Hearts at Work

A Column by James Tipton

"Every day takes figgering out all over again…."


robert-tiptonMexican poet, writer, diplomat, and Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz writes that “Tomorrow, we shall have to invent, once more, the reality of the world.”

Indeed, all of us have to invent, each day, “the reality of the world.” Children, in play as well as in life, create a “reality” that seems to serve, at least for that immediate day. Adults, likewise, create a reality each morning that will never be completely consistent with the reality of the previous morning, or the following one.

Sometimes circumstances press heavily upon us. I remember leaving Fruita, Colorado, to head toward a Mexican orphanage on the Sonoran desert…early on the morning of September 11, 2001. Pulling out of the drive, in high spirits because I was once again headed to Mexico, to work at La Casa Esperanza orphanage, a neighbor rushed toward me to tell me a plane had just crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I thanked him, turned on the car radio, and headed south. A few minutes later a second plane had crashed into the other tower, and the world, for all of us, was forever changed.

Every day is a new world, a new reality.   In recent years we have witnessed melt-downs in the world financial markets, as well as in US real estate, forcing most of us to create new realities out of the external realities that have been imposed upon us. Perhaps a reality that includes significantly less money. Imagine how all of those families that received word that their soldier sons or daughters stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan would not be returning with their comrades, in fact would never return, had to re-invent themselves, recognizing that the concept of family familiar to them yesterday will never be the same.

As we age, of course, we have new realities pressed upon us: we are no longer in the work force, no longer in fine health; we are facing the loss of old buddies, of loved ones, of spouses who perhaps had been with us for many decades  

Many senior citizens have huge difficulties with short-term memory, and they have, then, not only the problem of living on after so much has been lost, but also with the problem of fighting to retain even a simple awareness of what just transpired moments before, those moments themselves lost almost immediately. They have to immediately “invent” the reality of the world, struggling to put forth a sensible picture of themselves, even though each day they wake with a little less.

As I write this, my dad, J. Robert Tipton, sits in his assisted living home in Ashland, Ohio, where a kind staff does its best to make his life a reasonably pleasant one. In spite of losing his beloved wife a few years back, in spite of no longer living in the house he and his cousin built back in 1941, in spite of no longer being active in corporate or community affairs, in spite of no longer being a church leader, in spite of no longer being able to hear well, in spite of no longer being able to do what he loved best--working with exotic woods, crafting beautiful bowls on his lathe--my dad usually faces each day as he always has, with a rather remarkable enthusiasm considering his circumstances. In a couple of weeks I will be back in north central Ohio for a large family gathering, perhaps our last, to celebrate my dad’s 100th birthday.

Calamity Jane, that old cussing, tobacco-chewing, courageous woman of the Wild West, summed it up well: “Every day takes figgerin’ out all over again how to live.”



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