Tuesday, October 8, 2013

No Pension, Will Travel!

I haven't been posting in this blog for quite a while.

However, you can find our currently active blog at

where we talk about travel, community, financial independence, and related ideas.

Thanks for checking it out!
Paul (& Cheryl)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


“If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favourable to him.” Seneca. Epistolae, LXXI., 3.

Imagine you are sailing.

If you put to the sea, and you sail the way the wind blows, you will make great progress.  You will likely end up going round in ragged circles.

On the other hand, if you set yourself a destination, you can develop a strategy based on your knowledge of the prevailing winds.  You can sail on a broad reach one day, close-hauled when the wind shifts.  At times, you may have to heave to and just hold your ground until the ill wind blows over.

With a goal and a strategy, there’s a good chance you will reach your destination.

Sometimes you won’t.  Perhaps the prevailing winds make it difficult or impossible to reach your intended harbour before you run out of supplies.  You track your position against the waypoints you’ve set for yourself, and you observe that, even with the best sailing skills you can muster, your strategy is not working.

You may have to choose an alternate destination that is reachable given what nature is sending your way.  With Plan B and an appropriate new strategy, you tack your way into Port B just in time.

This parable illustrates to me the balance that lies somewhere between sticking with a goal that is out of my control, and looking for the answer by blowing in the wind.  If I set my goal and my strategy, if I give it my all, if I monitor my progress and make course corrections – even changing direction at times – I can reach some exciting ports of call.

If I pick no port to sail for, and sail in the easiest direction, chances are I’ll end up shipwrecked on an uninhabited stretch of coastline.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Language Lab of Life

La plume de ma tante est sur le bureau de mon oncle.  ¡Hola, Paco! ¿Qué tal? ¿Cómo estás?  Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant!”

Seven years of high-school French and four each of Spanish and Latin had me convinced that learning languages was for others.  The equations of physics, the formulas of chemistry, or the language of math were more to my liking.  My love affair with human languages might well have ended before it begun.

However, I surprised myself by giving it one more go.  Thinking I might end up studying theoretical physics in the land of Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, and Schroedinger, I signed up for a college course in conversational German.  That’s where I learned my first principle of linguistic success:  always put something else at stake.

I’d seen lots of children grappling with English.  Making themselves understood and understanding what is said to them is of paramount importance.  Satisfying their hunger, their needs for affection, their very lives depend upon it.  Compared to those ends, worrying about appearances is not even on the scale.  The gentle verbal corrections of a well-meaning adult will be brushed aside like a bothersome fly until the message – or the milk – is delivered.  They have something much bigger at stake than avoiding mistakes.  So I had my clue about the first principle I needed to follow.

Always have something that’s more important than my fear of opening my mouth and looking foolish.

In German 101, that something came in the form of two agreeable young German majors.  By October, I was spending my lunch hours trying to keep pace with their lively conversations “auf Deutsch”.  My relationship with the two women deepened, and soon I was good friends with one of them – and more than friends with the other.  I now had much more at stake than I’d ever had in the language lab.  By spring all three of us had joined a local German choir, whose rehearsals and socializing were never in English.  By end of term, I was glad that my new girlfriend would be studying in Germany.   My keenness for the language landed me a spot in a student summer exchange program in the German Alps, and that’s where I learned my second lesson.

Cut off all escape routes.

As a young child learning English I had little choice.  Either I made myself understood in my prospective mother tongue, or I didn’t get what I wanted.  There was no easy out by reverting to my first language.  Thinking that if I could do it once, I could do it again, I resolved to speak or read no English for my entire summer’s posting at a small Bavarian inn.  Had the “gasthaus” been on a more traveled route, I might have had more temptations to break my vow of English silence.  However, few Anglophones stopped by the small town of Schwangau, and those who did could usually get by in my adopted language.  On one occasion, I stood dutifully by a table where a family of American tourists juggled several phrasebooks while they tried to find their favourite dishes on "die Speisekarte".  My expression of studied incomprehension must have missed the mark, for, at one point, the father looked up at me and exclaimed, “You understand everything we’re saying, don’t you?”  Lucky for me, they were good sports.  I briefly broke my vow to explain myself – Goethe, forgive me! – and we continued the conversation in halting German.  A couple of fellow student workers in town were less accommodative, and by summer’s end, I had alienated them by my continued refusal to engage them in English.

