So what have you learned in 72 years?

While I don’t believe there is any magical date by which one imagines having reached the pinnacle of human knowledge, there is nonetheless a moment at which one achieves licence to detailed reflection upon the subject. Curiously I have always been attracted to summaries – whether of impending deals (when I was practicing law), of completed tasks or of something as mundane as money in the bank. It was as much a process of organization as mere repetition (part of my obsessive nature no doubt).  I accept the philosophic conclusion that there is no past or future, only the present, but I persist to itemize both the past and the future as though they materially affected the present.

  1. Get out of bed. This entails going to bed at a reasonable hour, say about eight hours previously, and getting up at a similarly reasonable hour.
  2. Make your bed. This is just part of the Spartan routine of regularity which insinuates our native human condition.
  3. Eat breakfast. This is primarily an acknowledgement that our carcass requires fuel for ideal operation. I have eaten breakfast every morning throughout my entire life. The menu has changed from bacon and eggs to bagel, apple and Brie cheese. This at least illustrates that knowledge expresses itself in general terms. The specifics are up to us.
  4. Get going.  This is naturally of vast scope, intended to capture (at least in my case) the necessity of education, employment and retirement. Obviously the ingredients of each venture vary widely but the underlying theme is the same.
  5. Read, read and read. This is a recommendation given me by the late L. C. Audette, QC OC and one of which I am convinced but with the important modification that after a certain point in life there is just as much to write about as to read about.
  6. Exercise. In prep school I was a runner (100 metre dash), football player (defensive end) and tennis player. Laterally I have confined my exercise to bicycling (10 km per day).
  7. Care for others. The transition from childhood to adulthood usually carries with it this inevitable alteration of duties – from being cared for by others to caring for others. Though it is most often illustrated within immediate family circumstances there is always a panorama of others who need help and who therefore invite attention.
  8. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them. This is one of the more spooky confessions of living. Each element of the exhortation is compelling for the various reasons suggested. Currently pantheism or utter denial of traditional religious beliefs are more popular; but the description of life’s decline is universal.
  9. Carry on as best you can. I suspect that everyone – no matter how great their success by any measurement – must face the hard and inescapable reality that everything about us is transitory and in decline. In the meantime our superior triumph is maintaining our energy and commitment to the highest standards. For those of us who for example thrill to the exercise of vengeance this is clearly an obstruction but one which warrants the cautionary advice.
  10. Limit your possessions. By force of downsizing we experienced the foible accompanying over-indulgence. We ended getting rid of whatever wasn’t cherished. Insofar as possible one should limit material acquisitions to what are quality, durable products. The speed of life’s performance is not to be underestimated in this regard. It eventually all comes back to haunt you. Increasingly I learned to overtake mere desire with the strict satisfaction of need.
  11. There is strength in numbers. Depending on which side of the aisle you’re on this may or may not be inspiring. Whatever the result it is imperative to stand for what one believes. I know of no one who has survived by deceit or obfuscation. This isn’t a mantra for attacking others; rather it is encouragement to stand by your own calculations.