Our stumbles through life include moments of exhilaration, light, rapid moments, sadness, decreases in momentum, and obviously innumerable others. Music’s Italian and German words vividly capture those same desired variations: crescendo, volatino, afflitto, diminuendo and so forth. How to play Beethoven’s “Fifth” is ongoing. So, too, in life a continuum of bell shapes, u-shapes, linears.
Rhythms in life, unwritten, habitually are a part of us. We all have rhythms often basically the same through each day — more consistent after the awakening moments in morning’s glow. Even as we age. Daniel Pink’s superb book “When” moves on the wheels of time as measures and rhythms of life. Time, dutifully measured since the first sundial has had a long-term connection with long-term daily rhythms — or new ones.
So difficult is the decision to leave a home for a retirement community, or a new job, life-time position, locale. Often lost are the familiarity, habitual rhythms of daily life. Monotony and discontent may be a daily challenge. Thus, for many it’s singular loneliness.
Innumerable studies suggest a disturbance in those rhythms are causes for either positive or adverse human responses.
Shadows of earlier life rarely leave. Changing rhythms is hard. We all go through times like that: Jobs, divorces, deaths, births, changes, illness, health, children, grandchildren, and more. Age is the handmaiden leading us through those encounters, some recently. Not easy, Difficult, Trying. Challenging. Hard. Or easy? Memories capture feelings. A potpourri of changes, often on a continuum from the positive to the other kind.
Think about that for a moment.
We’re not alone. His name was John (not his real name). Grown men do cry. And to be honest, he was not the first in my office to whom I offered a ready Kleenex. A brilliant young man who wished to drop out of his MBA program at the start of his final semester. Diminuendo in speech and posture conveyed more than words. Ready to quit. Wanted out. He began with a carousel of negatives. My memory of his words is wobbly. But I moved to the chair next to him. Your response? Chances are you made a quick decision.
An Armenian tailor of Persian carpets was rushing through his successful young life. I edit that story from Murphy’s “The Root of Wild Madder.” Vendors populate the narrow byways of Mideast cities. Dust often covers both visitor and merchant. And his and her stall is consistently dusted. Floor to ceiling jammed with carpets. Hundreds. Barging mandatory. Not from the Armenian, but my son and I bought one.
Visitors and significant Arabs sought him out. An occurrence entered his rhythms of life needing a response: God asks the young man, the young weaver: “You have good in life and bad in life. Which do you wish to hear first?” … Your response?
Marathons, according to Mr. Pink’s research, suggests more than a 1,000 are held yearly in the US. A study of those persons who ran in the US and the over 3,000 in cities and areas in the world had one thing in common: A goal. Collected data has the answer. I’ve never run in one. Give me a moment.
But I’ve occasionally watched. A mob of runners at the beginning. Each with an attached large number. Some runners look ghastly. Some slow and seemingly at ease. Thoughtful. A desire. Some stopping for a deep, handed-out drink. Of course there are many negatives in running a marathon. Falls, bruised knees, dehydration — the list can be interminable long. I never tried. You?
An Orson Welles quotation: “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop the story.” That’s a segue to the above three-time Prelude-Beginnings, and Coda-Endings.
The distraught student, John. I stopped him — rather firmly. His negatives spilled on me as a coach receiving a traditional bucket of Gatorade after winning a game. Fifteen minutes bled into an hour. “Stop,” said I … again. “I wish you to write on this tablet all the positives of school, of an MBA, of your future as you age.” Then I added, “Rank them from ‘1′ highest to ‘5′ lowest. He did. Uncomfortably. Silence. From both of us. He finished. A pause. A gentle tear hung in his right eye. A list of items was given me. He stood. A hug. The tear dropped. A later note from his father was handwritten. An unforgettable remembrance added to my world. John stayed. He became positive. Today, older, he guides investments. A beginning. An ending.
Persian carpets are known for their intricate excellence blending in with the elegant floors of palaces or hovels. I’ve walked in both of them. One small muted piece lies in my study, another on a wall — an ever intruding thought of the tailors/weavers who literally live to create masterpieces — for others. Silently, a Persian carpet is a daily visual replacement for increasing mental cobwebs. We nuzzle into carpets throughout life. More than a comfort zone. That story for another time. The Armenian tailor’s response was philosophic. “Give me the bad first. I can handle now when I am strong. Then give me the good when I am old. That’s my life.” A traditional rhythm. A rhythm from most of us. We search for a positive ending. So do many books, films, stories, music endings. Life?
Who are the marathon runners? Perhaps a surprise. I tread carefully because a reader of any age may eagerly look for the next one. A goal? A New Year’s wish? In 2014, a study suggested that about half of marathon runners are running for the first time. Why? Daniel Pink suggests many causalities. They pushed aside the negatives, the warnings of peers families, criticisms, age. Perhaps in one’s rhythm of life, running does not make a ‘to do’ list. That goal is absent. The negatives dominate. Forget the average age of a marathoner (39), one of the oldest was an Indian in his 90s, others in their 80s and 70s. Forget the innuendo criticisms. “I didn’t plan to win it,” said a zoologist in San Francisco. “I just wanted to see what I could do.” She was positive. When is old “old?”
Easy to list negatives. Easy to throw stones. Easy to walk away. Easy to become reclusive. Often. No matter when you leave a home. Or retire. No matter the time or age or gender or when or where you end something and begin something new. No matter the negative criticisms. Change. Let the positives outnumber the negatives. Be positive in setting the goal, rejoice on reaching it: in a retirement home, in your long-time home, in a new marriage, in a new grandchild — all a new rhythm. Be positive. Reach! Try! Strive! Age allows it.
Sadly, as we age, our inner circles of friends become smaller. Cherish those who write supporting letters, send a compliment, give you their love, utter soul-filled words of support, greet you with warmth. Try that. One is never too old for such soul-filled actions. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts told his son and his 9th grade class, “… often thank those who have and will in positive ways continue the goodness they bring to others — and you.”
That act is an immeasurable star-reaching gift — no matter one’s age. A positive start; a positive ending.
Herb Hildebrandt, Ph.D., Hl.D, is Professor Emeritus at the Ross School of Business and Professor Emeritus Communication (International) Studies at the University of Michigan. He lives at Glacier Hills senior living facility in Ann Arbor, MI.