Sunday, August 18, 2013

Who Says You Can't Go Back?

How many times do you get to share a memory laden place with not only the person who brought you there in the first place but with the person you’ll keep going there with for decades to come?

I’ve said this before – The Eastern Sierras are one of those places on the planet that I love. Going back yet again with my dad this summer was a wonderful treat. Taking Andy along was an added bonus. These two men, both loved so dearly by me, made the time together even better.
It wasn’t always the case that these two guys got along. During the first few years of our marriage, my dad might have used Andy for target practice instead of getting out there and shooting tin cans and targets together. To see how time has shifted their relationship into one of caring and friendship has been one of the blessings in my life.

We hiked and we fished. Yes, we went target shooting way out beyond Mono Lake. We drank wine and cooked together. We told stories and reminisced.  My dad and Andy shared stories about their youthful adventures in car ownership. Dad re-told stories from past fishing trips with his brother. When we drove by a particular turn in a creek, dad would point out to Andy where I caught my limit of trout that first time or where we camped or where a particular trailhead was that we, his daughters, still grouse about that hike he took us on.
Occasionally my dad would say, “Well, you never know when one’ll be back down here to see this again.” He’s in his mid-seventies and while still active and healthy, it’s there in his mind’s eye:  Age is changing the way he does things. “It used to be,” he says thoughtfully, “that I could just get up, pack the trailer, get everything ready to go without a thought. Now I have to go over it in my head the night before. I make lists.” 

I didn’t tell him that I do that now all the time. He was marking the differences for himself – what has changed over fifty years of adulthood. But there is a way that he says it that tells me just how much he thinks living a full life is worth any of the little troubles that aging is bringing to his doorstep. He is a happy man. Truly, deeply happy.  He doesn’t complain about getting older or get maudlin about what living used to be like – dad just figures out the ways he can keep doing what he really loves doing.
There are times when he quietly lets go and holds on to happy memories that remind him of what living a full, vibrant life can give you. "I have wonderful memories," he says, "I hold on to what makes me happy, reminds me how lucky I am."

I don’t know how much longer he’ll be able to pull his trailer down to the Sierras and neither does he. He takes it one summer at a time. We did talk about how much gas he would save bringing his little compact car down – he could afford to rent one of those cabins near the market in Lee Vining. Like I said, he keeps figuring out other ways to do what he wants to do.

Finding happiness as we get older is tricky. I think it is far too easy to concentrate on loss and regrets instead of figuring out what happiness looks like. Maybe contentment is another word that we have a hard time making sense of. Is it possible to find contentment and still strive for a life well lived? As I head towards fifty, I have to say that my father has helped me see that aging doesn’t have to be a bloody throw-down battle.
Striving for happiness, letting go of what doesn’t serve anymore, and learning how to discover contentment are a recipe for aging well.

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