Reading presented a few challenges as well.  At first, I found my German abilities not quite up to the writing style in many German original novels.  I struggled with sentences that ran on endlessly, piling up all the verbs to spill out at the end.  I discovered that German translations of novels from other languages often had shorter sentences and were easier for me – more so if I’d already read them in English!  So I picked up some old favourites by Jules Verne and Robert Heinlein, as well as a popular contemporary book on mathematics.  By the time my stint at the restaurant was done, I had more than once surprised myself by hearing those stacked-up verbs spill out of my mouth at the end of a long sentence – almost without my conscious guidance.  I could scarcely recall thinking in English, and I was even able to keep my background a secret for short conversations with native speakers who came by for beer and schnitzel.

During that summer, I had also learned a third important lesson:  stop trying to translate everything.

The habit I’d had drilled into me in high school had the form of endless translation exercises.  When I arrived in Germany, I’d brought the usual travel accessories:  a German-English dictionary, and a German-English phrasebook.  While these might be helpful for getting started, I thought I might do better learning the language as the Germans did.  So I threw away my English crutches and replaced them with a “Schülerduden” – the German-only dictionary that every German schoolchild would have at their desk.

At the outset, my every attempt to look up a word was time-consuming and frustrating.  Starting with one word I didn’t understand, I’d soon have half a dozen.  But by following enough chains far enough, the meaning would eventually emerge from the fog, and the process or uncovering it always taught me a lot more than I would have learned from an English translation.  Avoiding the temptation to frame every word and phrase in English terms propelled me more rapidly towards my goal of thinking in German.  And as long as I knew what I was saying, and understood what I was hearing, I knew I would be able to put it into English if and when I needed to.

Another book I learned to rely on far less often was the grammar book.  For, I discovered that grammar is descriptive, not prescriptive.  And what it describes is music.

Through engaging in numerous conversations, I came to trust the “music of the language.”  I developed a sense that one way of phrasing something sounded right, while another did not.  Our brains seem to possess some sort of patterning ability which allows even very young children to pick up and use the correct patterns of speech.  Children often absorb and follow the rules flawlessly – before they learn the exceptions.  But their understanding of the grammar that describes those patterns comes much later.  In my own case, I only came to understand English grammar in grade school, years after I’d learned to speak quite well.  In other words, the grammar described how I already spoke; it wasn’t an engine for producing speech.  While trying to speak German, I found that focusing on the grammar and filtering all my conversations through it just got in the way of exchanging meaning.  Once I had achieved some fluency, understanding the grammar was helpful in clearing up certain mysteries and fine tuning my speech.  But it then described how I was already speaking.  And that way of speaking came from my musical sense of “what sounds right” – just as it does in English.

Throwing away the grammar book and the phrase book made it a lot easier to learn my next linguistic lesson.  Relax and have fun!

On my third day as a German waiter, I discovered that it was easier to set aside “looking good” when I was relaxed and having a good time.  The restaurant system made individual waiters financially responsible for the food and drink orders they placed at the kitchen and bar, whether or not the customer paid up.  The names of thirty different schnapps had not appeared on the syllabus for German 101, and most were incomprehensible at first.  I dutifully repeated at the bar what I thought I’d heard at the table – “Asbach, Bärenjäger, Doornkaat, Eifeler, Goldwasser, Jägermeister, Kümmerling, Nordhäuser, Schinkenhäger, Steinhäger, Uerdinger, und Underberg” to name but a few – and often ended up replacing an order.  Since I’d paid for the mistakes, and seeing no point in pouring them down the drain, I poured them down the hatch instead.  “Prost!”  The day soon became a blur.  The night too.  I finished my shift with my purse cleaned out, but much to my surprise, my German had advanced several grade levels by the following morning.

Another way I learned to have fun was to unleash my natural mimic – the one that every child seems to have, but which is often scolded out of us by age three – “It’s not polite to copy people, Paul!”  By mimicking the accents I heard around me, in a manner I first thought “over the top”, I came to sound much more like a German.  Even mimicking the facial gestures helped.  As my sore jaw attested after the early days at the restaurant, speaking German places different demands on the muscles used for speech, and those differences are visible – as my inner child knew.

