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Happy Holiday Weekend – Independence Day 2015

American Independence Day is a great, dramatic story. Here are its bare bones.

Thomas Jefferson, just 33 years old in the year of 1776, resisted writing the Declaration of Independence. He was John Adams' choice and Adams prevailed.

Quoting Adams' later recollection, John Meacham, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2013 biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, includes this exchange between the two men:

“You should do it,” Jefferson said.

“Oh! no.”

“”Why will you not? You ought to do it.”

“I will not.”

“Why?”

“Reasons enough.”

“What can be your reason?”

“Reason first,” [said Adams] you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”

“Well, if you are decided. I will do as well as I can.”

“Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.”

Not that it was Jefferson's document alone. Among his influences were Locke, Montesquieu, philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, Adams, of course, and Benjamin Franklin took on some editing, contributing the phrase, “self-evident.”

According to Adams, says Meacham, delegates to that Continental Congress in Philadelphia, cut large passages including those condemning the people of England and a denunciation of the slave trade – all in all about one-sixth of Jefferson's document was removed.

The Declaration was ratified by the Congress on 2 July and when, six days later it was read aloud in front of the statehouse in Philadelphia, the crowds cheered, “God bless the free states of North America.”

Meacham tells us that the men in that muggy statehouse room with horse flies “bedeviling...the silk-stockinged legs of honorable members” knew, of course, that with their signatures, they had committed themselves to a treasonous course of action and what its consequences might be:

”Jefferson loved the story of an exchange between the fat Benjamin Harrison of Virginia and the wispy Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. 'Gerry, when the hanging comes, I shall have the advantage; you'll kick in the air half an hour after it is all over with me.'”

As we know, after a bloody awful war, things turned out differently and here we are celebrating this great, important document again, this beacon of personal freedom (even if we do not quite live up to it these days), on its 239th birthday. Meacham again:

”...the author of the document saw his words as sacred. Describing the desk on which he wrote the declaration, Jefferson later said: 'Politics as well as religion has its superstitions.

“'These gaining strength with time may one day give imaginary value to this relic for its association with the birth of the Great Charter of our Independence.'”

Here is that desk which lives nowadays in the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution:

Thomas-Jefferson-Desk

Most American schoolchildren in my day were required to memorize the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

You can read the rest of it here.

It is fitting that on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1826, Thomas Jefferson died at his home in Virginia at 12:50PM. For me, it is an astounding and pitch-perfect coincidence that John Adams died on the very same day in Massachusetts at 6:20PM.

Adams's last words were recorded at his bedside as “Jefferson survives.” He died not knowing his old friend and rival had preceded him by just a few hours.

* * *

Now. Because backyard barbecues on the Fourth of July are as traditional as parades and fireworks, here, for some fun and silliness, are those Tiny Hamsters again, this time having a Tiny BBQ for Independence Day.

Enjoy the holiday weekend, everyone.



60 is Not the New 40

Nor 70 the new 50 but people are still trying to sell that to us.

If you pay too much attention to media chatter, you can easily be convinced that old age is a nice, smooth continuation of midlife. If you do it right – that is.

Drink gallons of protein liquid, spend three hours a day at the gym, drop hundreds of dollars on brain games, stand on one leg while washing dishes and you too can climb Mt. Everest.

More: if that 91-year-old can finish a marathon, so can you. Or start a business; everyone's an entrepreneur these days even if they don't know what Six Sigma is. Oh, and if you pump yourself full of enough Botox, no one will know you're a day over 40.

Of course, all this is twaddle, hogwash and most of all, wishful thinking. Old age has been stigmatized for so long that the young people who write all that advice for old people refuse to believe there isn't something they can do to prevent it and they want us to be their guinea pigs.

Perhaps, they must think, if they goad us hard enough and long enough into continuing to live – or try to - as we did 20 or 30 years ago, they will learn how they can live forever.

When my professional life came to an end 11 years ago, nothing changed. I had already begun this blog so I just segued from 15-hour days (including the four-hour commute) to – oh, 10- to 12-hour days doing all that was needed to churn out these pages.

That sentence makes it sound like this is chore. It is not. I enjoy this as much as most of the paying jobs I had over more than four decades and because none of them were nine-to-five jobs, for these past 11 years, long hours have been nothing different from what I had always done.

Until recently.

As healthy as I am (and I do not take that lightly), I'm slowing down. These days I notice the hiccups in my brain, the nanoseconds it takes sometimes to get to the next thought when I'm writing. That's new.

Nor is my focus as pointed as it once was. My fingers can be flying across the keyboard as they always have translating thoughts and ideas in my head onto the page, when I suddenly “come to” realizing I've spent three or four minutes wondering if there might be a better synonym for one of the words I just typed.

By then I've lost my train of thought and I have finally learned that I might as well go do something else for awhile before I can get back to it.

I am more easily distracted these days and distraction is, of course, the enemy of focus and concentration. All of this is due to age – I'm 74 now, compared to 63 when I started Time Goes By.

It takes longer for me to clean the house nowadays and it also takes longer to think. For quite awhile, I had been spending more hours to get the same amount of work done on the blog, always scrambling for time, always behind, always dropping something I wanted to do which is why, a few weeks ago, I cut back publishing days to four instead of six.

After about two months on this new schedule, I almost feel reborn. The biggest difference is time, time to read at my leisure, time to write without rushing, time to choose topics more carefully.

Most of all, there is time to sit quietly with myself; time to let thoughts drift by while I watch them come and go; time to think about if and how all this information about ageing I've been collecting for 20 years applies to me; time to reflect on some of the big life questions.

While I wasn't looking, my life has become simpler. I take care of my daily needs – food, exercise, sleep, laundry, etc. I pursue my curiosity about how we age, enjoy writing something about that in these pages and I have returned to some other intellectual interests I had let slide for too long.

Although I miss living in a big city, New York specifically, I have arranged the details of my home so that it pleases my sensibilities to be here. Aside from New York, I've lost interest in travel but for a drive to the Oregon coast now and then.

Small as it sounds, a big pleasure during the season is shopping the weekly farmers' market and how agreeable it is each week having a short visit with some of the vendors who have become a certain kind of friend over our mutual enjoyment of good food.

Compared to the hustle and bustle of my 40 mid-years, it is a quiet life and from the outside it undoubtedly looks boring. But it is far from that on the inside and I like my life – particularly now that I have created this new breathing space.

I don't see how old age could possibly be intended as an extension of midlife. Even though, as I described above, my thoughts are a little slower, my mind is exploding with them.

I am gaining insights into myself, my life, relationships, beliefs and more, with a depth and detail I never had when I was younger – nourishing my soul you might say. I'm peeling away layers that for a long time kept me from even trying to understand some of the events and people in my life.

Except that I arranged for the time, I don't know why all this activity is happening right now but surely it is more important than skydiving at my age or trying to prove how young I can appear to be so that others might be more comfortable with the idea of ageing.

Old age is an excellent time to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. Don't let anyone pressure you out of it.