• 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.”
    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Health
    • Humor
    • Aging & Birthdays
  • Finding the Perfect Gift

    • Posted on Dec 25, 2016
    Christmas Day column in the Courier--fun for one and all, at least toward the end.

    Every year we give and get gifts large and small, expensive and simple, heartfelt and routine.  Every year we give or get only one or two—if we’re lucky—perfect gifts. 

    Some years we give or get none, though we might receive plenty of wonderful gifts. 

     Perfection eludes most gifting.     

     So what’s the perfect gift?  First, what it is not, then what it is. 

    The perfect gift has nothing to do with giving exactly what’s asked for.  That’s just fulfilling a wish, which gets appreciation and gratitude, but not the wonder and joy of a perfect gift. 

    The perfect gift is seldom merely money, though that’s easy—for those who have it—and usually appreciated.   But it’s hardly perfect.  Anyone with money can give some away and relieve the challenge of gift-finding.  

     The perfect gift is not a yearly package from a Christmas gift company—nuts, cookies, fruitcake, whatever.   Such predictable yearly gifts are appreciated, but hardly perfect.  Think homemade vs. store-bought. 

    Nor is the perfect handpicked gift predictable—the same ties or shirts or candy every December 25th. They’re often appreciated, but none dare call them perfect. 
    The vast majority of gifts, you see, fall far short of perfection.  They’re what we mostly give as gifts on Christmases and birthdays. 

    So it’s a major challenge to find and give a perfect gift.  Consider:  

    The giftee never thinks to buy the perfect gift for him/herself.  It’s either too extravagant, too unusual, or too outside expectations.  A gourmet catered dinner, say, for someone who loves food but seldom goes out. Damn the considerable expense—make it among the best meals ever.    

    The perfect gift reveals the giver’s understanding of the giftee’s desires and needs.  Rare and expensive season tickets for the concertgoer or sports fan; surprise long-distance train tickets for a rail travel lover; a special Sioux ceremonial healing stick for a devotee of Native Americans. (The latter was an actual perfect gift I saw given just a few days ago, and the giftee could hardly contain his delight.)

    Finally, the perfect gift amounts to a perfect storm of choices—about the giftee’s personality, the budget, the mix of beauty and usefulness, degree of surprise, and timing.    

    This year, I did receive the perfect gift, and I was so pleased that I shared it on Facebook, and exclaim about whenever I use it.   

     It has all the attributes of a perfect gift:  unusual, nothing I would have bought for myself, surprise, and shows that the giver (my daughter) understands my personality and needs.   It’s slightly crude, but that fits my personality too, so no problem. 

    The gift?  Three rolls of China-made toilet paper with all the sheets imprinted with the unmistakable mug of—well, you can guess.   

    I plan to use it all through the holidays and share with relatives, most of whom will be aghast.  I’m hoping for amused, though.   

    Happy Holidays, and here’s hoping for a sanitary New Year.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Holidays
    • Humor
    • Christmas
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“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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