I ended the summer with reasonable fluency in German – and had a lot of fun in the process.  My earlier distaste for languages had been banished forever.  Within a couple of years, I enjoyed a similar process in Portuguese – together with a new set of adventures involving Brazil and the Carnival of Rio.  Still later, I finally learned to speak the Spanish that had tormented me in high school, while putting it to good use in Mexico and Costa Rica.  Perhaps someday, I’ll tackle French ... on the banks of the Seine!

The lessons of childhood proved to be the key.  I’d always heard that it’s much easier for children to learn new languages.  Maybe that’s because it’s much easier for children to act like children.  By acting like a child, I’d made the process much easier for myself.

I’ve been pondering these language lessons again of late:
  • Put something at stake that’s more important than looking good.
  • Don’t translate everything.  Learn how to think in others’ terms.
  • Trust the music.  Don’t let the words get in the way. 
  • Relax and have fun!  Enjoy the game!
These lessons have much wider application than learning a foreign language.  They’re crucial even when speaking to someone who shares my mother tongue.  In truth, none of us speak the same language.  We all bring our own meanings, understanding, connotations and emotional associations to the words we use.  Truly hearing someone else’s message requires me to commit to understanding – even when I may look foolish in the process.  It requires that I relate to what they are saying in their terms, not just mine.  It works when I give myself over to the process of communication and “trust the music of the conversation.”  And life in general works out best when I just relax and have fun!

Ludi incipiant!”  Let the games continue!


Most of my language learning has been done on the road, so I didn’t have any Internet resources close to hand.  A quick search turned up a few starting points that look interesting:
I've written more on this topic at "Learning Languages for Fun, Travel, & the Fountain of Youth"

Regarding the more general topic of understanding each other:

Monday, February 28, 2011

“You’ll be a Man, my Son”

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise. 
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools. 
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!' 
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

– “If”, by Rudyard Kipling (1895)

I expect my retirement dinner any day now. That’s when my two sons know in their hearts that they are ready to take full responsibility for their own lives. Maybe they each take me out to dinner – buy me the parental equivalent of the gold watch. And our relationship shifts.

We are now just adults – equals.

Sure, they are still my children and we still share the bonds of family. But I now give up whatever right I once had to interfere. My counsel, if they seek it at all, I will only give them if they ask for it – as I would with a good friend.

I don’t think I ever gave my own Dad his retirement dinner or gold watch. But there was no question he retired himself when I left home for college, although it took me another decade or so before I realized it and took advantage of it. Only then was I able to start relating to him as man-to-man, and to begin to get to know him.

Although we had over twenty more years to become acquainted, when Dad passed away, there was still much about him I didn’t know. I had learned his opinions on many things, but there were many others that we never got to discuss. His private feelings and personal history I knew even less about – although I think we knew each other better than most in our fragmented North American society. Now, I wish I knew even more.

I was thinking about all this the other day. (My sons hate it when I use the expression “the other day”. The other day was very likely several weeks ago – ancient history as far as they’re concerned, certainly not just the other day.)

I was thinking about the poem “If”, by Rudyard Kipling, and how it had come to symbolize the essence of what it means to be a man – for me. For some, the message of this piece is harsh and unforgiving – an invitation to eschew emotion in favour of the “stiff upper lip.” For me, it represents more of an ideal to aspire to – one where commitment and integrity hold sway in the face of emotion strongly felt – the Aristotelian pursuit of balance and reasoned moderation in a world thrown this way and that by transitory excess.

I wondered whether this was a message I would deliver explicitly to my sons. Could I see myself telling them, “This is how you should live your lives?” I couldn’t. Memories of talks with my two boys seemed more forgiving, more about learning to accept themselves and the emotions they were feeling. I’m certain my stance was more protective.

Had my father delivered Kipling’s demanding message to me then? I didn’t recall he’d ever mentioned the poem – I’d discovered it on my own in my youth. Yet, somehow I came to see it as his message to me. Not as a dictum, but as a possibility arising out of inspiration. Because I felt that Dad had lived his live out of commitment to ideals such as these. He had done it for his own reasons, with no thought for whether I would follow his example. I regret now that we’d never had a chance to discuss the poem. He must have known of it. What was his relationship to it? What would he have thought of mine?

