Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Climbing Mountains

     I just finished reading a provocative new book by David Brooks entitled The Second Mountain:  The Quest for a Moral Life.  It seems to be partially autobiographical as he struggles with what it is to live a meaningful as well as moral life.   As he is a mid fifties man I suspect this book is partially inspired by a mid-life crisis at least partlly instigated by a failed marriage followed by remarriage.   As an octogenarian geezer skier my lens for assessing his writing is what it is like to go beyond the second mountain metaphor. 
    As related to skiing when we are climbing the first mountain of being successful in our careers and raising a family our ego reigns supreme.  Self absorption is a daily attitude.  If we are wise enough maybe we can put aside ego to the extent we can be present with our partner and children.  Too often however, we are neglectful of their needs and perhaps as well the greater needs of society.   Our passion for skiing is in tension with our other commitments.  We want to be climbing the metaphorical mountain and also want to be climbing the snow covered mountain.   In climbing the first mountain there is always tension between the free time used for pursuing our sport and the recognition that society asks more of us in family and community.   So in this first climb where do we find happiness and even more importantly joy? 
     I'll confess in my early days I was extremely goal oriented and obsessed with achieving success to lift myself out of economically deprived roots growing up on a farm.   I fed on increasing both my financial status and professional achievements.  But just as David Brooks points out, these achievements can leave an empty spot in your soul.   I am thankful that I did not fully sell my soul to the achievement god and did find solace in some level of service to humankind in my teaching, advising and worship.
      Setting off to climb the second mountain of focus on relationships, community and serving rather than feeding ego sometimes can be thrust upon you in unexpected ways.   Late in my 59th year I was struck with kidney cancer.   I was merrily moving along in my career and enjoying a responsible administrative post at Cornell University.   However, facing the possibility of a premature death, I was able to make a radical departure in my life to climb the second mountain.   My early  retirement shocked many of my colleagues!   However, I was delighted to move on to a more servant ordered life.   People would ask me "What are you gong to do?"   Eventually I put together a calling card with a list of my activities.   My life became filled with giving back to both my family and my church and my community.   I found myself happily and even joyfully doing mundane activities.   I was both able to serve and find great satisfaction in just being.   With the freedom from work, I was able to both give back and as well reward my passion for skiing. 
      Just as David Brooks points out, even though we have moral intentions and desires to be more relational, we are still flawed human beings.  I guess we continue to be works in progress so even though we may have made progress in climbing our second mountain, there is still work to be done.
     As I look forward to skiing in my 23rd year of retirement I am first of all blessed to have sufficient health to keep "climbing" the mountain.  Also I a pleased to still have the energy to do volunteer work with my church, local museum and with the Red Cross.   In the area of relationships, I am still working on being a better spouse, parent, grandparent and friend.   As our Greek Peak Geezer Skier group ages out I am thrilled that whether we are still on the slopes or not, we are in a committed fellowship of monthly lunches throughout the year.   I hope our little community is an example for others as we climb another mountain toward our final destiny.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Advances in Technology

    It is nice to have perspective on advances in technology.  If you have lived into geezer territory you have seen a lot of change.  Especially if you are an octogenarian.   Geezer skiers surely have benefited from the development of shaped skis along with just about everybody else on the slopes.   Many of us can also remember the days when bindings were quite primitive and leg fractures we commonplace.   Also from the point of view of safety, the development of comfortable safe and effective ski helmets is a boon.   We also must be grateful for the advances in snow making technology that enables snow making for efficiently even at higher temperatures. 
     Beyond skiing we are also blessed with a plethora of technological advances in computing, medicine, automotive safety and so on.   This post has been prompted by my use our newest toys!   My wife and I took delivery of e-bikes this past Tuesday.   It took some time to assemble them since they were shipped from the west coast.   Today we enjoyed a neighborhood ride as we adjusted to this new bike technology.   What a great joy it is to have power assist on the hills.   I have ridden a ten speed mountain bike in the past and when I was in my 60's I could downshift and pedal up the hills with reasonable speed.  Now in my 80's that is not as easy.   Thus my old mountain bike has been donated to charity along with my wife's beach bike.   We are both thrilled with our new machines and once again can enjoy rides without the agony of challenging hill climbs.
    I am truly pleased with the advances in battery and control technology that breathes new life into getting out the road with a bicycle.   And this activity can also be another mode of conditioning for the arrival of ski season.
 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Flashback!

   Yesterday I had the pleasure of lunch with fellow Cornell Engineering Emeritus faculty at the Statler Hotel on the Cornell Campus.  The current dean Lance Collins is a gracious host who is very appreciative of the past and continuing contributions of this group.    It is truly a gathering of a gaggle of geezers.  Engineering of yore was male dominated and yesterday our group was graced by only one female emerita.   The rest of us are grizzled geezers. 
     Since I have a long history at Cornell that started with undergraduate studies in 1953 I have had a long acquaintance with the likes of the emeritus faculty.  I moved from student to graduate student to professor to associate dean during my active time so I can flashback to to a host of experiences when I encounter my colleagues.   The most remarkable flashback yesterday was an encounter with professor emeritus Arthur Ruoff.   Believe it or not I took a Differential Equations math course from him when he was a young assistant professor.   He was a hard charging character then and he maintains that character today.   He is and was a brilliant engineer.   Among his accomplishments was the development of high pressure compaction that has led to the production of artificial diamonds.
    As I looked around the room I noted that although many were showing physical signs of aging, they were still mentally sharp.    It was a delightful couple of hours with long time friends and associates and it was a pleasure to hear from the dean the progress of the many ventures of the college.   A most notable recent accomplishment is a collaboration with the Metropolitan Transient Authority of NYC to facilitate the L train tunnel rehab that without having to shut down the train for several months.
     Closing on the flashback note I am reminded of the thrills of past projects I was involved with.   And I am appreciative how Cornell support the geezer guys like me to still be involved with students and projects.