No Country for Old Men

by Terry Oliver on May 31, 2012

More and more these days I feel as though we are somehow rushing, like the Gadarene swine towards some terrible precipice. The news is unrelenting in its flood of  environmental disasters, human rights abuses, corporate greed and political corruption.

Perhaps it has always been this bad and I’m just more aware of it now that, at age 76, I have more free time to contemplate the unholy mess we seem to have gotten ourselves into.  I suppose each generation has its list of abuses and horrors to confront and as a grandfather I’m now spanning three eras of problems to look back on, so there is a cumulative effect on me and my generation.

But there is also the effect of information overload. The requests and demands and pleas pouring into my email in-box each day has grown to a torrent and I feel less and less able to know how to cope with it. If I read and respond to them in some futile attempt to clear my in-box, the next day brings a fresh flood, all pulling and tugging me in different directions.

Listening to other people, I realise I’m not alone in this sense of inadequacy. And not just older people. Younger ones too, are feeling stressed out by this tide of  global knowledge and disasters mounting daily ever higher.

How are we to deal with it? At times my finger hovers over the ‘delete all’ button, but I can never quite bring myself to do it without at least a cursory glance at each item before moving on doggedly to the next. Recently two different visiting friends, who usually travel with their laptops, arrived to stay without them; opting out if only for a week from the relentless tsunami of unwanted information.

But turning my back on the world so I can go on living my comfortable existence seems callous and inhuman. I want to take part, to be a useful contributing member of my community. The question is  how. If we are reduced to throwing up our arms in horror at the goings-on in our contemporary world, then we have ceased to be of any use – mere spectators.

Since my retirement, I have embraced the idea of  ‘the 3rd Age’ of life and plunged into it, determined to take on whatever life offers. But I have to admit, I’m floundering. As the poet Stevie Smith put it, ‘not waving but drowning’.

So next week, I’m going with an old Buddhist friend, to a forest monastery in northern B.C. on a silent retreat. I have been before and know what’s in store. No communication with anyone, by any means, not even conversation, the whole time.

I’m looking forward to it.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Joan McMullen June 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Have a wonderful quiet time of reflection. That sounds like something everone should do on a regular basis.
I’ll think of you & send happy, quiet thoughts!
Love Joan

Camilla Morrow June 3, 2012 at 11:54 am

I hear you, Terry….and I guess part of becoming older and wiser is knowing when we need to retreat and nourish ourselves on many levels, and when to be warriors. Makes me think of the oft-repeated adage: ‘Grant me the courage to change the things I cannot accept, the serenity to accept those I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.’

Here’s wishing you a wonder-full retreat filled with peace of mind, insights and inspiration… that you can go forth once again with your activism…

Terry Oliver June 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Thanks, Joan. I had an excellent retreat – and a very useful conversation with one of the older monks on engaged Buddhism so I feel a bit better about it all now.

Terry Oliver June 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Hi Camilla, Yes, it was a very fruitful long weekend. We stopped off at the Kettle Valley Railway hiking trail outside Hope for a walk through the tunnels and the Coquihalla River gorge -spectacular… I’m ready for the Amnesty International Conference this weekend at UBC now.

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