Two Old Men (Tom and Dave)

I was on a walk with my old friend, Tom. We are both 78 years old and we were school buddies from age 6 through 18, when we graduated high school. Then we went our separate ways. Tom ended up retired in Florida and I ended up retired in jolly old England.

But one day we both ended up on a walk in Lincoln Park in Chicago, where we grew up. The walk was our constitutional. Old men need a daily constitutional.

“Hey Tom, lets go for a drink.”

“Sounds good to me, Dave.”

“Look, there’s a tavern with the name, “The Old Man”. Lets go in and have a beer.”

“Okay Dave, the name sounds interesting.”

We entered and sat on green padded stools and ordered two steins of beer. We sat sipping our beer and looking at our reflections in the huge mirror behind the bar.

“Ha, ha, look at us, Tom, two heavy-set old men.”

“We both look timeworn, Dave, but we’re still smiling.”

There were several oil paintings on the walls of old men with interesting faces staring down at us.

“Maybe we should put our pictures up there.”

Tom smiled and said:

“Yea, with the caption, “Everything is Transitory” or “Nearly everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work!”

We both laughed.

“Hey Tom, how are you dealing with old age?”

“Sometimes I feel very alone.”


“Doesn’t everybody, Tom?”

“Yes, I guess so, but it becomes more exaggerated in old age.”

We pondered aloneness for a minute.

“But, on the whole I’m feeling good, knock on wood,” Tom banged his knuckles on the wooden bar, “But I know our age is associated with illness, loneliness and death. How do you feel about getting old?”

I took a long sip of my beer.

“Well, I’m a writer in my retirement and that keeps me busy. But I know I’m getting a little forgetful and my physical and mental performance has been reduced the last couple of years.”

I thought for a minute about the questions the elderly think about.

“Here’s a question for you, Tom. How are you dealing with mortality?”

Tom laughed, “Hey buddy, what is this, Existential Questions for the Elderly?”

“Something like that,” I said, as I ordered two more beers.

“Well, I enjoy a bit of acting and singing which keeps me busy and this enjoyment distracts me from that question. But I do realize my remaining time is becoming shorter and shorter, but I use that thought as a motivator to live each day to the fullest.”

“Good on you, Tom, we have to live within the limitations of old age and adjust to the boundaries of human existence.”

“I’ll drink to that,” said Tom, taking a big gulp of beer.

“We finally get to the BIG questions. What meaning does this life have? And, is there something that transcends this life? It is essential to find a personal answer to these questions.”

“Why?” said Tom, with a quizzical look on his face.

“For psychological reasons, the old person must answer these questions so they don’t have a seed of unrest and get drawn into a depressive world.”

“How do you answer them?” Tom was putting me on the spot.

“Well Tom, as far as the meaning of life goes, I was productive and I contributed to society in my work life. Now, I find satisfaction in my writing and I hope it gets some people thinking about how to better their lives. I make my own meaning out of life. As far as something that transcends this life, I believe there is nothing beyond our death. I am an atheist and I believe that our death is final.”

“Yes Dave, I see, from what you have said, that failure or denial in dealing with these questions in old age can result in psychological disorders.”

“I believe we can be happy if we live in the present, Tom.”

We shook hands, finished our beers and walked out into the autumn mist singing:


The Meaning of Life–Python Style

While watching the Monty Python film, “The Meaning of Life”, I thought how Python humor reduces our traditional positions and arguments to absurdity. It makes us understand how things can get out of hand. For example- In the film we see the glorifying of expensive equipment in the hospital labor room, with a machine that goes “ping”. The doctors love the machine that goes “ping”. This equipment is more valuable than the humans, mother and child. Or take our excessive attention to Growth and Learning in society, this can lead to deadening the spirit of youngsters. Or take the corporate greed that abounds now days, in the skit oppressed workers transform their building into a battleship fighting the big office structures and their inhabitants. It’s Python humor but in many ways it’s true.

The Meaning of Life film brings out the extreme and dangerous DISTRACTIONS that dehumanize us, such as religious ideology, class distinction, science, medicine, technology, education and corporate greed. These distractions take away our happiness and also, it separates us from our fellow humans.

At the end of the film a lady opens an envelope and reads:

“Here’s the Meaning of Life. It’s nothing complex or special. Be nice to people, eat sensibly, read a good book now and then, take a daily short walk and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

Simple, isn’t it?

Once we rid ourselves of piety and dogma then matters of meaning become more pragmatic and demystified.

Humans must create their meaning through a process of self-observation and the enemy of this process is DISTRACTION. To get rid of distraction you have to focus your mind and senses in the present moment, and resist the tendency to wander off into the past or future.

We can humanize ourselves again by taking our heads out of the clouds so we will be better able to know ourselves and make our own meaning.

Remember, Existence precedes Essence, which means we exist first and then we determine our essence (goals and purpose).

We must enjoy being here (in the present) NOW.

At the beginning of the film, there were some fish swimming in a tank. They were taking note of their fellow fish, which were being eaten outside of the tank. They wanted to know what life was all about. It seemed that they had missed the point. Have we, humans, also missed the point?

It has been said, to understand life you must also understand death. That, after all is said and done, is where your life inevitably leads.

Socrates pointed out that the art of living is learning how to die. In other words, knowing that death is coming should motivate us to live a fuller and better life in the meantime.

The laughter we get from the Python’s zany and irreverent humor can liberate us. Laughter frees us from piety and dogma, so we are free to question and think for ourselves.

So, we arrive at one question: What does life mean? In my mind, the meaning is what you make of your life, it’s a journey toward our realistic hopes, reflecting what we know and ought to be doing with our life. When we realize this, we can laugh and be free of the fetters of distraction.

I will leave you with two quips about laughter:

Laughter is the shock absorber that eases the blows of life.

If the world laughs at you, laugh right back because it’s as funny as you are.

Thinking About Thinking

I was recently re-watching some Monty Python sketches, specifically, “Cheese Shop” and “Dead Parrot” plus the film, “Life of Brian”. I was struck by how much philosophy is in Python humor.

Socrates believed in examining your life by constant question and answer sessions. He did a lot of “thinking about thinking”, which is sort of a definition of philosophy. Thinking about thinking is what happens in the Python sketches, in which ordinary people try to overcome barriers by using common sense and reason.

In the “Dead Parrot”, a customer is trying to convince the pet shop owner that the parrot he purchased is dead. The shopkeeper wouldn’t agree.

In the “Cheese Shop” sketch a customer is trying to buy some cheese in a cheeseless cheese shop! It’s the “theatre of the absurd’, where these confrontations between a rational person and an indifferent world, happen.

In the “Life of Brian”, Brian says, to his disciples:

“Look, you’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals.”

This is what Sartre was talking about when he declared that our “existence precedes our essence”. We have to think for ourselves and provide our own meaning and purpose in life. We are NOT born with essence (meaning, purpose and goals). We exist first and then we determine our own essence.

Monty Python’s humor makes us re-think our lives by satirizing and parodying the way people fail to get independence of thought and thus don’t use their freedom to choose. Sartre called this “bad faith”, the denial of personal freedom to choose, so these people feel they are not free to change their actions.

We haven’t said anything about Nietzsche, which “Life of Brian” also brought to mind. He declared “God is Dead”, which meant that the scientific world made belief in God no longer acceptable to modern man, and so our meaning and purpose would have to come from us alone, the new “ubermensch” (the superior man, who determines his own meaning and values). Python comedy brought out to us the illogic and stupidity that sometimes underlies our social institutions.

So, there is plenty of philosophy in Python, in fact some sketches and films are understood better by philosophical analysis.

To end, I leave you with a comic line: