Sunday, March 15, 2015

Push Back Against 'The Dying Of The Light'

It was the poet Dylan Thomas who wrote the famous couplet that concludes his poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, which many readers will be familiar with: 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Readers may not be aware that while the poem starts with the same two lines, there is an additional line sandwiched between them, so that the first verse of the poem reads:

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Towards the end of a recent meeting with my financial advisor, the discussion turned from financial matters to grander themes including travel, attitudes to ageing, and making the most of the limited time retirees like myself may have left to us. Somewhere during that chat I talked about an attitude of mine I call, pushing back. That is, pushing back against the ageing process; pushing back against the fears, doubts and insecurities that often make us stay close to home, living what we think are safe, secure and contented lives away from the cut and thrust of the busy world around us. I also keep pushing back against the perception that it is a dangerous world ‘out there’; that no matter how careful we think we are being when we leave our homes, accidents, injuries and even death are lurking just around the next corner waiting to strike us down.

I should say at the outset that I am 66, single, and available… oh, wait…, sorry, that’s an article for a different website! Since my early retirement in 2007, I have embarked on four extended trips away from Australia, and good health willing, I will head off on another journey this year. All four trips have been undertaken as a solo traveller. That is, I travelled on my own. Travelling solo is something I have enjoyed doing for many years. I like the freedom it gives me to follow my own interests, to travel at my own pace, to stay out late and to sleep in even later if I so wish. 

Travelling solo is another way of pushing back. It forces me to rely on my own skills and abilities, to sort out my own mistakes, or problem solve and make adjustments to existing travel arrangements. When I headed off on my first round the world trip in 2008 (after more than 30 years), I made use of a travel agent, and have no regrets that I did. Again in 2010, I used a travel agent to book my main flights around the world, but booked internal flights and accommodations in America and Europe myself. By 2012—and again in 2014—I was ready to go completely solo. I myself researched, booked and organised flights, accommodations, travel insurance, and all other aspects of my trips.

As a solo traveller, taking responsibility for my own travel arrangements has given me the confidence to plan and undertake future journeys, secure in the knowledge that I have already displayed the skills, resourcefulness, self-reliance and self-belief to take care of myself under most circumstances.

During my trips I find other ways to push back. In 2010 I travelled by Greyhound Bus from New York City to New Orleans, a distance of around 2,170 kilometres (1,350 miles). Along the way I stopping in Philadelphia (to catch up with American cousins), and Raleigh, North Carolina (to catch up with expat Australian friends). For many people, travelling by bus in America is probably their last and cheapest option for getting from point A to point B.

I didn’t have to travel by bus, but I chose to do so for the adventure and the experience, for the challenge, for the need to break out of my comfort zone, and for the desire to push back against the fear of the unknown or the perceived dangers. I have written extensively about this bus trip already so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say that the whole trip passed without incident or accident, and that it has been one of the great lasting impressions from that visit to America.

Incentives for pushing back can come from fellow travellers who may be much older than we are. While travelling in Cambodia during 2011, I met a 77 year old German man travelling alone and thought, “Why not? More importantly I thought, “Why couldn’t that be me when I’m seventy-seven?”

I also met an elderly couple from Sri Lanka travelling in the company of their much younger nephew. We met as they were descending (and I was ascending), a steep, twisting, root and boulder covered path that led to a series of stone carvings known as Kbal Spean. Although the climb was only some 1500 metres in length, under the heat and humidity of the midday sun, it wasn’t long before I and everyone else I encountered, were covered with sweat and struggling for breath.

As I recall, the elderly man was 82 years of age, and his wife not much younger. Again I thought, “If they can do it, why can’t I?” Why not, indeed? As long as I am in reasonably good health, there is no logical reason that I can’t still be travelling when I am 77 or even 82 years of age. As long as I can continue to overcome those fears and doubts, I’m sure I will be travelling for a long time yet.

So, don’t give in to your fears and insecurities. Push back. Don’t give in to your aches and pains. Push back against them too. And push back against the idea that you are too old, too slow, or too […enter your excuse of choice here…].

Finally, while I don't normally pay much attention to horoscopes, on the morning of August 25, 2012, as I left New York City on yet another journey down the east coast of America, one of the city’s daily papers, amNewYork had this advice for Libran’s like myself: “Get ready for another great learning experience. If you don't try, you won't know whether or not you can. Go for it! You can always get back on the horse.” 

That is pretty good advice for anyone I reckon, so keep pushing back, and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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