The Last Chapter

It had been two years since my nephew, Tom, and I had our chat about historical beginnings. I missed our chats. Then one day, out of the blue, his parents dropped him off at my house for a few hours while they went shopping.

“Uncle Dave, the other day I saw a very old man hobbling along on a cane and I was wondering what it would be like to be him. I notice you have a cane now. How old are you, Uncle Dave?”

“I am 79 years old and yes, I need a cane at times to support my aging legs.”

I propped my brass eagle head walking stick by the side of my chair.

My 14 year old nephew sat on the floor at my feet.

“Well, Grasshopper, do you mind if I call you grasshopper?”

“No, I don’t mind, but why?” said Tom, quizzically.

“You’re too young to remember the Kung Fu TV series, but in the story, the Master Teacher calls his student, Grasshopper, because when he was teaching him about being in the Present Moment, he said:

“Do you hear your heartbeat?”

“No,” said the student.

“Do you hear the grasshopper at your feet?”

“No, how is it you hear these things, Old Man?”

“Young Man, how is it that you do not?”


“Now, Grasshopper, about your wondering how it feels to be old…”

“Oh yes, Uncle Dave, tell me, please,” said Tom, excitedly.

“You’re awful young to be thinking about old age.”

“I will be old some day and I want to know about it. Now, please continue, Uncle Dave.”

This kid was curious beyond his years!

“Okay, Grasshopper, here is what it feels like to be OLD:

Smear some dirt on your glasses.

Stuff cotton in your ears.

Put on heavy shoes that are too big for you.

Wear gloves.

Now, you can’t see or hear very well. You stumble around and your hands don’t work properly.”


Tom looked gobsmacked.

“You see Tom, I mean Grasshopper, as we get older our senses become less acute and our muscles weaker,” I smiled.

“When I get old I want a fancy eagle head cane like yours, Uncle Dave.”

“I’ll leave you this one when I’m finished with it.”

Tom took my cane and rubbed the brass eagle’s head.

“Uncle Dave, how do you grow old without feeling old?”

“That’s a good question, Grasshopper, I suppose you have to try to stay young in mind and spirit. But, it has been said that there is little difference between a long life and a short one. Both are but moments in time.”

“When I get older I want to study about old people and help them enjoy life.”

“A noble goal, Grasshopper. Your parents told me you are interested in pursuing a medical career.”


I knew Tom was precocious because he had skipped two grades in school, so he was studying now with 16 year olds!

“How can old people live their life to the fullest?”

“Well Grasshopper, I guess to grow old gracefully you need to:

Live and enjoy each day and don’t think too much about the past or future. Live just for today, it’s the only life we have.

Exercise and take care of your mind and body.

Keep your mind alert.

Have a hobby and join a club to interact with people.


“Uncle Dave, can you define happy and successful aging?”

“Grasshopper, I know you will do well in your pursuit of a medical career in aging because you ask the right questions.

Successful aging requires three key things:

Low risk of disease, high mental and physical functions, and active engagement with life which means interacting with others and having activities.”


“It must be sad when old people don’t feel a part of the world anymore.”

“I’m amazed, Grasshopper, your thinking is way beyond your age.”

“Well, Uncle Dave, I read that people are living longer now and I would like to help them cope.”

“Yes Grasshopper, it is sad when one is old and has outgrown the world of the young. But, then one must make one’s own music, as art, maybe music, painting or writing.”


“Maybe, some old people feel left behind.” Tom looked pensive.

“Well Grasshopper, some old people feel like they are invisible. The old tend to be shuffled off to the sidelines with the attitude of society that the old have lost value in a youth oriented world.”

“That’s a shame,” said Tom, sadly.


“Grasshopper, you are young, but I’m wondering if you ever think of mortality?”

“I do realize that everyone dies sooner or later. All living things eventually die. My dog died recently. One of my dad’s workmates died of cancer six months ago. So, yes, I do think about it sometimes.”

“Well, old people think a lot about it. As their remaining time becomes shorter and shorter, coping with what is left of life can become very hard or they might think it’s senseless to even try. That’s when depression sets in.”

“Do you get depressed, Uncle Dave?”

