“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” — Elie Wiesel, French-American writer and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner
Jack and Elizabeth are in their mid-seventies and love life. They had fulfilling careers and raised three children who now have families of their own. There aren’t enough hours in the day for all they like to do. Walking, swimming, traveling, volunteer work, community service club activities, family gatherings, hobbies, and reading keep them very busy. Jack has been taking a few university courses in religion, philosophy, and literature. Elizabeth has just been certified as a master gardener. When they can squeeze it in (and they feel emotionally up to the challenge), they try to help out their neighbors, the Reddens (who are about 10 years younger).
Howard Redden is practically a shut-in with his ailing heart and numerous other health problems. He and his wife, Sylvia, spend most of their waking hours watching television and snarling at each other. Their children visit or call just often enough to feel that they’ve fulfilled their family duties. Conversations with the Reddens are filled with bitterness, vicious gossip, complaints about their health and boredom, and lots of blaming government, their kids, and fate for their many problems and ailments.
It’s inspiring to be with those optimists in their 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s who are excited about some new venture or interest. Too many people let their disappointments and cynicism slowly extinguish their life spark. When they reach their senior years they are bitter and jaded. Their dead spirits rattle in bodies that haven’t been laid to rest yet. It’s sad to see people who are putting in time until retirement. They hate, or just tolerate, their work, as they bide their time waiting for life to begin. They put off living and slowly die in the process. If they reach retirement, they’re left wondering, “Is this all there is? Is this what life is all about?”
“How long have you worked here?” “Ever since my boss threatened to fire me.” Far too many people have retired, but still show up for work. Others have resigned but still go through the motions and are on the payroll. Some people who complain that they aren’t paid what they’re worth should be thankful. On-the-job retirees who waste their lives in a ‘dead-end’ job they don’t enjoy aren’t making a living, they’re making a dying. They are slaves no matter how much money they make, status they achieve, or power they wield.
Studies of thriving people and their successful career paths show that the type of jobs they have had is much less important than the type of person they are. There are no ‘dead-end’ jobs, but there are ‘dead-end’ people. Less successful people in unfulfilling jobs often make the mistake of thinking that they are working for someone else.
Apathy and cynicism usually take root early in life. If unchecked by middle age, they lead to bitterness, lack of energy, health problems, depression, and related difficulties. A public opinion poll taken by the National Opinion Research Center found that over half of all adults in their twenties rate their lives as ‘exciting.’ Once people reach their forties this slips to 46 percent. At 60 it falls to 34 percent. The Noble Prize winning French philosopher, physician, and musician, Albert Schweitzer, fervently believed “The tragedy of life is what dies inside a person while they live.”
As the years slide by, a growing number of people don’t really live, they merely exist — trapped in their lives of quiet desperation. Just getting by is as dangerous as resting in the snow on a frigid winter night; our passion and spirit dozes off and dies in our sleep.