Our routine often creates clashing contrasts: comfort and dissatisfaction; security and danger; confidence and restlessness; delight and regret; process and immobility; skill and artlessness. These clashes, however, don’t usually pose a threat to our existence. They are just a part of our daily cycle. The comfort of ordering the same Starbucks latte as we’re out running errands or on the way to work lessens the regret of never challenging our taste buds to try something different. Besides, our taste buds won’t know. We may even binge on movies such as Eat Pray Love, Into the Wild and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to visualize stepping out of our comfort zone in search of a different self. But the next time we’re out, we’re back to the same latte.

Let’s be honest. We don’t think too much about the routine of life when the busyness of juggling work and family makes it difficult just to breathe fresh air. When climate change, pandemics, polarization, and the systemic nature of (fill in the blank) threaten to drown us, we retreat to what we deem is safe, secure, sacred — routine.

But what we don’t realize is the eventual hard stop of confronting our safe, secure, sacred routines that occurs for all of us. Many of us who have already experienced the hard stops — sickness, death of a loved one, job loss, divorce —  know what I mean. The day comes when thinking about our own end becomes more a part of our daily sacred ritual, bumps notwithstanding. The day also comes when we can’t dodge the contemplation of previous routines and the regrets or resignations taking root in our souls before our final hard stop. We can’t escape or ignore our personal histories.

So how do we grow gracefully with our final breaths? What message do we hard-stop people leave behind for others, for those caught up in the business of routines less satisfying, more dangerous, more restless, regretful, immobile, and artless than they want to confront? The wisdom of age is only wisdom when it is heard by others. It’s the tree in the forest making a sound when it falls.

We first acknowledge our histories as honestly as possible. So, what if we weren’t 24/7 perfect parents, children, friends, workers or retirees? What if we criticize too much and praise too little? What if we distance ourselves from others because they have wronged us or hurt us? Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. We have also put an arm around others as we have sought “to console as to be consoled,” as in the prayer of Saint Francis. Now is the time to forgive ourselves for often falling short but learn even more from the heights we did achieve even on small mountains. Gail Sheehy suggests that if we have navigated our passages in life with some success, we can look forward to renewal — not resignation — on the trails we still navigate. We must turn the page on our histories. We must change the way we perceive ourselves and others even when it is difficult to do so. Even the worst sinner can be redeemed. We just need to reset the compass bearing.

Next, we need to challenge ourselves to go beyond our present-day realities just like we did when we were younger. We all have disabilities — obvious or hidden — that want to tie us down. But we still have our own stories to create as we contemplate Hillel the Elder’s question: “If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” Being for others is a matter of renewal, not resignation.   Finding purpose beyond self — even with our last breath- defines a life well lived. Breathe.

But what if our past routines didn’t teach us to live in the moment with others and for others? What if we got hung up along the way, even when others thought we were successful? Maybe our routines crippled us. We became insecure, self-absorbed, morally challenged, dogmatic, or domineering. Our list can be never-ending of fault lines that can fracture, but we still thirst for Sheehy’s renewal when our days become shorter.

Gratitude for today can change the past. Gratitude that we can love and cherish others and ourselves. Gratitude for curiosity and exploration of the world both near and far. Gratitude that our image on Mount Rushmore doesn’t define our success. Gratitude that routine doesn’t have to be our enemy. Gratitude for being a falling tree in the forest making a sound.

Bev Graves is a writer and retired teacher.

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