The Face of Time
The Alex and Ronni Show -16 October 2020

Choosing a Life – Or Letting It Happen

Reflecting on the life I have lived is not something I have much dwelled upon during these several years of living with terminal cancer and COPD. I've always been more of a now person than a then one.

Not that I don't remember things or that they don't come to mind or up for discussion. But mostly, now is more compelling for me.

Perhaps it was true for you, too – that in school, there were two or three or four or so classmates who from a young age knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up and lo - they actually did that, doctor, lawyer, auto mechanic, whatever they fancied.

But not me. I had no earthly idea what I would do when I grew up – even when I grew up.

All I knew from my lower middle-class family was that it was up to me. Maybe it was not said quite out loud but the idea instilled was that my parents had gotten me to working age and now I had to follow through to support myself.

Looking back, my mother was right about insisting I take typing class in high school and that kept me employed for the several years it took until a career trajectory began to come into view. (An overview of my career is recounted here.)

Even though at the time I believed I was choosing this job, rejecting that one, making a lateral change for better pay, location, whatever, sometimes it has felt like someone or something else was making the decision.

It is rather amazing the number of interesting jobs that dropped into my lap over the years from unexpected telephone calls, even from strangers once or twice who had heard of me from someone and thought we should talk about working together.

Not to go all woo-woo on you but now and then I have wondered if I really chose the men or the friends and others in my life. Did someone or something direct all this? There are people who believe such things.

Without going down the free will rabbit hole, so speaking of this in the most prosaic sense, I have felt at times over the years that I have had nothing to do with my life, that it was written down before I got here and I'm just following the script.

At nearly 80 years into my life now, it is still kind of fun to ponder such notions, but there is a growing sense inside me, too, that I have arrived somewhere – that one way or another I am coming to enough. No more striving, just accepting.

But that imperative to survive I mentioned the other day is still deep and strong. My god, it does hang on; illness doesn't affect that. And there is still a great joy in living each day – well, each good one. And here is how part of that goes:

Many years ago, I worked for a woman I didn't like much. She didn't like me either. But we were both smart, good at our jobs and respected one another so it worked out.

One day I was surprised to learn that she was a boxing fan, that her father had taken her to all the matches he attended in their town when she was a kid and it had stuck with her.

Me? I blurted out rudely that I couldn't think of any more boring way to spend an evening. And then she said to me, “Ronni, everything is interesting if you pay attention.”

Since then, that piece of news has never failed me. Choosing my life? Pre-ordained life? That I am right on script during this final chapter? Or am I just getting weird in the late days of my predicament?

What matters is that all of it is just as interesting as everything else has been since JoAnn explained it to me.


Ronni, my guess is that you’ve been paying keen attention and sharpening your observation skills since that first portrait in your blog’s masthead. Perhaps your life is demonstrating the power of compounding interest? :-)

"No more striving, just accepting." What a nugget, actually a goldmine, especially coming from you who are definitely not "woo woo." I wanna be there, but, most of the time am not. You followed your love, and it fed you and lots of others as well. Well done! That, along with paying attention, gives a good life, filled with much more than the material necessities.

Your words today remind me again of the old saying that, 'Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans. ' Some people may not understand that, having traveled a well laid out plan for their own lives and live a pretty much predictable life from an early age. That was not my experience and the work that I have done in my primary career as a social worker has revealed to me that it is not the experience of most people.

I may have expressed this thought here in the past, and so please forgive me for being repetitious if that's the case. I've had the feeling that if humankind continues for long enough (and I am talking an exceedingly long expanse of time) that eventually it will be learned that free will exists in homo sapiens no more than it does in any other living thing. Our sentience, language, and opposable thumbs have allowed us to become what at least looks like a more highly evolved entity, but I believe that illusion, superstition and hubris account for much of that perspective.

I envision that some day there will be a tool that can be accessed for revealing DNA to a degree that will reveal what each genetic permutation defines/controls. Similar to how a dictionary defines words, this technology could define, in life or death, almost everything about a person.

