Where I interview an aging man who hopes to pass a life exam


Lac Ste Anne, Alberta  December, 2016

Life is short, but how trite to say…

What do you mean?
I mean we say this but rarely think it through, which makes it hackneyed, trite.

What would it mean to untrite it?
Well, nobody really wants to sleep walk through their days. Life is short could be a prod for remembering the importance of things.

What things?
Relationships: friendships, kinships…

You’re saying the importance of relationships escalate with age?
Not exactly, they’re weighty whatever our age. Just think of your first love! No, what changes is your awareness of their importance, an awareness that’s solidified by loss.

Awareness made keen through sorrow from lost relationships?
Yes…and at the same time, joy for those that remain, and delight for those that, despite distance, sustain?

Which brings up the question of, let’s say, the intentional care and feeding of human connection…
I think it can go either way.

Either way? You mean for some life is loss, so to hell with it? and for others, life is short, full of loss, so make everything count?
Yes, although it’s far more complicated. Currently, about 7 billion times more complicated.

Granted, but keep it simple for me…
Look, life is hardly static, we’re all somewhere along a beam. Because of our nature and the sum total of our experiences, we’re either moving toward a frozen existence, or we’re evolving: moving toward some kind of meaning, some kind of beauty, that is both within and beyond us. And the only way beauty, purpose and meaning grow is through flourishing relationships—outside of that, they’re pickled.

That seems slightly wise.
Hardly, just an insight of age that’s innate in a child, then often shelved in (what can be) the self-absorbing quest of actualization, only to return and be reckoned with, in time, or in tragedy.

And the reckoning? What’s it look like?
Well, I’m thinking about the relationships I’ve had over the years. All my failures, my neglect, my taking offense at perceived slights, the misunderstandings, my face-saving bluster, all my quid pro quo “love”…

They’re hazy, barely remembered, maybe wrongly remembered.

What’s that about?
Self preservation.

Don’t you want to excavate them?
It’s not about excavating. I wouldn’t know where to start, and I don’t trust my memory. And I’m not sure if excavating the unconscious for some early trauma is of much use to me, I had a pretty good childhood. At this stage I’m more interested owning what’s there, and moving on.

And what’s there?
Well, that I’m still too driven by insecurity, fear, envy…

And how do you move on?
I’m hoping that exposing, naming, the crap that constrains me, I’m creating a choice: that is, I don’t have to fall unwittingly into false ways of belonging  (notice me with approval! ), which is an animating desire deep in all of us, and on its own, lovely and noble because it draws us to one another. But it’s also be the thing that gets us into trouble. Think about it, there’s an entire industry that caters to our desire to belong.

So this desire is divine but our grasping screws us up and life is about learning another way but learning is hard and takes time and so life’s passing seems too swift? Is that what you’re saying?
I guess I’m saying two things. Life is short. Broken, lost or neglected relationships should not be relegated to the ash heap of personal history. But also, life is short, there are dead mules—no point prodding those.

So what do you propose to do?
Make small grafts for something new. Craft little revisions to the story.

And how do you do that?
Well, I’m not all that sure. Maybe this: at dawn, give thanks for the perspective gained from being practiced in failure; then, trust the sunset, be watchful, make connection, resist scattering, go for the lasting; take these remaining years, care for them without obsessing, look for healing, look for blooming, make a garden of each day, and seek its gift.

Think your up to it?
Aiming for a passing grade.


  1. I don’t know who hands out the grades, but you get an A from over here. Maybe even an A+… but I don’t want that to go to your head. 🙂

  2. “…thanks for the perspectives gained from being practiced in failure”,
    and from pondering the points in your blog. Thanks, Steve.

  3. Just when were you interviewing me? Any way still striving to make a garden of each day and this interview is one of the blossoms.

  4. I just spent the last three days at a conference on narrative therapy where the theme was developing “counter-stories”, namely, stories that re-capture those events of our lives that have been obscured by problem stories. Mostly, it was about “little revisions to the story.” I’m also reading “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman, who wrote a section on the usefulness of pessimism. According to research, pessimists are more realistic than optimists. I felt quite depressed when the test the book gives showed I’m an extremely pessimistice thinker, until I read about the usefulness of pessimism – but I do think a passing grade is within reach. Thanks for the stimulation….

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