The Turning Point on the (Hopefully) Long Journey Home

You reach a point in life—I’m not sure when it began but I know it has—that your people—friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, teachers, teammates— who have died begin to rival in number, and feel as present to you, as those who are still living. This represents some kind of turning point no one ever alluded to in my formative years, when they suggested all the exciting things awaiting me in my maturity.

No one ever took me aside back then in a candid moment and intoned, “All they’re saying is true, but at a certain point, you will also begin to suffer loss upon loss, and it will last until the very day you, too, will perish from this earth.”

Much as we suspect that might not be the most helpful and inspiring bit of wisdom for an elder to pass along to a youth in bloom, I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be at least as helpful as the traditional exhortations along the lines of, “You can be anything you want to be, no barriers, no limits, live your dreams!”

There was a time in my life when only the likes of George Washington and Davy Crockett, Pocahontas and Millard Fillmore, Booker T. Washington and Karl Marx and Emily Dickinson, were dead. All the dusty past one listens to absently in school or in front of the TV.

Everyone else—JFK, MLK, RFK, Wilt Chamberlain, Spencer Tracy, Mickey Mantle, my history teacher Mr. Pappas, my parents, my brother, John Prine, et friggin’ al—were very much alive. And I had little idea, because it’s not something people are prone to think about all that much, that so godawful many of the live group would too soon—because it is most always too soon, isn’t it?—be dead.

How is it that this feels at once like the most rewarding time of my life, with the very expansiveness of its time no longer beholden to the crush of work demands, while at the same time it is seemingly suffused with a deep sense of foreboding, of time’s utter fleetingness, its urgency, of it perhaps finally running out for our planet, our democracy, our very future as a species?

Yesterday, I was reading a heart-rending account of an old buddy from the Sonoma County running community who took advantage of California’s assisted suicide law to end his life rather than do further battle with the ravages of skin cancer. I had raced against Ralph countless times over decades, and as I was reading and going deep into my memory bank about him, I got a text message with a link to Nanci Griffith’s song, “Heaven,” accompanied only by the words, “So sad.”

It seemed implausible and eerie to think the friend sending it to me from afar knew somehow about Ralph and was trying to console me, but no. It was that the folksinger Nanci Griffith is gone now, too, at age 68, joining George Washington and Davy Crockett and probably 90 percent or more of all the adults I knew or was aware of when I looked around the world at 8 or 9 or 18 years old and it felt like that world would surely stay just as it was, forever.

Turned out not to be the case, and is it strange that this still strikes me as a strange and deeply unsettling thing?



Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.


Those are the last two lines of Philip Larkin’s brief poem, “The Mower,” in which he laments inadvertently ending the life of a hedgehog that had been hidden in the grass and gotten mangled when Larkin powermowed his lawn.

I, too, worry about the worms and caterpillars underfoot (about the ginormous southern cockroaches skittering across my counters in the dead of night, not so much…), but to quote another poet, Theodore Roethke, regarding young birds and rabbits caught in his own mower, “My grief was not excessive.”

Not in this summer of Covid resurgence it isn’t, when the pallor of death once again hangs over emergency rooms across the land, when various of my own family members continue to refuse vaccines and thus put themselves and those they love, as well as every stranger they come across, at risk of an agonizing death.

Not when friends both young and old are diagnosed with serious cancers (“serious” being oxymoronic about cancer, to be sure, though some are more dire than others).

Nor when multiple other friends are falling and breaking bones, or picking up emerging dementia diagnoses, or more benignly but still reflecting the relentless march of time, getting new hips and knees and hearing aids.

How is it that this feels at once like the most rewarding time of my life, with the very expansiveness of its time no longer beholden to the crush of work demands, while at the same time it is seemingly suffused with a deep sense of foreboding, of time’s utter fleetingness, its urgency, of it perhaps finally running out for our planet, our democracy, our very future as a species?

