The Age of Narcissus

I was at my doctor’s office, getting an annual checkup, and he asked what I wanted. I said I want to live to be 125 in excellent health. He looked askance at me and shook his head. I thought, “This shows how bankrupt the health system is.”

But why do I want to live to 125? I enjoy being alive, I enjoy my life. Why would I want it to end? It is a constant adventure, amazing experiences every day. Of course, it doesn’t take much to make me amazed. I began to think I need a better reason for living a long life than simply that being alive seems interesting to me. I thought of a scene from the Greatest Movie Every Made, “Joe Versus the Volcano,” written and directed by John Patrick Shanley.

Joe Banks: “Do you believe in God?”

Patricia Graynamore: “I believe in myself.”

Joe: “What does that mean?”

Patricia: “I have confidence in myself.”

Joe: “I’ve done a lot of soul searching lately. I’ve been asking myself some tough questions. You know what I’ve found out?”

Patricia: “What?”

Joe: “I have no interest in myself. I think about myself, I get bored out of my mind.”

Patricia: “What does interest you?”

Joe: “I don’t know. Courage. Courage interests me.”

I leave it to you to find out why Joe is interested in courage. I will only say that Joe faces a harrowing job, and hopes to have the courage to do it. His job is bigger than he is. It is a calling, a reason for his life. I think we are blessed by Joe’s commitment to his calling.

What are you called to do? Having a calling of my own, I am elevated and energized by it. Have you discovered your calling? Do you do every day what you are put on earth to do? Are you elevated and energized by your calling?

People have a variety of relationships with their work. Some call their work a “job” or a way to get money so they can do what they want to do. They are interested in Entertainment.

Some think of their work as a “career,” a way to move ahead, to expand their lives and their power. They are interested in Advancement.

Some think of their work as “a calling,” a way to serve other people and make the world a better place. They are interested in Significance, in their lives meaning something.

If you could live to 125 in great health and high energy, would you do it? If you are like Patricia Graynamore, in love with yourself, perhaps you should not. Believing in yourself is a dead end, since inevitably your life does end. Why not believe in something greater than yourself? Find your calling, find what you are put on earth to do, and your life will have more than happiness, your life will have joy. Only when you become bored thinking of yourself will you find the real joy than you look for. I think of living to 125 and I am excited about possibilities of teaching and helping others, leading and inspiring my grandchildren and their children. I am enthusiastic about leading my family on vacations and adventures, seeing them engaged in helping others. I hope to teach them that our culture of Narcissism is a dead end.

Narcissus was a beautiful youth. He disdained those who loved him. He could only love himself. Echo loved him, and would repeat everything he said. “I am beautiful,” he would say, and she would repeat, “You are beautiful.”

But Narcissus rejected Echo and forlorn she faded until only her voice was left, rebounding from the walls of canyons. Nemesis saw what Narcissus had done, and attracted him to a clear pool. Narcissus looked into the pool, fell in love with his own reflection and, unable to tear his gaze from himself, eventually starved to death, and turned into a small while flower. Somewhat understated but having some beauty, it fades quickly. Day Lilies last all summer, good hard working flowers putting in their daily appearance. And they are good to stir fry! I like the Narcissus but I love our Day Lilies.

I like my work, and I never want to retire. I think that retirement is narcissistic, self-indulgent, and I hope you do too. I read about a nun who had a 103rd birthday party and she still works every day for five hours. I read about an attorney who is 93 and shows up every day at his work. These people would be bored thinking of themselves. They have a calling in their work, and they show up for that calling. Why would I want to retire?

John Patrick Shanley says, become bored with yourself and you find significance. Forget yourself, said Jesus, and you will find redemption and salvation. Sounds like a good idea.

By | 2016-11-26T08:53:27+00:00 January 17th, 2012|Baby Boomers, Health, Resiliency, Retirement|2 Comments

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2 Comments

  1. John Gallagher January 27, 2012 at 6:28 am - Reply

    I feel enormously privileged that for nearly thirty years I have been able to make a living doing work I love i.e., psychotherapy and I’ve often reflected on how rarely I ever find myself feeling bored. Still, when I think of significant numbers of human beings living to be 125 years old what comes to mind is ecological disaster on a global scale. I heard recently that people diagnosed with cancer can run up $2 million in medical expenses trying to eke out another few years. Not for me, I think. I anticipate being quite content if I am fortunate enough to have eighty years or so to make my contributions to human history. Will the sum total of my contributions justify what I will have consumed of the good earth? That’s very hard to say. As the cost of staying alive increases, however, there comes a point, I suspect, when ecologically speaking, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for a friend.” or as a friend to the earth and the rest of it’s inhabitants.

  2. jean Brugger February 11, 2013 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    John Gallagher has some points. Some of my relatives have died young, but most have lived into old age (over 80). My maternal grandfather worked until he was 83; he had two sisters who were nuns and they worked into their 80s. His eldest son who was with the 5th army in WW2 from Italy to Germany was still ball room dancing until a few months before he died at 86. His youngest son who died at 75 worked until his final two months when his illness overcame him. Some of this was genetic and life stlyle, but a lot was being interested in life.

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