Last Sunday a couple of other musicians and I worked as a team to present an hour long musical celebration of Peace in advance of International Peace Day, September 21. The process was stressful for several reasons. I was away for the three weeks immediately prior to the service, one of the other musicians was away for a couple of the same weeks, and we had one practice together. The other reason is that I don't play well with others. The practice was rough, but we all went home with things to work on, and on Sunday it all pulled together.
I sang and played the tune that has variously been called Butternut Hill, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier that has the Celtic tune "Shule Aroon" as its parent song, as a solo. I sang the lead on Tenting Tonight with one of the other musicians playing harmonica in selected places and singing harmony on the chorus, and the other musician, who can sing and play anything, led us all at the opening with John Lenin and Yoko Ono's song, "Imagine". We finished with a country hit by the Bellamy Brothers, "Let Your Love Flow."
So, I should be relieved, right? Wrong. I’m responsible for the music this coming Sunday and I have nothing ready.
The sermon, as I gather, is about finding purpose after retirement. I started thinking about that and found a Zen proverb;
“Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.”
Like all Zen sayings seemingly meaningless statements have often profound meaning on reflection.
The same message could substitute the word retirement for enlightenment.
There are countless anecdotes about the hazards of retirement. Individuals often leave a lifetime of work, go home, sit, sleep late, and are dead within a year. I worry when people tell me they don’t know what they will do when they retire; that they have no hobbies.
Longevity has been studied a great deal by organizations trying to find the secret to longer life. Most of the effort has been spent looking in the wrong places in the past. Researchers have studied diet, income levels, levels of healthcare support, geographic location, religion, religious activity and any number of other things and have found that none of those things seem to make a lot of difference. What matters seems to be two things; activity level following retirement, and connections with family and friends. These two things are critical and need a little discussion.
Activity doesn’t mean working out at the gym, although there is nothing wrong with that. Activity means keeping busy doing a variety of things. In Costa Rica, for example, where residents in a region of the country have average lifespans almost ten years longer than the world average, individuals never really stop working. They work in their gardens, eat fruit and nuts from trees which they plant grow and tend, and walk everywhere. They chat with neighbors, go see family and friends and live a social life. This doesn’t mean they have no “alone time”. They do, and when they are alone they are comfortable in their solitude because they aren’t doomed to that.
In the Caucasus where residents have longer than usual lives most of the people are Muslim. Their faith and customs create an interconnected web of relationships which provide structure and support. Their marriage may be arranged, but that marriage ensures another web of relationships. It is true that they eat what is considered to be a healthy diet, but so do other minority groups like Armenians and Turks, and those groups don’t live any longer despite the same diet and exercise levels.
To further lend support to the importance of relationships, individuals from the Caucasus live the same length of time as Russians when relocated to Moscow.
Chopping wood does not require great mental concentration and one sees immediate results. There is a feeling of accomplishment with chopping wood.
I still don't know what I will play this Sunday. I'll probably pull some things out of the vault.
Other than a music video in Chinese about the joys of retirement I found this:
Retirement seems to inspire a lot of jokes, but not a lot of passion.
Teacher: “Is everyone going to grandpa and grandma’s house for Thanksgiving?”
Johnny: “No, my grandpa got retarded and they moved to Florida.”
Poor Johnny. Poor Grandpa and Grandma.