I'm not a reader of science fiction, but I would not be surprised to learn that this premise has been introduced well before now by someone writing in that genre. It's really not that far out there any longer. Genetic knowledge has changed vastly, just in the past thirty years, which is how you, Ronni, were able to find your son and his family not long ago. Can you imagine what we might be able to learn eventually? In some ways it would be frightening, and I can imagine those who do not trust or believe in science and are threatened by the challenge it can pose to faith and religion might try to halt the technology before reaching its ultimate capabilities.

So, though I feel that free will may exist to some extent, as I've lived and aged I've come to a much more mechanistic view of human behavior. Though this may seem unromantic or in denial of the mystery of life, it hasn't reduced much of that for me, and sometimes I think it may have increased an appreciation for those. While it may seem as though this would cause an intolerable amount of internal cognitive dissonance, for me it has not. There are those who believe that the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts in our heads is a sign of mental illness, and that may be, but there are also those who believe that those who do so are more conscious, content and happier. I prefer to believe the latter.

Like your younger self, I have frequently found something "boring". I think that Miss Shouse, my 12th-grade English teacher tried to teach me better. Whether she originated it or whether she wrote it on the blackboard with attribution, Miss Shouse gave us the following bit of wisdom: (more or less) A weed, studied, is, to the soul, a weed no longer.

Thanks Ronni.
I will paraphrase JoAnn in my postscript of my email signature, "Anything is interesting if you pay attention."
Of course my wife will counter with, "focus, please."

Chance, choice and luck — sometimes.
Faith ;-)

I love it. She gave you the key, you used it, and not just for yourself.

As other readers beautifully stated, there are so many golden nuggets in today's writing, with many landing directly in the center of my heart; finding enough, acceptance. Such gifts you have given us today. Thank you Ronni.

I'm okay with divine guidance myself and have also seen virtue work well for others. I like to believe this is true even in death, that perhaps, we are guided through our last heartbeats...and possibly beyond.

Good advice at anytime from JoAnn. But all my remembered life, boxing or any other form of blood sport is not on my list of things I want to be interested in.
Life is very definitely a series of twists and turns, but 'what ifs' are the rabbit hole one shouldn’t go down. I think most of us reading this page of yours have come to a rather interesting age with a past life that has contributed to who, what and where we are now.
It’s a good life!

I had many jobs and never felt I was being directed by or to anything. My mom just wanted me to learn shorthand & typing, get a good job, and meet a Rising Young Turk who would take care of me forever. My dad advised me to find jobs I enjoyed or else I'd be spending a lot of time not being happy. So, I sought (attracted?) interesting jobs that usually paid only "low to decent" but they sure opened up the world to me. No regrets.

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

I have been following your blog for some months now, since a friend recommended it to me. I love reading about all your observations and insights Ronni, today's post was so close to my experience of how my life evolved that it could have almost been written by me.

I am nearing 80 and have had several career changes during my life, which seemed to happen without me doing anything really. I don't believe in any divine plan, and never had my own plan for life, but I am not sure we have much free will either, it seems to me that my life just happened. Any decisions I made were based on the circumstances presented in that moment, like you it felt like a script I was following.

These days with every advancing year I find it so much easier to accept life as it comes, and simply be as kind and helpful as I can be to whoever I meet.

I envy those people who parents loved them, were interested in them, encouraged them and guided them. That was not my experience.

Shortly after my divorce I wanted to be as independent as possible and, to that end, took an auto mechanics course. The main thing I learned was that anything is interesting if you focus on it.

This has sometimes worked to my detriment, as I've found many, many "interesting things" and can't focus deeply on any one, although some persist over decades. REFUSE TO CHOOSE! by Barbara Sher is a book that addresses that situation of having many interests.

What a fascinating Timeline of accomplishments and adventures yours is! You used your multiple talents very well and often for the public good. How many of us can say that? My Timeline is "pale beige" in comparison, but at least I ended up not doing too much damage (which was a definite possibility during my 20s and 30s) in my 83 years and perhaps even making a minor contribution here and there in my 40s-70s.

Our Moms were right to insist that we take a typing course! I graduated from a top-ranked university in the late '50s but the only jobs available were essentially nursing, teaching and office work. I never liked kids or blood much so ended up doing office work for the next 20 years. As I mentioned in my story "Ladies of the Silent Generation", I was too much a product of the times; I didn't have what it took to be a Sandra Day O'Connor or RBG--or Ronni!

