At age 85 years or thereabouts (the exact age doesn’t matter as whatever it was he was beyond the pink) my well-to-do Uncle Herb (a former wholesale grocer and fishmonger In Fredericton, New Brunswick and latterly a fine art dealer cavorting with the likes of Dominion Gallery on Sherbrooke Street West across from the Musée des Beaux Arts in Montréal) launched what I expect was a tolerably nasty divorce from his wife Audrey. Uncle Herb and Aunt Audrey (one of my father’s two sisters among seven siblings) had been married I’m guessing above 50 years. They had two children, my cousins George (named I suspect after my paternal grandfather) and Richard, both “wacky” or unique in their own ways. In undertaking the divorce at his late age Uncle Herb must have been driven by unparalleled ambition! Surely there were those who questioned his overall sanity – not to mention the utility – of doing so. Yet whatever it was that propelled him, it was unmistakably a last stand.
My introduction to Uncle Herb’s business in the art world – his last commercial venture apart from a hotel interest in the Bahamas – transpired in what I thought at the time was an uncommonly vulgar manner. He insisted upon dragging me about his spacious home on the St. John’s River to laud his collection of oil paintings which he introduced one by one by their anticipated market value. This was not offensive commercial information but it rather succeeded to diminish my personal interest in the artistic detail and provenance of the works. As an aside I recall Aunt Audrey had a noted detachment from the proceedings. It was years later that I chanced to frequent Dominion Galleries. In chatting with a salesperson I mentioned my Uncle Herb and this instantly heightened the scope of our confab. I afterwards inquired about a sculpture I particularly liked. When I asked, “How much?” she replied, “Eighteen”. I told her I thought that was quite reasonable – though at the time I thought she meant eighteen hundred dollars. She actually meant eighteen thousand dollars! But before I fully digested this oversight she understandably became animated by my looming clientele! It turns out the piece was a Rodin, a diminutive figurative bronze. And, no, I never bought it!
This roundabout introduction nonetheless captures the thesis of my monologue; namely, when you approach the final act of assessment in life, what really matters? I have to confess my curiosity to know what after so many years of marriage to the same person – the mother of his children – could possibly have invested Uncle Herb with such obvious emotional and financial contamination to warrant the struggle of a divorce? He was clearly consumed by an overwhelming displeasure which surmounted every other current delight. He formulated the venture as a penultimate performance of abiding import.
It is this foundation of achievement – albeit strange – which prompts me to ask myself, “So what do you like to do?” I employ existentialism in the interrogatory because the flavour of this enquiry arises late in life when presumably as many options as possible have had time to percolate and what remains is a more confined and therefore irresistible focus upon what counts, usually not anything in the athletic or even romantic vernacular but rather more directed to what edgeless visceral and galvanizing spiritual blandishments outlast.
In considering the broad answer to this question while cycling languorously along the Gulf of Mexico today and enjoying the afternoon sunshine and pleasant balmy air a number of points occurred to me. First is the human instinct to leave a legacy. The slightest regard of a grandparent reveals the immediate inference that there is a deep-seated dedication to what can be left to this future embryonic generation. Curiously perhaps there is a similar passion and stimulus among those who have neither children nor grandchildren – though the production may translate more into transmission of wisdom and history than money and capital resource. The absorption is always altruistic and normally of a high standard. In its simplest regard it is a synthesis of a lifetime. In part the commitment addresses the question of ultimate accomplishment.
Second is the issue of what you do until going underground for the last time? Reading the news is a frequent preoccupation of older people in particular. Apart from the frustration generated often by political argument, it is disheartening to have to consider the library of preposterous headlines – “Beachcomber finds rusty old plate“, “See dog’s amazing body transformation“, “Owner says bulldog was crushed to death at PetSmart“, “iPhone users are insane at this game“, “Huge meteorite hits Earth nearly 800,000 years ago“, “R. Kelly’s girlfriend Joycelyn Savage faces domestic battery charge after a fight at his apartment“. It requires little analysis to determine that literature of that sort is primarily geared to entertainment and is not especially improving. This blunt conclusion is necessary to avoid prolonging a useless effort. Tempus fugit.
It is similarly not uncommon for people of advanced age to spend a great deal of time reading more profitable literature. Doing so will advance one’s acquaintance with the opinions of others and may broaden one’s wisdom. There does however come a time when the preoccupation is not solely a search for what others think nor for putting your finger at last upon the tincture that explains it all. A study of one’s private circumstances has its own imperative. I am driven in this exploit not by sentimentality or selfish absorption. It’s just completing the full picture.
The confession of what it is that distracts is not always especially sophisticated. In fact it may be downright mundane or “shallow” by some scrutiny. To that extent we are often disinclined to esteem the strictly pleasurable deflections. These are peculiar obsessions; that is, peculiar to each individual. It has to be an enormous privilege of the human being that we are not solely confined to literal necessities like food and shelter. For some of us the advantage of humanity extends to obscure and singular specialties. I count fishing and golf among them for example – though obviously I accept that others do not. It is nonetheless the further privilege to cherish the refinements which the ingenuity of humans affords. Why it is that we should allow ourselves to be embarrassed by our strictly personal sidetracks is as odd as denying what food one prefers. In the end the discovery of what makes us tick is fairly fundamental. The sooner we confront those necessities, the better we’re likely to be. This translates into everything from what one thinks to what one wears to what one believes and to what one prefers to do overall. On the periphery of this amazing experience called life, it is wisest to get on with it!
Underlying these passions is however a greater need for communion – the failure of which threatens all else. It is a paradox of all that I have said that the inability to have someone with whom to share these particularities and peculiarities is a game-changer. Perhaps it is nothing more complicated than the recognition of nature’s defining theme. The Biblical proclamation to “go forth and multiply” is certainly one version of the concept. Not having knowingly acquainted myself with that decree I am satisfied to distill my alternate zeal to intimate fellowship. In this promotion I am wont to express my gratitude for the many relationships I have enjoyed over the years, including those which have dwindled. Though some affinities have expired it is a disfavour on all counts to ignore or diminish what once was.