…. I always had to work hard when I was young. I was the eldest in the family and we were fairly poor…. That habit stayed with me all my life. I was always a hard worker and was known as such. I don’t have any real hobbies, I was always working. But now I'm 74 and my wife is always telling me to slow down and take it easy. You’ll break a hip or a leg, she says. My son runs the farm, and he has a new machine for every job, but I keep wanting to do things. I can see they are right, but I find it hard to do nothing. I get bored, something I never suffered from before. I'd be glad of a few words of advice. I don’t want to bother you. It was my daughter-in-law that put me up to it. Jerry
I'm glad you wrote that letter. At least that gave you a bit of time off!
There was a famously easy-going farmer in my village long ago, and people used to ask him (teasing), “What were you doing today, Jim?” His answer was always the same: “Looking at things and leaving them so.” What would you think of that as an occupation for yourself? Not a lot, I suspect!
Still… could you do it for, say, about half an hour a day? Look at trees and buildings and animals and crops – not as you think they should be, but as they are. Take time to run your hand over the bark of a tree. Give it a push: see how strong it is – rooted in the earth, going nowhere, not trying to do anything, just being what it is. It has been there for all or most of your life, and it will probably see your children’s children to the third and fourth generation. Your main job at this time of your life is to appreciate things and enjoy them. Appreciate things the way you appreciate your wife. You wouldn’t want to try improving her! If you were ever foolish enough to attempt that, you know by now it’s a waste of time. Thank God! I'm sure she’s better exactly the way she is. She’s like that tree; she’s part of your life. You’ve been looking at her and leaving her so for many years. Do the same now for everything around you. Your job now is appreciation. This is what an older person has to contribute to a crazy speeding world.
I want to make practical suggestions, because ideas tend to remain in the head. Try walking very slowly along the boreen, or through a field or a grove of trees. In some forms of meditation, people do this slow walk between periods of sitting meditation. For something so simple, it has a remarkable effect on the mind. Body and mind go together: when you slow down one of them, the other slows down too. Take the time you never had to look at things. Did you ever read Patrick Kavanagh’s poems? This is him walking along a boreen:
“A road, a mile of kingdom. I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing….”
It could be that you have poems in you that were never written – or phrases and descriptions that somehow capture the essence of your life. Or silence can be just as good, or better. Think of your whole life, with all its labour, as leading up to the present moment when you can have rest and peace and no worries. Leave worries to your son. He will have found some device for fixing that.
If you can be with things in the way I described, you will never be bored. Boredom is when we are somehow separated from things. They all begin to look alike – equally uninteresting. But if instead you pay close attention to all the things around you, one by one, you soon see that they are not all the same. Each one is a perfect world. I've been watching my grandnephews and grandnieces since they were babies, and what fascinates me is the intensity of their interest in things. A week ago I had my first long conversation with my four-year-old grandnephew – about spiders’ webs. We had come across one in the garden, and he was full of pity for the spider, pointing out all the disadvantages of trying to live in such a place. He and his family had just moved into a new house, and the contrasts were all too obvious. I must admit that I now look at spiders’ webs in a different way. The four-year-old still lives inside every one of us, and may need to be hauled out by another four-year-old. If you have grandchildren living with you, you are the luckiest man ever.
I hope you manage to slow down beautifully, Jerry. You deserve this, after all your years of hard work.