I also did not have a scripted life so far-There have been challenges and rewards.As you have mentioned through it all the wish and will to survive has carried me to different and interesting posts and ports.
I am able to understand your words very well and they are soothing to a fellow COPD ian. Thank you,indeed.
Take Care and God Bless

I pretty much wrote my script as life went along based on circumstances at the time. I certainly identify with life happening when you’re making other plans. Often I had expectations or plans but had to adapt due to altering situations, some due to others choices beyond my control.

I did have changing goals beginning at elementary school age, usually gravitating to something new that caught my interest, while simultaneously giving me pleasure. Secretary, nurse, teacher were thought to be professions for women in my day whose primary function was to wed and have children — never a primary goal of mine. Unfortunately, the high school I attended had limited academic offerings in the sciences but I could max their highest math level which isn't saying much either. I did take typing as a practical skill which was insurance to always offer job opportunities.

It was a given to me I would go to college by some hook or crook which I did manage with an unexpected loan (I paid back) but changed majors while there. From that point forward my guiding force always has been to “keep my options open” no matter what my situation.

I think to some extent, between genetics and the environment, they could be thought of as having provided some direction to my life, both limitations and opportunities. What fascinates me are the wild cards that have appeared unpredictably in my life for reasons beyond any actions I may have taken for which there sometimes seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Is there some force directing this? We humans seem to want to assess this by assuming there must be a reasoned explanation as we apply to everything else. For some its a God, others place their faith in other types of forces, but what if it just is and none of these are true?

".........Is there some force directing this? We humans seem to want to assess this by assuming there must be a reasoned explanation as we apply to everything else. For some its a God, others place their faith in other types of forces, but what if it just is and none of these are true? ....." Joared.

I have often pondered on the above Joared, and at this stage of my life I feel life "just is"

It took a bunch of twisted turns on busy highways for me before I decided to look up the phone number of my former high school guidance counsel or- thirteen years after I graduated..

My childhood dream was to be a teacher like my grade one teacher Miss McLennan who taught me to love books and who demonstrated that teaching is a two way art- either you’re born to teach or you’re a paint by numbers educator.

My former guidance counsellor was home that day when I made the call from work- I was a secretary then, a fast typist, a nine to fiver.

My former GC actually remembered me.

I told him I wanted to be a teacher- it even said so in my high school yearbook.

But I had repeated grades in school, so how would an ever make it through university?

GC said I could do it. My skills as a secretary would be an asset.

Just apply as a mature student.

That call changed my life.

I went back to uni, graduated with honours and began my teaching career.

That first day walking down the hall to my first classroom?

I felt like a hero!

No regrets.

Thank you to John K.

My former HS GC.

Awarded me a best teacher award for my board in 1992.

It’s all in my book.

Don’t let anyone step on your dreams.

I’m 80 and my parents set some goals for me.
The first one was to go to college which I did
for one year.
The second was to find a suitable guy and
get married. There was quite a lot of pressure
on finding a husband which I did at age 22.
Did it work out? Looking back I was to young
and ended up a single woman with two
children, no job skills and an ex husband
who never paid child support. I was able to survive
thanks to the NYTimes help wanted section which
always had plenty of jobs.

Everything is interesting if you pay attention to it is a very deep and wise observation.

I identified 100% with your posting today. I also grew up in a low income family. No money for me for college. My mom was always too sick to push me, and my sweet dad could've cared less about education. Somehow though, it never occurred to me to quit high school (thank goodness), and my goal was always to somehow, some way get a college degree. Like you, my mom did push me as a high school senior to take typing and shorthand. That's how I earned a living while it took me six years to get that college diploma. When I finally graduated, my wonderful, inspiring, faithful grandma (my dad's mom, who had only a 4th grade education) was so proud of me and the only one to acknowledge my diploma.

Due to various circumstances, I didn't go further, but the four-year degree did open doors even if I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Luck? A greater plan? My grandma's prayers? I'll never know, but I ended up having a great job and salary with an also great pension, all without much planning on my part. I choose to thank God for that and the fact I'm not out on the streets.

Wonderful thoughts today, Ronni. Can't thank you enough for these reflections.

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