“No, I don’t, because I have a hobby of writing which is my passion and I’m still interacting with people and the world through attending discussion groups.”


“Uncle Dave, I suppose when you get old there are a lot of adjustments to be made.”

“That’s right, Grasshopper, the old have to adjust to all their losses: the loss of physical health, the loss of mental flexibility, loss of professional identity, financial means, friends and relatives.

If the elderly can adapt to these losses, they will still be able to say, YES to life in the last chapter.”


“Thanks Uncle Dave, for explaining so much about old age to me.”

“You’re welcome, Grasshopper,” I said, shaking Tom’s hand as he left with his parents.

Thinking back on Tom’s questions and intelligence, I wondered who was the Grasshopper, Tom or Me?



One summer day, when I was minding my 12 year old nephew, he asked me:

“Hey, Uncle Dave, how old is the universe and how did it all start?”

“What’s with you, Tom, you’re on summer holiday and you still want to learn?”

“Yes Uncle Dave, it would be fun and I know you’ve done some study on the subject.”

I knew the kid was curious but not this curious to want to learn on holiday!

“Well, Tom, if you want to learn lets do it. I’ll tell you what I know.”

Tom sat looking at me wide-eyed.

“In the beginning there was a “dot” of compressed infinite energy. This “dot” was very heavy, dense and hot and when the pressure built up from the energy inside it, it burst!

That explosion was the “Big Bang”, which happened 13.7 billion years ago. Bits of matter spread over billions of miles which is probably still expanding.”

“Wow! Uncle Dave! But how did scientists know it happened 13.7 billion years ago? We weren’t around then!”

I laughed.

“Of course we weren’t. With our modern telescopes scientists can calculate the speed at which galaxies are spreading outward. From this data they project backwards and work out when these objects were all in one place.”

“Oh boy, Uncle Dave! What happened next?”

This kid was going to wear me out!

“From the blast of energy a force of gravity was created, a kind of glue that makes matter want to stick together. Gravity made the hot fiery stars group together into clusters called galaxies. Our galaxy is the “Milky Way”. Gas and dust clouds formed our “Sun” from burnt out stars, 4.6 billion years ago.”

“What about the first life?” Tom was getting demanding now!

I went and got myself a glass of water, my mouth was dry from talking.

After a long gulp, I continued:

“Well Tom, the first life were single celled creatures, these merged to form more complex forms of life which multiplied in the sea. Sea creatures came on land and started reproducing enormous lizards called dinosaurs and they ruled the land until a meteor wiped them out!”

“This is exciting, Uncle Dave, what happened next?”

“Well, the meteor hit about 65 million years ago and many life forms became extinct. The ones that survived evolved into different types of mammals, bears, monkeys, apes, etc. In the sea there were whales, walruses and seals. It was the period called Eocene, meaning the “new dawn”. This period was from 56 to 34 million years ago.”

“What about us, Uncle Dave, when did we start?”

I took a deep breath.

“Well, the apes came down from the trees and learned to walk on two feet. We are supposed to be closely related to the chimpanzee. The earliest ape to walk on two feet was probably about 3 million years ago.”

“Oh, Uncle Dave, the planet of the apes!”

This kid was a million laughs!

“Homo Erectus had great advantages over the animals in the wild, their hands, brains and the control of fire made them the boss.

Fire scared away the large animals plus, about 70,000 years ago, the cave men figured out that food heated over a fire released more energy and tasted better than raw meat. They made fire by hitting stones together to get a spark.”

“Did they talk, Uncle Dave?”

“The first communication was sign language and grunts.”

“When did they come over by us?”

“Well, they started moving from Africa about 50,000 years ago to Europe and beyond. They were the “Homo Sapiens”, the hunter gatherers.”

A knock on the door revealed Tom’s parents.

“Oh, Uncle Dave, this is so interesting I don’t want to stop!”

“Come on, Tom, your uncle is tired,” said the mother.

“When I see you again, Uncle Dave, I want to talk about human civilizations.”

“So long Tom,” I said, exhausted.

My Thought For The Day:

The advantage of studying history is that it keeps you from feeling too important!


Do We Live In An Illusion?

I began thinking about the subject of illusion after re-visiting some literature I read years ago to see how the authors treated the conflict between illusion and reality in their writing. We humans are caught between illusion and reality.

