By Larry Bogatz
Mature Content is a monthly feature from the Carbondale AARP Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI).
I appreciated Marty Gallagher’s Mature Content column last month: “Adjust, Accommodate, Repeat.” We do this all our lives, in ways both great and small, from the moment we leave the womb till we breathe our last. It often takes a few years before we begin noticing some of the adjustments as the big deal they are and others for the big deal they are not. It’s the noticing that makes life meaningful.
After adolescence, there was college, two years in the Navy, two wives and a son. I had a couple of place-keeper jobs, nothing that mattered and then spent three years in Costa Rica (I loved it) and two years in Southeast Asia (not so much love) working for the federal government. Returning to the States, I transferred to the United States Justice Department and took a graduate degree at the University of Southern California. Then I left the government to join friends in establishing a computer repair business. This series of changes called for big accommodations, from a kid who grew up reading Torah and working in his father’s Jewish deli. Initially, I made them without much thought.
In 1976, I stumbled onto a group of friends that developed into a kind of collective. Some of us lived together, some of us sailed together, some of us worked together. I became a partner in a new business that succeeded beyond anything we expected. The timing was right, the service was good and I stayed in the computer repair field until I retired around 2000.
After that, I worked with animals and taught earthquake preparedness for the Los Angeles fire department. Most importantly, I stayed with these friends through thick and thin. As the years passed, we talked personally, unflinchingly, about everything. Thanks to these people, I learned to reflect. I started noticing myself because they started noticing me and telling me what they noticed. Once I noticed me, I could notice others.
One of the people I noticed was Sheryl, an independent, talented, self-assured business executive who was 17 years younger than me. I fell in love with her. At the time, I was living in the collective’s apartment house. Age began pushing at me and I realized I wanted a more conventional relationship. But this time, I wanted it to work. I had enough of a past by now to realize that my future wasn’t endless. When I joined the collective two decades earlier, it felt like the right thing to do, because the friendship, adventures, learning and caring taught me to see myself, others and the world differently. By the time I moved in with, and eventually married, Sheryl, I knew what I was giving up and what I was hoping to get. I was consciously and deliberately accommodating to being older, rather than just stumbling into a new phase of my life. I was choosing this next phase with rich awareness.
A decade later, when Sheryl was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, there were more accommodations to make: moving closer to her family, then accepting in-home care for her and finally selecting residential-based memory care. Giving Sheryl up one day at a time has been the most difficult and painful accommodation I’ve ever made, and it’s not over yet. Nevertheless, life has been good, thanks to a wonderful relationship with my son, a deeper understanding of Judaism, a new involvement with Unitarian Universalism, friends whom I feel privileged to know and my two rescue dogs. One accommodation supports another once we start noticing.
At 84, it sometimes feels like most of my challenges are behind me, even while I know that others are sneaking around; in fact, one or two are already starting to show up, threatening to cause a wreck if I don’t accommodate them. I need only think back a little to remember that problems are part of life; that they can be understood, worked with and added to the pile.
All in all, I now live a quiet, thoughtful and satisfying life. When I was a child, ordinary things like making lunch, playing with a pet or visiting with neighbors seemed significant. When I naively accommodated to adulthood, I lost sight of their significance. Later, as I gained awareness of myself and others, their significance reappeared. At this point, it seems to me that I appreciate what I have by virtue of appreciating what I had.