Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 344 (revised 020) Finding Meaning in Life

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Years ago I visited the house where Charles Darwin wrote, “The Origin of the Species”. Downe House lies just outside of Kent, England. We had taken our kids on their first trip to England and Scotland. They were focused on The Tower of London and the Lockness Monster. On an off day in London, Brenda was focused on a shopping exploration of Herod’s. I had just finished reading Loren Eiseley’s book, “Darwin’s Century”.  My mind was lost in how powerful Darwin’s book had been in the development of our thinking and our very being. This one book had caused so much fear. Some people held it as an intellectual gateway, others as a work from hell…Why?

We split up for the day. I took the train to Kent. It was a hot summer day, I walked down this lonely country road a few kilometers, hemmed in by hedge rows that sang with bird song. I soon  stood before a small brick monument at the edge of a driveway. “Here Charles Darwin thought and wrote for 40 years” was inscribed in stone.

It was lunch hour. No one answered my knock. Then I saw a sign. It would open again at 2 o’clock. I waited the 45 minutes. Not one person appeared. Not one car. Not one dog; nothing.  My mind wandered concerning how such a maelstrom of thought could have emanated from this silent spot in the country side. At 2 o’clock I knocked again and a caretaker opened the door. He looked surprised. He looked for my car. I asked if I could visit the museum. I had read in a book that it was part of the British Trust – just like the British Museum – only no one was here - just me.

He held the door wide; asked me to come in, and told me to give a shout if I needed anything. Then he bound up the stairs to the second floor.  I was left alone – in Darwin’s house. It was silent. I was stunned. The house had every appearance of an occupied home. I moved silently peering into this case and that – here were the birds he had brought back on the Beagle. Here was his chair where he sat with a writing board on his lap each day to compose his thoughts. Here was his pen, his books, his glasses, etc. Out the French doors lay the footpath that he walked every day. I walked down it and thought of Darwin. I returned to the house with no visitors. I lingered and then silently let myself out and left this house where thought had taken a giant leap forward. 

I had, of course, heard about, “The Origin of the Species”, throughout life. But I had never met anyone who had actually read the book. But during the previous winter in Alaska I had pulled it off the shelf and read it – cover to cover. I was amazed. It was so clear. It was so logical. No wonder it had caused such furor. The case for evolution was not only presented, but it was written in a way that was, and remains to this day, pretty much irrefutable. Of course people continue to discount it, but that speaks more to their basic beliefs that to the facts of facing the world as it is. Darwin's work remains valid and yet open to unending  review.

And what are the facts facing the world of post Charles Darwin; the world in which we live. It is a world of awareness of our place in the universe. It is an awareness of our time in the eternal scheme of things. And it supported one of our most basic fears: the fear of being left out, the fear of counting for nothing, the feeling of worthlessness. It is scary. Unsettling at best. We know it in every fiber of our body. This is something that some boomers, seniors, and retired people know and fear in this latter stage of life. We may know it but few people talk about it. And we certainly don’t have to like it.

You may have life all figured out. If so, congratulations, and more power to you. But if you still have questions – at this stage of your life – you may find this series thought provoking – and I hope somewhat comforting.

What is it that gives meaning to life? Is there an out; an exit? Is there a way we can be aware of our modern predicament, our place in the universe, and yet find a way to meet tomorrow with hope? I think so.

As a retirement member of our society I want to explore this topic in the next few weeks. It is a topic I have answered for myself many years ago. I do want to briefly review the thought process that works for me – who knows, it might work for you. Or the program may trigger thoughts you may wish to share with others.

This is Retirement Talk.
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