(Not to mention for me…)

Is that too dire?

“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”

That’s from T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” written in 1922, when the world was teetering in a different way, and has it always been so, our fears for our progeny’s future simply a product of our own demise growing all the closer, having learned too much as the years and death bed visitations and funerals piled up in our ledgers of life experience?

I do not know, but I do know what I shall ever do, today and tomorrow, Mr. Eliot, which is to practice Mr. Larkin’s kindness as I am able, and to laugh more than I gather you laughed, and to dance more than you danced, because your own words could not have been more acute and encouraging as a means of avoiding the despair that lurks as a dark cloud ready to obscure all that one beholds and treasures as valuable and true:

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving…
—From “Burnt Norton” in “Four Quartets” (1941)


And yet there the moments are, available, ready to be charmed, disarmed, seized…


Check out this blog’s public page on Facebook for 1-minute snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography.

Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Hooded hiker by Ronan Furuta, San Francisco Bay Area

Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Andrew Hidas

13 comments to The Turning Point on the (Hopefully) Long Journey Home

  • Jamie Marron  says:

    Superb piece of writing. Sums up the state of life right now exactly and exquisitely.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Thanks so much, Jamie. I came within a whisker of giving up on this particular piece of writing in the wee hours last night, but among the many valuable things I’ve learned over the years is that emotional landscapes often look and feel different in the morning, and can take subtle changes in direction that were unavailable to a fogged-in mind just hours before. So I’m very glad to hear my re-evaluation worked for you!

  • Mary Graves  says:

    Thanks Andrew for fighting to keep the positive. That darling girl singing reminded me of Dakota at that age. Hope you just Keep on keeping on!
    Republicans finally admitted Trump would never run again. whew

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      If only Dakota could sing like that girl, I’d be making a mint as her manager, Mary! Glad you liked it.

      Where have you come across this about Trump? A source, please! Would be great news, but whomever it is who’s trying to move away from him had better convince Republican voters, the majority of whom recent polls suggest still think he won the election!

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Appreciate this reflection/meditation Andrew – I must admit to never having read a thing by T.S. Eliot (probably due to lethargy and intimidation) but loved your excerpts and comments which in turn took me to spending the last hour with Burnt Norton – oh my! T.S. can certainly be inscrutable (at least to me), I mean who uses “eructation” when burp or belch would do??!! Yet as I looped over and back it felt like reading (or trying to read) contemporary explanations of the universe by String or Multiverse theorists… I could sense glimpses of “getting it” yet the contradictions (e.g. “Only through time is time conquered”) and rich images were provocative – I felt like I caught some of the gist: i.e. stuff is convoluted, paradoxical, and endless complex but that’s what makes it so attractive somehow but don’t ask me to try and explain! More felt than understood perhaps. Your piece also took me back to reflecting on how when I was in my 40s I remember my mom struggling with the realization that her gift of longevity (Virginia died at age 94) meant she would lose all of her closest friends and much of her family – talk about paradoxes in life! Not only were these rich conversations they’ve prompted me to think about my own life from a different perspective.This insight has been one yielding a sense of recurring gratitude and fuels an ongoing attempt to not take all the marvelous little moments for granted. I think T.S. had some serious Zen stuff floating around his brain!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Kevin, I am glad you dove into Eliot and absolutely on board with your rather, what, psychedelic? experience of confronting all that intensity and often obscure imagery that are among his hallmarks and wondering, “Whahhh?”

      I always feel wrung out about two stanzas in, not always sure what I’m reading and where the allusions are coming from and going, but even moderate amounts of persistence pay off greatly, and there is something in his urgency and musicality that always feels alluring and important. There are plenty of guides that can walk you through every single literary or foreign language reference and can make the reading more interesting and appreciated, but probably my main point in this post from 6+ years ago (link below) is that it’s not necessary to grasp all that imagery in order to appreciate the many gifts awaiting you in reading. I think you’ll profit from reading the post before you read “The Wasteland,” which would require less than another hour of your time, and is also available online (link following).

