Thursday, March 27, 2014

Saving For .....

Red rock country
I'm slowly reading a wonderful book, Travels with Epicurus, by Daniel Klein.  Klein is an older gentleman who has traveled to Greece and writes about one of his favorite philosophers, Epicurus, while he is living out some of this sage advise himself.  On the back of the book, where one goes to read what the book is about, is this:

Out on a walk on the island of Hydra, a vacationing Greek American comes upon an old Greek man sitting on a rock, sipping a glass of ouzo, and lazily staring at the sun setting into the sea.  The wealthy American notices there are olive trees growing on the hills behind the old Greek but that they are untended, with olives just dropping here and there onto the ground.  He asks the old Greek who owns the trees.  
"They're mine," the Greek replies.
"Don't you gather the olives?" the American asks.
"I just pick one when I want one," the old man says.
"But don't you realize that if you pruned the trees and picked the olives at their peak, you could sell them?  In America everybody is crazy about virgin olive oil, and they pay a damned good price for it."
"What would I do with the money?" the old Greek asks.
"Why, you could build yourself a big house and hire servants to do everything for you."
"And then what would I do?"
"You could do anything you want!"
"You mean, like sit outside and sip ouzo at sunset?"

I was sold on the book at this point!

I have written about this before but I am thinking on it again today.  I seem to know quite a few folks who are working hard and running in circles as they save all their hard earned dollars for their retirement.  When I ask what retirement looks like to these friends their answers all seem to be the same .. "to do anything [I] want" ... which they don't seem to feel they are doing right now.  Right now they are working so that they might really do what they want when they are old.


I recently met a man who has a five year plan which includes quitting the job - that is hated and making his life pure chaos right now - paying off debts and then being able to live the life that is most wanted.  I told this man that five years sounds too long for me, but I hope it all works out for him.

Bigelow range from Flagstaff lake
Today I am remembering my dearest friend, Patty.  If I somehow ever ended up in prison Patty would be in the cell beside me saying, "damn that was fun!"  She and I would go off on adventures together into the wilds that more often felt like something out of a Carlos Castaneda story detailing his shamanic experiences with Don Juan the Yaqui sorcerer.

Patty and I were teachers in the same school at the same time together. One year we took our April vacation week and backpacked the entire Bigelow range.  There was little snow in Portland that year, but there had been record breaking snow fall in these western mountains.  Because she and I were so determined we managed to post-hole our way across 16.3 miles of steep, rugged terrain with an elevation gain of 2,850 feet and the top elevation of West Peak summit at 4,150 feet.  With our loaded backpacks and my dog, Maya, we swore, stepped and sunk and pulled each other out of hip deep snow as we scrambled up and over all six peaks of this range.  We had said it would take us four nights and five days, and that's what we did it in.  A lesser pair might have turned back, but that was neither one of us back then.

We both quit teaching the same year.  I headed to acupuncture school and she headed west to Colorado with her Jeep and her big, sweet, German Shepherd.  I found a new career, she found a new love and got married.   I headed to Colorado one spring to go down to the Canyonlands with her to camp and mountain bike the White Rim Trail.  This was a powerful trip for both of us out in that red rock country.  On this trip my tent almost got blown off the cliff ... with me in it!... when an epic storm came roaring across the desert and slammed into our high plateau campsite.  And Patty learned how to really drive a 4-wheel vehicle while navigating a steep, boulder laden road with a drop off on one side that would surely have been the death of both of us should she make one tiny mistake.

Patty had two or three master degrees in chemistry and engineering.  She secured a job with HP where her new husband also worked.  Together they made a good income.  Patty would tell me how JW was determined to save for retirement and insisted that she do this too.  He had his eye on a certain figure that they needed to have before they could begin to "live".  She and I would joke about this saying, 'this is great, providing everybody stays healthy until you have enough money to start living!'

Within two years of this Canyonlands trip Patty was diagnosed with colon cancer and died nine months later.  She said to me,"tell everyone how hard I fought this!"  There was no one who could have been braver or fought harder, except for maybe Jim Daniels, who got his diagnosis within three years after Patty died. And then my amazing brother-in-law, Jerry Sanders, also leaving this earth due to cancer, two years after Jim died. All of these people were incredibly vibrant and healthy with a big thirst for life and a big love for seizing the day.

So, if you didn't understand this about me before, perhaps you see now, when someone tells me of a five year plan for when they can be happy it feels too long for me.   Or why I have such an aversion to needing some future stash of money to be big enough before I can enjoy today.

I have been touched far too many times with losses that have been huge for me.  But here's the thing, with each one of these deaths has come the gift of life.

If I can afford that glass of ouzo now I won't wait until I can buy the whole bottle.  I want to be that gal who raises her glass at sunset and says, "damn, that was fun!"  I want to
know I rode it hard for however long I may still be in this rodeo.

Loving you all back,


  1. Moving, Mary. My cancer losses include three grandparents, mother, and one of my closest childhood friends. My partner recently had her thyroid removed, along with one and a half parathyroids, for cancer. It is an evil way to lose those we love most. "Bolder our mood as our band diminisheth" said the poet of the Battle of Maldon (941). I think I understand your loss.

  2. Mary, thank you SO much for writing from your heart, and somehow always being
    spot on with my current thoughts.
    This week's therapy session was talking about my need to go visit my 2 sons on
    the west coast more often. I told her that life is too short, too unpredictable, too
    precious, to not seize the day.
    Then I quoted Jimmy Buffett...."I'd rather die while I'm living, than live when I'm dead"

  3. Sunlap ... what a great quote from Buffett! Yes, to see those boys! Besides, the west coast is fabulous!

    Sapereaude ... I'm not sure I know anyone who hasn't been touched by this plague. Or maybe it's slapped, hard, as in knock you to your knees. Never mind the fear it immediately instills with the diagnosis. Yes, there is loss and there is pain .. and this is life here on this earth. I'm not sure what the term "moving on" means, but I carry these loved ones with me always, every day, and they remind me to go live, now!

    Thank you both for your comments. There is nothing better than feeling a connection with others in this world .... even if I don't know who you are! " )