Dad’s parenting style was similar to the one I aspired to – perhaps my boys will someday tell me how successfully. He restricted his lessons and advice to matters of safety and decorum. As children we learned to keep safe, and to keep others safe, along with their property. We learned the basics of civilized behavior – civility – as a parent I came to know this as “grace and courtesy.” Neither of my parents told me what to think. My father didn’t push his politics or his worldview or even his personal morality. Although he was a regular church-goer all his life, I never recall being admonished to believe what he did. As a child, I accompanied my parents to church, and had their support in any church activities I took on, but I really felt from a young age that what I came to believe was up to me. Before reaching adulthood, I had that pushed that to its limits, and officially quit the religion of my upbringing.

In the last few years of his life, I came to know Dad better than I ever had. Yet there was much about him I never learned. Who was he? What did he believe? Had he hoped that I would come to share some of his beliefs? Did he see evidence that I had? Even when I’d rejected his creed and taken up a politics more radical than he could accept? During these final years, we talked about the challenges of parenting more than anything else. I came to understand that my father was especially proud of me in my role as a father myself. He told me so on more than one occasion.

I remember the last one clearly. We were chatting in the hospital room where he was recovering from an unusual ailment. Dad was sitting by the window in the warmth of the afternoon sun. He was talking about our decision to raise our boys without television in the home, and to use the freed-up energy to engage more in family meals and activities. Turns out, he’d thought the influence of daily mindless entertainment and news reduced to 20-second sound bites would be deleterious. He called it “the winding down of western civilization.” He also believed that many children were suffering the lack of parental presence in their lives. Dad said my own boys showed evidence – their civility, their integrity, their affability – that my involvement had borne fruit. Clearly he held strong beliefs on the subject, and was gratified that I had somehow come to make many of them my own. He was proud of the young men his grandsons were becoming. Now I wonder, what else did my father believe, that he hoped I would discover for myself? I can no longer ask him as he passed away unexpectedly that same week.

These ruminations came to me in the context of some reflection of my own. What do I believe, and believe is important? After half a lifetime of experience, where do I stand? And who would I want to know this? If these things are important, who would I hope would also come to believe them? While I see that my deepest beliefs might be useful and important for anyone, I would be especially gratified if my boys came to hold some of them.

Like my Dad, I tried not to tell my sons what to believe. I was a little more outspoken than my father was at the dinner table, but did not expect my boys to share my views. In writing them down now, I don’t think I’ll be in a hurry to have them study my thoughts. Perhaps on the far side of forty, they’ll grow curious about what I believed, and how much of it they might have absorbed themselves. At such an age, I would have been intrigued by reading my own father’s philosophy.

For now, my primary purpose is to share my thoughts on what’s important, to anyone who might be inspired – by the process, or by the results. These could be the introduction to my own little handbook of life, my practical "philosophy" for parent and child alike. I wish my father had seen his way to writing such a volume – he had a lot of wisdom to offer the world, wisdom I may someday channel for him. Were I to summarize my present-day beliefs, I would certainly include those ideas I hope my sons will discover. I would also explore which of those ideas I inherited from my own father, and where I set out on my own explorations. For me it’s clear where I chose a different path, and where not – although the comparison may be nuanced.

Much of this blog is comprised of snippets of my practical philosophy, an exploration of things I believe and believe are important. This chapter has taken the form of a dialog across three generations, with shadows of generations before and after those. May this conversation inspire you. May it inspire other fathers – those just starting out, those in the midst of fatherhood, and those in retirement. May it inspire other sons – those lucky enough to have good fathers, and those without. May it inspire their sons too. May it inspire anyone who believes in something – or would like to. And someday, may it inspire my own two boys, and perhaps clear up a few mysteries.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Do Not Believe What I Believe

A man who would be great went wandering in the spiritual wilderness.

Each day, he spent many hours pondering the meaning of it all.  As he went about his daily business of gathering sustenance, he reflected on the principles that enriched his life.  For many years, he was content to dwell in this question, to profit from what he learned, and to refine it through his experience.

One day, this was no longer enough.

