• Reflections on Still Being Here

    • Posted on Jul 23, 2017

    Posted on Jul 23, 2017
    Here's this morning's Courier column--a bit more personal than I usually write, but seemed appropriate to my current state of mind, scattered as it is.  

    Last week I put my early old age behind me and moved into middle old age. 
     I turned 74.    

     Since wisdom has always been in short supply, and since elders are reputed to have access to it occasionally, I thought I’d share a few snippets, insights, and tidbits I’ve been pondering since reaching—uh—full maturity.

     Least to most crucial: 

    • Life is a race between obsolescence and retirement.  Keeping up with work-related technologies and new approaches was fun and challenging at first, then became routine, and finally just a chore.  I avoided Twitter, as should at least one other elder we know.  

    • Don’t underestimate sleep.  Most of us skimp on shuteye, using caffeine to wake up and dragging through the day wishing for more nap time.  When I miss out on sleep, I feel downright mean.   People easily mistake my sleep-deprived personality for a grumpy old man.  Normally I’m wide-awake and nice.  Mostly.   

    • Hydrate.  Here’s the single most important health advice we get. Humans’ bodies are mostly water, and we literally dry up quickly. Health issues from fatigue to cramps to headaches to constipation afflict dehydrated humans.  Drink up and I mean water only.  Boring but true.   

    • Many troubles from trivial to life-threatening are real but not true.  Fear of flying remains my best example.  For years flying terrified me, and I’d get off jets shaking with sweaty palms.  Crashing seemed real and imminent on every flight. I finally got over it, thanks to sheer repetition and a fearless wife. 

    • Replace religious with spiritual.  The great seers, saints, mystics, and seekers world-wide, from Jesus to Buddha to Mohammed to Confucius to Krishna, espoused personal transformations not tied to doctrines.  They were disruptors whose lives led followers to seek enlightenment and transcendence.  Rather than daily getting and spending, they understood life without religious rituals as a spiritual journey.  

    • Meditate.  It’s just common sense to quiet our drunken monkey minds.  It’s free, simple, and may add years to your life, not to mention calm to your days.    

    • Then there’s—sigh—death.  It’s the most feared event in life, at least in our youth-oriented happy-ending culture.  The older we get, the more we notice signs of the grim reaper on our trail, and avoid facing it at all costs.         The ancients certainly faced and explored it extensively, especially Tibetan Buddhists, whose “Book of the Dead” examines various stages of living, dying, and after death.                                                                                                                                               Who are we and what are we living and dying for?  Those are questions that deserve our clear-eyed attention.  There are remarkable answers, both from the ancients and from current “near-death experience” studies, which now are legion.                                                                                                                                            For a serious challenge check out Sogyal Rinpoche’s “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.”  It’s the most helpful and engaging explanation of death and dying I’ve found. Bardos here we come.                                                                                                                                                  

    Finally, as Leonard Cohen puts it, “When things get really bad, just raise your glass and stamp your feet and do a little jig. That's about all you can do.”
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    Posted in
    • Health
    • Humor
    • Aging & Birthdays
  • Birthday Photo and Verse for Tom Thompson

    • Posted on Jan 26, 2014
    Tom Thompson was born 90 years ago this month, in January, 1924.  He worked at UNI in various capacities for decades.  I knew him first as a respected colleague in the Philosophy and Religion Department, then as my Dean in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, then as a friend who made me think and rethink, who read and commented at length on my newspaper columns, and who provided a thread of continuity to life in Cedar Falls.  

    On Friday, January 17, we went to lunch at Beck's on the Hill in Cedar Falls--with another admirer of Tom's, frfe echeverria.   (See photo below) 

    In lieu of a birthday card, which seems silly and superfluous, I presented Tom with this verse---silly but heartfelt: 


    On Or About His Ninetieth

    January 17, 2014

    Tommy the T went and turned a ripe ninety!

    How can this possibly be?

    It can't be from eating his greens,

    Nor from yoga or counting his beans.

    Could he have found a fountain of youth

    in his jazz and a life less than couth?

    He was but 40 and four when I met him

    A sage and bright presence--you never forget him.

    An Oxherder staunch (sometimes loud)

    A regular lunch-mate and columnist proud.

    He complains about aging, all achey and painey

    Yet through it all he still is our brainey

    Friend Tom, still laughing and bitching,

    At fringey right wingers who get him a-twitching.

    How many books have we plowed through discussing

    The fine points of Freudian insights and cussing

    The starry-eyed mystics about us a-fussing

    With irrational thought that we find so non-plussing. 

    It’s true with his talent for herding the cats,

    Not to mention his sax with its sharps and its flats,

    He might have done more, yet now here’s the truth: 

    What joy to reach ninety with half of his youth!


    And congratulations on a life well lived, mostly.    

    --Scott Cawelti

    A lifelong fan  

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    Posted in
    • Personalities
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Language & Writing
    • Aging & Birthdays
Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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