The Art of Been There, Done That!

You can’t stay on the summit forever.
You have to come down again…
One climbs, one sees;
One descends, one sees no longer.
But one has seen.

 There is an art to conducting oneself in the lower regions
By the memory of what one has seen higher-up.

                                             – Rene Daumal

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These lines resonate with me. They also resonated with my wife, who clipped them from a magazine years ago and with my daughter, Ginny, who used them in her blog, Mary and Me, posted as Off  the mountain on Feb. 24, 2011.

As we get older, scaling high summits, literally and figuratively, becomes more of a challenge. Whether due to health reasons, financial considerations, or just plain lack of energy, those of us who are older and retired must face the fact that certain activities just are not within easy reach any longer. We are descending from the loftier vantage points of our young years, where our viewpoints were long and focused, to altitudes where the view is surprisingly more panoramic, the air is fuller, and a deep breath more quickly rejuvenates. This is not to imply that we should slow down and stop; rather, we move on to undertake new and more appropriate activities and challenges!

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These are the times when recollections of past things seen and done are increasingly more important to our ongoing quality of life. We let-go to some extent, but we, hopefully, remember fondly where we have been and what we have seen. 

Careers In the Rear-View Mirror

As a long-retired electrical engineer, here, in California’s fabled Silicon Valley, many of my former skills have accumulated rust, and some of them are no longer even relevant in today’s galloping technology. Yet, there was an exciting time not too long ago when I participated in the fast-paced, leading-edge technology march that continues unabated in this valley. The memory of those exciting times spent “higher-up” kindles a warm appreciation of today’s wider perspective on Silicon Valley, a history now viewed more leisurely from today’s low-altitude “base-camp,” as it were.

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I additionally find solace in retreating from the time-fragility of marketable and specialized, leading-edge technical knowledge. I now defer to the stability inherent in those engineering/scientific fundamentals that provided the underpinnings for my career – the very same fundamentals I and countless other engineers learned in college. I still know them and, occasionally, review them, to my great personal satisfaction. Those fundamentals are largely timeless and still apply! Today, I find comfort in that fact, yet I still attempt to keep abreast of new science and technology.

The coursework engineers learn in college represents, in some sense, basic truths of nature and natural law; mastering these constitutes a “right-of-passage” for fledgling engineers and serves much like a high-altitude base-camp encountered along the upward trail leading to the summits of technology; one must pass through on the way up in order to be adequately prepared for the ultimate ascent. Inevitably, one passes through again on the way back down, thankful for its warm, welcoming, and continuing presence. Thus, it is.

Zany & Wonderful Memories of Travel: Enough to Last a Lifetime

 Compared to many families, my wife and I are less well-traveled. Yet, I count us blessed to have been to Western and Eastern Europe in addition to several domestic vacations including New York. I traveled to rural Japan several times for extended business stays of two-to-three weeks at a time. Those trips to Japan were long and often difficult, yet there are many fond memories of those journeys just as there are of our major family excursions.

I am not tempted to recount specific trips and the good times we had because many of you have traveled extensively and know full-well what benefits travel brings as well as the indelible memories travel creates.

The point I would make is this: At my age and stage, I do not feel driven to see a lot more of this fascinating world first-hand. This attitude is due partly to the great expense of money, time, and energy involved, but it is perhaps more the result of the feeling that I have had ample opportunities to view the world from “the (travel) summit,” – and that sustains me very well now at these more leisurely altitudes. I know that many can never get enough of new world-experiences, even in their later years. More power to them. As for me, I have been there, seen that, and done that often enough to satisfy my extensive travel cravings. 

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The Art of Knowing When to Recollect and Enjoy

I find fascinating the number of entertainment and sports figures who have had fabulous careers, received much acclaim over many years for their talents and skills, and earned large sums of money – yet they stay too long at the party, not knowing when to quit. Why not decide to draw-down while you are still near the top and able to revel at the commanding view as the inevitable descent and decline begins? It is true that money is often a large factor in staying too long , and that is really sad in light of their long-standing success. I also believe that human nature and the almighty ego play a role in the inability for some to embrace the “…art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one has seen higher-up.”

Slow down and smell the flowers in the beautiful garden which you worked so hard to plant and cultivate. Like all of us, they, too, have but a limited time, here.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Been There, Done That!

  1. The yearning for travel is still very much with me in my retirement years. I see it as a satisfying challenge with great reward. Recalling a previous blog of yours about your early years in Chicago, taking the boy out of Chicago, but not Chicago out of the boy, I feel very much that same way after having lived in Belgium for four and a half years and having had the opportunity to travel around Europe. Although it has been 28 years since we relocated to the states, I cannot and do not want to forget the wonderful atmosphere and first hand “feel” of that experience. Over the years the many travel experiences we have had and, especially, the people that we have met are all very much a part of me, beckoning me to leave my comfortable home and add more to the panoramic view of my life. The view from “higher up” will never be complete for me, I yearn to keep “seeing” and experiencing.

    • Everyone has their own comfortable “altitude” from which to view the world. I think it is great that you still want to see more. Linda and I are far from giving-up on world traveling, but we likely will spend more time within these United States given that there are so many terrific places left to visit, here “at home.” Some, but not all, of our future world-travels will take place within the covers of books and via the digital images of travelogues such as those produced by Rick Steves (already own most of those!). I am tempted to do a blog on our trip with you and Jon to Eastern Europe – that was a good one!

  2. And yet? There is an interesting freedom retirement can bring that is either glorious or more terrifying than any summit: time. Trips close to home that can be something more than the standard tourist fare, trips anywhere on a weekday. The freedom to choose not to participate in the defensive driving course for shopping carts offered at most grocery stores on a Sunday afternoon. The sewing projects, garden projects, woodworking projects, craft projects, art projects, baking, canning, renovation…finally. Not working only to pay the bills, but helping somewhere interesting, joyful, meaningful. Time with friends that doesn’t have to be blocked squarely into an itinerary. Time with grandkids to take the time to enjoy each other. Maybe it’s recognizing that while the trek to the summit is very fine, hidden treaures to explore lie in all the little canyons or hollows or ravines or passes bypassed on the way up?

    • Time IS the precious commodity – as you stated – and evermore so in the later years. Your last sentences call to mind that the true prize in life’s travels is often less the destination than the journey itself. A life well-lived so often depends on an awareness of that fact along the way. The little framed piece of calligraphy which hangs on my den wall reminds to “Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures.”

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