      And yes, Eliot was steeped to his eyeballs in Eastern religion, though he remained an Anglican with a heavy Catholic underlay his entire life.

      Thanks for reading and reflecting!

  • Claire  says:

    As always, thoughtful and well-stated. I lost a friend from high school this week. He will be ensconced in youth forever in my memory, singing a horrible rendition of Blue Christmas at the end of our shift at the Village Cinema. I hadn’t seen him in decades. So, I don’t know his grieving wife and children. But I felt a true sadness that we won’t ever again reminisce about the popcorn batch I burned my first night on the job that permeated the theater the whole night or the date that assured us we weren’t the recipe for a couple but well suited for friendship. All in all my life is good, and I am grateful. And yet something of my past has truly gone, and I shall miss it. Thanks for making me pause and remember.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Oh gosh, Claire, I am so sorry and very appreciative you shared this touching anecdote of your own loss. Another friend on Facebook shared she had lost a friend this week, and yet another shared in a private note that she had lost her brother a few days ago, all of which which simply underscores the cold hard fact that amidst the great joys of watching our children become adults and our grandchildren bloom into young humanoids, we are also in the season of serial, persistent loss if we are fortunate/unfortunate enough to go on living ourselves. (Yup, there is no free lunch in this world, nor does anyone get out alive…)

      Kevin’s comment above about his 94-year-old mom feeling her deepest, long-held fears come true that she would outlive just about everyone in her life reinforces this good news/bad news aspect of aging, and I feel it anew with every successive person who passes on now—their storytelling, their memory bank, their unique take on our shared lives silenced forever.

      A few years ago some 80+-year-olds in my Santa Rosa church (younger’uns needed not apply) started an affinity group called “Old Age Is Not for Sissies.” The older I get, the more I grasp the great wisdom in that simple statement.

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Like Kevin, I recall my mom saying shortly after her best friend and bridesmaid passed away that she was the only one of her tight-knit Berkeley crowd still alive. When my mother passed away a couple of years later at age 90, my father was alone for the first time in 65 years and lived another six until his death at age 96. There’s so much sadness in the realization that your past strengths have become so fragile in the present. There was a time, I could throw a baseball 80+ mph, hit jumpers from 22 feet (albeit weak defense), recite the entire first a paragraph of “Tale of Two Cities”, and remember where I put my cars 10 seconds before. Is it any wonder why we humans of considerable wear and tear tend to ignore the inevitability of our future existence? Continuing our ride on the T.S. Eliot express, let me quote a short passage from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “And would it (life) have been worth it, after all,/Would it have been worth while,/After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,/After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—/And this, and so much more?”

    Yes, Mr. Prufrock, it was well worth it.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Robert, with respect to your claim in the adjoining note about mislaying your keys rather than the car itself because you can still recall where your car is 10 seconds after parking it: Congrats, my man! You’re no doubt easily above the median in your age group…

      Yes, physical decline requires a constant reckoning & recalibration, as does whatever intellectual/mental energy decline we may be experiencing along with it, but fortunately, aside from short-term memory issues, the decline in mental function seems much slower—and therefore more generous to us—than the mere physical. And then there are the other consolations in wisdom & perspective and those other things people talk about but which I can’t remember right now, so let me go jump in the shower and surely it will all come back to me…

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    A slight clarification, Drew. I meant to write “car keys” not “cars.” I’m not that senile yet. I do remember where I parked my car 10 seconds before. Though there may be a time…

  • Dennis Ahern  says:

    “Either this wallpaper goes or I do.” – Oscar Wilde

    Great piece Andrew.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      One of my very favorite Wilde quotes, Dennis, which is saying something, given the veritable quote machine he was. Does beg the question, though: What the hell was he doing living in a place with wallpaper?

      Good to hear from you.

Leave a Reply