This men’s group I mention occasionally, now it’s 29thyear of meeting every two weeks, is something apart from business as usual. Though the default setting of conversation can often be machines, real estate, good restaurants and such, these nine men can rise to the occasion of reading poetry at breakfast and discussing the big unsolvable questions of life and death— especially with a glass of wine close by!
The topic for our recent retreat was re-visiting the question that first brought us together in 1990. What does it mean to be a man? What are the gifts? What are the limitations? What is hard-wired and what is malleable? What did the culture send into hiding and how can we safely bring it out into the open?
But now that our average age is 72, that question is worth re-phrasing. Now what does it mean to be a man? Back then, our identity had a lot to do with our work, our responsibility to help provide for the family, our sexual attractiveness and virility, our ambition to rise in our field. Since most of us are retired, our paid job is no longer central to our identity. The family is mostly off and gone on its own, our ambition to rise is the memory of what height we reached and nobody is particularly interested in what that was. As for our sexual virility and attractiveness, well… . Somewhere this must be a joke like, “9 old guys walk into a bar. No one notices.”
So without these things to create and sustain our identity, who are we? Where do we plant our flag and what territory do we claim as worthy of elder exploration? Interestingly enough, many have turned or returned to some level of art—pottery, metalwork, clarinet lessons, writing poetry. In one case, the life of the imagination was found in fantasy play with a young grandchild. In another, the kitchen was the laboratory of experimental creation. Art and imagination are just the things that the Soul suggests and having passed through the crucible of the workplace, of creating new life and raising the kids and keeping afoot in the flirtation game, it’s time to attend to the work of the Soul. Free from distractions, from wage-earning (fortunate we are in that respect), settled in our mostly mortgage-paid homes, not bound by schedules and responsibilities, we can give time to the slow making of Soul. Another antidote to the lament of our lives and faculties narrowing and losing a certain kind of energy.
In short, identity is an ever-flowing verb, changing through and with time and we would do well to move along with the changes. While the culture tells us to keep our six-pack, invest in botox, erase those wrinkles and tuck up those chins, admire the youngsters who can teach us how to use the latest apps, wisdom suggests a different path.
It was a fruitful and reflective time.
PS And the irony is not lost on me that 9 out of every 10 comments to these Blogposts is someone advertising meds for erectile dysfunction.