November 2012

My Ship Came In

My late father always joked he was waiting for his ship to come in. Good news. My ship has come in and it was filled with money. Let me explain.

As we get older, many of us have collected lots of “stuff.” I’ve often written about the late comedian George Carlin and his comedy routine about people’s obsession with holding on to items they will never use. He thought it amusing many of us have to rent storage lockers to keep all of our “stuff.” Well George, I got the last laugh.

Now I’m not talking about hoarding. At least I don’t think so. Being an academic, I liked to read newspapers cover-to-cover each day. I also subscribed to weekly magazines, and as part of my job, I had to read hundreds of books on the subjects I taught. For some reason, I hung on to a large number of these items. Again, I’m not talking hoarding.

Now, our storage locker did not look like this, but with some of our kids items sharing the space, much of it in cardboard boxes, the locker was getting a bit out of hand. Recently, for an entire week, wife Trisha and I went to our storage locker each morning for two hours. We carefully sorted through our “stuff” and gave much of it away, threw out a large amount, and kept the things we wanted to store. We put those items in large labeled stackable plastic bins. Our storage is now a thing of organized beauty.

The fact is, in retirement, Trisha and I really try to do the things we wrote about in our book and talk about in public presentations. One aspect of successful aging we talk about is freeing our minds and environment of useless clutter. We realized we had reached the point of feeling a bit guilty about not living up to our own recommendation. At least not 100%. 

Now to the part about my ship coming in. For some reason while sorting through our storage, I kept out a number of boxes of books and magazines. I was convinced they might be worth something. We then discovered a large book store in a nearby town that bought old books and magazines. Eureka!

After years of lugging these things around, one more time I loaded the heavy boxes and we were off. When we arrived at the store, we found the designated area clearly marked. Our excitement began to grow. It took two trips with a rolling book truck from my SUV. The process was made very clear. They would look through the items and then call my name over the loud-speaker. At that point they would make me a “cash offer.” I became a little concerned about leaving the store with so much cash, but it was worth the risk. We were told we could look around the store while we waited, but I was too excited and grabbed a chair to watch them go through my treasures.

After an hour of their investigation, carefully going through every single magazine and book, my name was called. I approached the desk with giddy anticipation. “Mr. Parker,” said the young man. “Yes,” I replied. “Today, we can offer you $2.”   

At last dad, my ship came in. By the way. On the way out of the plaza, I bought Trisha a coffee latte. $2.38.

We laughed all the way home.

Successful Aging is Living With Passion

For those of us living the second half of life, the reality of our mortality is always in mind. In just the last few months, my wife Trisha and I have lost four friends and one family member. As young persons, we probably all lived in that wonderful state of feeling immortal. Of course, it wasn’t true even then. As we grow older we become acutely aware that our time on this planet comes with a certain expiration date.

Given the responsibilities and unforeseen setbacks of life, it isn’t possible to live every minute exactly the way we might choose, but we should give it everything we’ve got. As a famous radio psychologist used to say, “This is your life, it’s not the dress rehearsal.”

Living our lives with as much passion as possible is certainly one of the principles of successful aging. Even as a young person, I was always struck by the differences in people’s lifestyles. As I age, I’m even more aware and curious about the lifestyles people choose to live.

As an example, there is a Subway sandwich shop I sometimes visit at lunchtime. For years, the same Afro-American lady behind the counter greets her customers with a wide smile and genuinely affectionate greeting. Her positive attitude and passion for life puts everyone in a better frame of mind. I’m sure the routine tasks of her job aren’t particularly fulfilling, but her customers love her and I’m sure she realizes her life is enriched by those positive and life affirming interactions. I’m also sure as many customers stop in to see her as for the sandwiches. I’ve even run in to a celebrity or two at her counter.

On the other hand, I’ve met people with wealth beyond my comprehension and other extraordinary gifts that appear to lead miserable and completely boring lives. What gives? While it may be cliché, “life is what we make it,” seems to be  an accurate truism.

So, how do we live with passion?

First, growing older means we all will have suffered loss in our lives. Overcoming the inevitable tears of life is something we must conquer.

We can live passionately by loving those around us. Be it family or friends, the richness of our lives is defined by our relationships. This doesn’t mean we have to love everyone. We should simply treat people fairly and with respect. Love is an active verb. We should shower those we care for with appreciation and affection. 

Enjoying the simple things in life is another key. Very few of us can afford the time or money for a life of continuous great adventures. Passion can be found by appreciating the simple everyday blessings in our lives.

Another way to live passionately is giving of ourselves by volunteering or donating to worthwhile causes. During this holiday season, the opportunities to help those less fortunate abound. We will always get more than we give.

On a more self-indulgent note, we can formalize the process of living passionately by making up a list of the things we still want to accomplish in our lives. We can learn to play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, meet someone we admire, reconnect with old friends or family. The choices are many and ours to make.  

I would even add it’s more than acceptable to get a little crazy when making up our list. Remember, it’s our life to live. The possibilities are endless and we don’t need approval for anything we want to do. (At this point I began to write out and share some of the “crazy” activities I’ve engaged in and then thought better of it. Some things are best left unsaid.) The point is, especially in the second half of life, we should thoughtfully and methodically pursue our dreams and passions. It’s now or never. 

Let me leave you with a favorite quote:

A few can touch the magic string, and noisy fame is proud to win them: Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!   Oliver Wendell Holmes

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Last year I posted this link to the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs and several people wrote in to thank me. I decided it would be worth posting again. Any veteran who needs information or help in any way should click on this link to find the assistance you need and deserve.

When I joined the U. S. Air Force during the Viet Nam era, I thought my life was over. I moaned and groaned, and complained for some time. Looking back, I’m proud of my service and proud of my fellow service men. My father served and his father served. I’m happy to have joined their ranks.

We should all be very thankful for those who served our country.

On Another Note

Trisha and I want to thank all of the wonderful people who attended our keynote address at the Successful Aging Expo at the San Jose Convention Center last week. We were told we had over two hundred people at our presentation and many more came by our booth to say hello. It was a joy to see you all.

Rather than my typical blog, I’m going to refer you to this month’s issue of OneTen Magazine.  It has an article (beginning on page 39) that explains how my wife Trisha and I got into researching, writing, and speaking about about retired life and successful aging.


Our path certainly wasn’t planned but simply evolved from our own interest in making our retired life as good as we could make it. Currently, we are having a rewarding time as speakers on the topics of successful aging and retired life. Hope you enjoy the article.

OneTen Magazine