32. We

This post is being written while the world is still in the grips of COVID-19. And while our nation is experiencing a long overdue social revolution.

Many are living apart from other people: those in our families, workplaces, and churches. We are unable to join others in restaurants, and entertainment and sports venues.

While I, a husband of a wife with Alzheimer’s, am limited to visiting her just 30 minutes a week—outdoors and six feet apart.

Nonetheless, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am. Living comfortably in a spacious retirement villa in a somewhat pastoral suburban community. Enjoying social time with neighbors in the evening. Having access to social media. Being able to connect virtually with other people and engaging involvements.

And I am grateful for my comparatively good health at age 82, the ability to use my brain to take care of myself and engage in one of my favorite pastimes: writing.

And I am just as grateful for the connections I have with the wonderful people in my profession. As we deliberate ways to help schools and colleges during this very strange time.

I also celebrate associations with new friends in AARP and the developing relationships I found in the writing community. Those folks teach and guide me into new ways of thinking.

Even new ways of being.

By listening and responding to the feedback they offer, I feel more engaged with life. And attachment to a powerful “we” that makes getting up in the morning worthwhile.

Unlike thousands of other people, my existence is not limited to the suffocating “I”. So far, it is still a “we” world for me.

And that makes a major difference as I work through my years as a caregiver to a wife with Alzheimer’s.

—————-

The life I lead today was not a precise contingency I planned in my 20s. Or even in my 60s. But it was in the ballpark, given what I learned about the vicissitudes of life. The unpredictability, surprises, and mysteries that made the year-after-year existence on earth interesting. 

But remember the pledge I made to never become a victim. A pledge that was not Pollyannaish. It was realistic, given the nature of human existence.

To control self-perceptions and actions, seek an understanding of how the world works, and create strategies for meeting challenges.

Those three goals were baseline elements of a pledge. It was a pledge taken mostly from naivete.

But looking back, I inadvertently took advantage of three of the four freedoms Jenkins’ talks about in her 2016 book. To choose, earn and learn.

Like many young adults, choosing was difficult. As a high school senior, I considered journalism, law, and the military. I became a journalism major in a community college and joined the army reserve.

Two sidebar experiences during those first two years of college shifted my goals. The first was a developing interest in leading young people, primarily in the church I attended. The second was a growing awareness within my army reserve unit that I was a good instructor.

So, I became a church youth group director and instructor in the army reserve. At the rank of PFC.

My self-perception shifted. Without an educated or professional mentor, I began to better understand how the world worked.

The first perceptual shift told me I enjoyed being around young people, so would do better as a teacher than a writer. The second perceptual shift told me that army PFCs do not typically lead and teach. Officers do.

So, I created a strategy for becoming both a teacher and an army officer. I “earned” a teaching degree and army commission. And as I went through those preparation processes, I learned to enjoy learning.

Previously, like many young boys, I thought school was a necessary stage in life. Something to be endured. A boring rite of passage.

Somehow, I was fortunate to mature into a perspective on life that was purposeful. Exercising the freedom to choose, earn and learn.

But I do not remember being happy during that time. Jenkins says we can choose to be happy, and I did.

But “choosing” was a far cry from meeting that goal.

Satisfied for the moment more accurately described my feelings when I graduated from the university and again reported for army active duty. This time as an officer. And I was concerned about what I got myself into by being assigned to an armored division during a particularly tense period in the Cold War.

Mostly I was nervous about not measuring up. But I did.

The realization I could do what was expected of me in challenging circumstances made me happy.

Happy to earn the respect of those I worked with and led.

That was when I became firmly aware of happiness being a “we” thing.

————–

Companionship alone was not the “we” milieu I needed. In the 1960s it was being part of a band of brothers who faced tremendous challenges. It was the knowledge I belonged to the team and could hold my own in the face of danger.

My friends could depend on me, and I could depend on them.

Happiness. For men and women. The knowledge we are connected to others with like aspirations. Belief systems.

But there is an especially important caveat. A critical extra consideration. One that goes back to a paragraph I wrote in the previous blog post.

And that refers to the quality of actions that make us happy. Happiness can be the offshoot of evil as much as good.

Human beings can be collectively caught up in horrible movements. The Nazis in Germany. The criminal mob in countries around the world. Others.

Understanding that human penchant, I need to further explore something I said earlier. The reference to mentorship. Or its broader application: education.

As Jenkins said, “We have the right to be happy.”

We can choose to be happy. I have chosen to be as happy as possible while serving as a caregiver for a wife with Alzheimer’s. But that happiness is not to be achieved at her expense, shunted away or forgotten while I pursue other diversions.

At some point in my life I was mentored, or educated, to be a different kind of man.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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