time is the loss of almost every friendship I ever had.  My best friends from boarding school are completely out of touch.  Granted Nick was seriously injured when a drunk teenage driver hit him several years ago. Max (a former senior Bay Street lawyer) apparently opted for counting his money, entertaining his grandchildren and playing the organ at church.  My so-called business associates have been consumed by their own dominating issues, some of which are health, others of which are politics.  It has mostly left me with the perception that once my legal utility was exhausted, so too was everything else about me.  Which isn't to say I am devastated; quite the contrary.  In the simplest terms, I can bear the deprivation.  If the truth be said, I accept that my capacity for anything particularly clever is completely diluted; I have no intention of running the gauntlet on that one.

It is fortunate for me that from the tender age of 14 years I grew up as a cave-dweller.  I effectively escaped the lingering perversion and cost of large-scale home ownership.  Being a "committee member" has perhaps afforded me as well the equally convenient break from the trials and financial weight of children.  Even the repugnance of having to take care of parents has been largely avoided by my early acclimatization to the comparative state of being an orphan.  Now my endurance of maternal affection is oddly based upon extenuated financial supervision and the mildly relieving privilege of reminding my elderly mother that I've got the baseball bat.

On the international level we've unwittingly adopted an entire absorption in the developing dichotomy between the Conservative Right and the Liberal Left. As we head even more penetratingly into the heartland of American contrast, I am awakening more palpably to the strength of the movement. It isn't however just in the United States of America where the division thrives. Germany is suffering the distressing revival of what once drove the Nazis. Combine these huge social struggles with the mounting concerns about climate change and atmospheric contamination, the outlook for the world is worse by the minute.

I do however derive enormous pleasure from recalling my own family history and hearing about that of others. This type of honest examination is exhilarating because it captures what were at one time possibly less than desirable conditions.  My maternal grandfather for example was illiterate.  I am nonetheless extremely proud of him.  I dolefully recollect a letter I received from him.  He wrote, "My eyes are dim so I am having Pauline (his neighbour) write this for me".  My mother once said, "Never tell your grandfather that you know he cannot read and write".  As committed as I am to literacy it never bothered me to know that.  Instead I complimented my grandfather on having emigrated from Massachusetts to Northern Ontario to become a foreman in the saw mill (where significantly he cut off his right index finger as irrevocable proof of his challenge).  He owned his own small house outright.  His shed was so clean you could eat off the floor.  And he played a mean game of cribbage.

There is perhaps some truth to the Chapman family motto, Crescit sub pondere virtus ("Virtue thrives beneath oppression").

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