The great man resolved share what he had learned.  His knowledge had come at a great cost.  Progress had been tortuous.  When sometimes the work of others inspired him or saved him years of struggle, he was overcome with appreciation and gratitude.  His heart ached with a need to ease the way of those who would come after him.

So he traveled about the land, talking about his quest – about the questions he had pondered, about the answers he had found and the beliefs he had formed and rejected or adopted.  Because he was wise, and had spent his life in pursuit of practical knowledge, he soon attracted others who came to hear what he had learned.  They came to study his methods, and called themselves his students.

The great man cautioned his students not to become disciples.

“Do not believe what I believe,” he said.  “The flower that I have carefully nurtured in the garden of my soul cannot be transplanted.  It has evolved to thrive in my soul, and in the keeping of my hands.  If you plant that flower in your own garden, it will become a noxious weed.

“Instead, if you wish, plant the seeds that you harvest from my garden, water and tend them carefully, and see which ones grow, and which thrive, and which bear fruit.”

So the students did as the wise man had said.

They harvested the seeds of wisdom from the great man’s garden, and planted them in their own.  And because they were good seeds, a great many of them grew and bore fruit.  And these new gardeners too became wise.

Before long the students of the great man had attracted followers of their own.

They too cautioned their students not to become disciples.

“Do not believe what the wise man believes,” they said.  “Instead, take the seeds which we have grown from his garden, and raise and nurture them yourselves.  Treasure those that bear fragrant flowers, and uproot those that do not thrive.”

So the students of the students did as they were asked.  For this they became wise, and gathered their own students around themselves.

The students of the students of the students were in awe of the many wise followers of the great man.  They asked their teachers, “Give us some of the master’s magic seeds, so we too may become wise today.”

Their teachers cautioned them, “The seeds are not magic.  The magic is in your own hearts and in your hands and in your own soul.  When you tend the seeds carefully, and root out the plants which do not suit your garden, you will harvest your own great truths.”

Soon a great crowd gathered around them clamouring for wisdom.  In their impatience, they dug up the flowers and transplanted them into their own gardens.  But the transplants became deformed and brittle.  The students cast about themselves, looking for the cause of their failure.  “Perhaps we are not tending them the right way,” they said to one another.  “See how the master rakes the soil just this way and not that.  See how he waters them on these days but not those.  We must do as he does.”

So they learned to rake and water and weed in the prescribed manner.

But in their midst, there was one who did not follow the precepts of the master.  Instead, he wandered from garden to garden, harvesting a seed here and there, sometimes passing without stopping, at others pausing to collect a handful.  These all he planted in his own garden, which he tended carefully.  Here he spent countless hours toiling.

He often spent hours just watching the plants that grew in his garden.  He would nurture some, while others he would remove from his garden after consideration.   In time, his garden became thick and verdant, but the plants in it appeared strange and alien to the students of the master.  Their colours were unusual, their scents exotic and foreign.

The students looked again at their own gardens where the plants of the master struggled.  They noticed that their neighbour often rooted out and discarded plants that looked better than those they left haggard in their own gardens.  “Surely this is not right,” they murmured amongst themselves.  “How can we allow one among us to root out the master’s plants?  See how his own grow tall and shade out our own?  Who will stand up for the master?  Are we not his disciples?”  So they drove the heretic from their midst and burned his garden.

Hence, the heretic went wandering in the spiritual wilderness.

After many years, he returned, and his life was full and his face serene.  And so he traveled about the land, talking about his quest – about the questions he had pondered, and the beliefs he had formed and rejected or adopted.  Because he was wise, and had spent his life in pursuit of practical knowledge, he soon attracted others who came to hear what he had discovered.  They came to study his methods, and hailed him as great, and called themselves his students.

The great man cautioned his students not to become disciples.  “You must each grow the garden that thrives in your soil and under your care.  You may take the seeds from my garden, but you cannot grow what I have grown.  Most importantly, you cannot transplant my flowers into your own soil.”

And the students looked around and saw that it was true.  They saw the stunted sticks that clutched at sunlight in the gardens around them, while their owners carefully followed the prescribed weeding and watering rituals, their faces empty.  So the students resolved never to become disciples.  And their students also promised this.

But the master knew, like his predecessor, that one day, he too would have disciples.  They would drive his successor from their midst and burn his garden

For a moment, the great man stood lost in thought and sadness.