I re-visited: The Great Gatsby, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Gatsby lived in an illusion. He created a false reality. He pretended to come from high social class and wealth. In reality he changed his name and he came from a poor background. He made his fortune from bootlegging. He pretended he went to Oxford to impress the elite. He held the illusion that Daisy loved him, when she only loved money and the easy life.

She uses money to escape reality. Daisy and Gatsby turned their illusions into their own reality.

Gatsby’s illusion destroyed him in the end.


The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams: The characters failed to adjust to the real world so they constructed their make-believe worlds around them in the form of illusions.

Laura lives in a world populated by glass animals. She is crippled and fragile.

Her illusion of getting together with her boyfriend is destroyed when he tells her he has a fiancé. He breaks the horn off of her unicorn and it becomes a regular horse, the illusion is broken.

Tom, Laura’s brother, works in a shoe warehouse to support his mother and sister. He is an aspiring poet and immerses himself in movies.

Amanda, Tom and Laura’s mother, tells her children of the many men that pursued her but her husband ran off! She lives in a dream world. She lives her illusion through Laura. She hopes she will find a man to marry her.

Their illusions all break down.


A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams: The main character, Blanche Dubois lives in her delusion of luxury, grandeur and high social class. She lost the family home and her job. She became a prostitute. She goes to her sister’s house only to find her illusions broken. She ends up in a mental institution.


People find it hard to accept reality, so they live in an illusion.

Reality—The state of things as they actually are, not an idealized version.

Illusion—A false belief, a misinterpreted perception of things, what we want to believe.


The Reality Gap leads people into illusion.

The Reality Gap is the SPACE between the reality that is and the reality you would like.


During a human’s limited existence, the individual has to ADAPT to the outside world and it’s HARD! So, they retreat into illusions which are perceived as reality. The tendency is to distort reality to make it more endurable.


The human mind steers itself toward illusions that are adaptable to one’s needs and desires.

Is everything a figment of your imagination?

What’s in your imagination is probably very different from reality. We live our lives in a narrow patch of circumstances, time, geography, culture, etc. We never see the whole picture!


Another way of putting it is that we live in a world of our “Thoughts”. This is a different world from the one that IS. We perceive the world in a limited way. We see a limited spectrum of light. Our hearing and smell is limited. Our perceptions are limited and then we interpret those perceptions through limited thoughts.

This limited perception is an ILLUSION.


Life exists on many levels, Real and Illusion.

Here are some examples:

Take a stone, you feel it and see it, it seems solid and very real. But it’s appearance is an illusion. It is actually made of countless individual atoms, none touching but all are tightly bonded. So, it’s solidity is an illusion.

How about sound? On one level your brain tells you it’s sound but it’s really vibrating particles of air that the ear detects.

We all want love, when we experience it, love feels real and it impacts on our feelings. But really it’s a biochemical process taking place in our brain. A trick of evolution to make us feel good. It feels good, most of the time, and it feels real whether it is or not.


We need our illusions because we cannot bear too much reality!

Maybe reality is NOT an illusion but OUR version of reality is an illusion!


What we experience and perceive is a reflection of what we allow into our consciousness based on our thoughts. So, we live in a THOUGHT WORLD.

We see what we allow ourselves to see!

We are always thinking and we embrace our thoughts and feelings as something separate from everyone and the world. A delusion of our mind restricting us to our desires.


The question arises: How are illusions created?

Some are built to hide our weaknesses and build ourselves up. When the illusion emerges, the person no longer talks and acts as themselves, but as a fabricated image.

Ex—Jay Gatsby, in The Great Gatsby, pretended to be someone he wasn’t.


People create an illusion when they don’t understand or accept the facts and replace them with their opinions. Then you fabricate thoughts or concepts that you think explain the facts.


A person’s self-centered viewpoints create an illusion. When they look at events from self-interest, they cannot see the whole picture.


Illusions are created when people try to appear like something which they are not. Ex—Blanche Dubois in Streetcar.


Illusions are created when a person distorts or lies about a fact.

I will leave you with this thought:

Imagination was given to humans to compensate for what they are NOT, and a sense of humor to console them for what they ARE.