Just Keep on, Keeping On

One of the finest non-fiction writers of our time is still writing. His name is John McPhee, and he is now 92 years old.

He has decided that he will keep on, keeping on by writing until the day he dies or is no longer able to write. His friends suggested that he publish some of his unfinished works which for various reasons he had let slip by and not completed. So, it has come out in a book titled Tabula Rasa, Volume 1.

These same friends suggested that he add the words “Volume 1” to the title, since he could live to be 100 or more and then could name subsequent books as “Volume 2, 3, 4, etc. etc.”

In one of the short stories in Volume 1, titled “The Moons of Methuselah,” McPhee sums up his philosophy of continuing to write with these words: “Old-people projects keep old people old. You’re no longer old when you’re dead.” So, he keeps on writing.

He references, in this same chapter, the fact that Mark Twain made his end-of-life project the writing of his autobiography which, when he died, was “only” 735,000 words long. “If Mark Twain had stayed with it, he would be alive today.”

All of this, of course, is to point to the conclusion that people, as they get old, can find fulfillment in doing things that they have always loved to do.

I have thought often of how my Dad did this. His avocation as well as his vocation for his whole life was dairy farming. For as long as he could, even after he had stopped milking cows, he would go over to the barn each day and feed the calves. It kept him connected. On one occasion, he thought that he and my Mom would enjoy spending a month in Florida during the winter. He lasted about 2 weeks, then announced they were coming home because “he missed the cows.”

I have a friend my age who is a retired doctor. Like my Dad, I think “doctoring” is what he did both as vocation and avocation. Today he keeps track of his old friends when they go to places like the Cleveland Clinic for tests. He is first on the phone when they get back to help interpret the medical-speak evaluation into something which the average person can understand. He is “keeping on” with medicine.

I had another old friend, now deceased, with whom I shared a love of flying. He had been a pilot in World War II and, after the war, had continued to fly on weekends with the Naval Reserve. Whenever he read anything in the newspaper dealing with the airport or aviation, he would be on the phone with you the next day trying to figure out what happened and why.

My father-in-law was an engineer. Even after he retired from running the family business, he would get involved in engineering challenges. One of my vivid memories visiting him at his home in Florida was when he had turned a recliner, which wasn’t working right, upside-down on the living room floor and was trying to fix it. Finally, he came to the conclusion that the design of chair had been “mis-engineered,” so he sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a letter to the President of the recliner company telling him how to fix it.

I suppose that the moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter how you do it–but, as you get older you should just “keep on, keeping on.” It is a good thing to do.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.


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