Then he shrugged, bent down, and gently weeded out a plant, careful not to disturb the one that poked through the soil beside it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Eagle Mother

Eagle Mother, I feel you watching them.

You watch them soaring higher in ever-widening circles, now at times disappearing against the glare of a harsh blue sky.  You see them vanish, reappear, then vanish again.  You call to them, but they don’t hear.  Their sight rests elsewhere;  they can see things you cannot see, hear the call you cannot hear.

Sometimes – far less often now – their flight seems awkward – a momentary ruffled feather in the thermal – and you remember fluffy screeching chicks with head feathers askew.  If you look closely, you can still see the awkward chicks in the powerful young adults, just as you could sometimes see in the nestlings, the soaring raptors they would become.

A pivot mishandled, and you want to fly after them, but that would only slow them down.  You who would have killed or died to protect them – they no longer need you, Eagle Mother.  They are stronger and faster than you will ever be again.  What will you do with all the love you used to blanket them with?  You feel so full with it that you could burst.  Just as you did when you first saw them.

Eagle Mother, you know I feel the call of the wind once again.  My heart feels young, like theirs.  Will I too soar in disappearing circles?  If you fly with me, will your chicks return and find their nest decaying, dead, deserted?

Eagle Mother, you hope some day when their lives are full and complete, they will remember.  They will remember she who gave them life, and who gave her life to them completely.  And they will return to show you their catch, their brides, or their own fuzzy chicks.  And they will bear you up into that infinite blue sky, higher than you can go alone.  You want to be here when that day arrives.  Your heart feels ripped asunder.

And the wind is calling me once again.  Fly with me.  Eagle Mother.

 - For C.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Small Meditation on a Big Marriage

Last Friday was my 28th anniversary – of my wedding to an inspiring and wonderful woman. We spent the day apart. Instead I was diving into a weekend workshop on self-expression, knowing that my efforts there were fully supported on the home front.

Sharing about my marriage with the other participants and seeing how it moved them, I was again reminded how blessed I am to be in such a loving relationship.

So many people tell me that what my wife and I have is rare, almost extinct. That may be. But another anniversary last weekend reminded me of other examples – right in my own back yard.

Two years ago last Saturday my beloved mother passed away at the age of 84. When I was going through her effects, I found, framed and faded and hanging on the wall, an old vinyl 78 recording of “their song”. Sixty-five years earlier, Mom and Dad had courted to the musical poetry of “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

I knew this of course. On their 40th anniversary, we had gathered friends and family in an intimate banquet room, where my own wife and I surprised and delighted my parents with our wavering a-cappella rendition of the Kern classic.

My parents remained “an item” for over sixty years including the time of their courtship. Their friends still thought of them as they did when they were first “going steady”. They were smitten with each other their whole life through. My brother used to say that if you looked up the definition of “devoted” in an illustrated dictionary, you’d see a picture of Dad. He wasn’t far wrong.

After Dad passed away, Mom continued to live her life as the vibrant woman she was. She was lively and healthy, involved in numerous activities, a fantastic mother, mother-in-law, grandparent – and a wonderful friend to many. She helped many of her peers deal with the advancing years, and when she needed a little more action, she hung out with new friends in the younger set.

Yet vibrant and alive as she was, half of her was no longer with us – the “Dad half”. That was our daily experience of Mom for the next six and half years. When Mom learned that her time with us was running out, sad as she was to be leaving us, she was – I believe – very happy to be “following Dad”. She told us many times how her lifelong love affair with Dad had made her life as full as any person could wish for, and that she was completely satisfied with how her life had turned out. I doubt I will ever have the privilege of witnessing another spirit whose final days were as full and serene.

When the time came to find a home for Mom’s ashes, the answer came strong and unbidden to me and my siblings. So a few weeks later, the three of us gathered around Dad’s grave on a chilly afternoon, where we sprinkled Mom’s ashes over it – in the warm care of Dad’s loving arms. Our three loving spouses were there with us in every way: a most fitting sendoff to a love that had begun more than sixty-five years earlier. I like to think it’s a story that will be repeated. More than once.

(Dedicated to my brother and sister, and our three loving spouses. To those who believe in love. And of course, to Mom and Dad.)