The advantage of drawing up such a list, as one enters the terminal period of one’s life, is essentially personal. It is a sort of anti-bucket-list of the unfulfilled hopes, the limitations, the disappointments, the failures, the mistakes, the lost opportunities and the regrets of eight decades of life, which I feel I must acknowledge before I cash in my chips. If such a list is of interest or value to anyone else, so much the better. The Autumn of life is the best time to look back on past seasons, before we start to feel cold permanently, and perhaps suffer the incapacities and dependence that come with our final Winter.
- LIMITED GIFTS : It is obvious that I was not born a genius, but it is not false modesty to admit that I was not even sufficiently intellectually gifted to become a brilliant scientist, doctor, barrister, philosopher, author or artist. Nor was I born with physical capacities of strength, agility and coordination to become a more than average athlete. Nor was I gifted enough to become a powerful politician or a captain of industry. I was not without certain natural attributes that would allow me to achieve relative, limited success in certain of my endeavors, but I was never outstanding.
- SOCIAL STATUS : I was not born exactly on the other side of the tracks, but the family into which I was born, without being dirt-poor, was far below the privileged classes which could provide the education, comfort, security, and assure the future, of those with birth-rights I never had. But my education was adequate enough to allow me to envisage and enjoy a career and standard of living superior to those of my parents.
- BRAINWASHING : As a synonym for religious education, the term is a trifle overdone. There was nothing vicious in my being forced to grow up in an environment of traditional Catholicism and to have been educated in Catholic schools, seminaries and Universities. It took me forty years to recognize the truth of atheism, which means that for fully half of my life to date I have enjoyed freedom from religious illusions.
- BEING BROKE : The first time was when I walked out of the friary and found myself, like George Orwell, “Down and Out in Paris …”. Luckily my future wife had a job of sorts, and with her legal, basic wage, coupled with the paltry proceeds from my “travail noir” (undeclared tutoring in English), we were never hungry or homeless. The second time was when we returned to Paris after ten years living comfortably in the States – with no income at all, no savings and not even a permit to reside and work in France. But I was lucky enough to find a job, working, admittedly, for a pittance, after only a few months. Seven years later I began my 16-year career with a multinational with the status of Director, until my retirement. (P.S. It would be inappropriate to associate these periods of temporary poverty with losing 90% of the value of my stocks in the unforeseen crash of 2001. One can learn to live with less.)
- DIVORCE : After twenty-three years of marriage, I was furious to have been forced to accept a divorce and the disintegration of my family. It took me years to learn to accept the imposed, (more or less) total, celibacy that had been my free choice at age 16 (!) and my life-style for fully fifteen years as a religious and priest. My family remains fractured but I am very close to my three children and five grandchildren, and on speaking terms with their mother and grandmother.
These are the five principal challenges I have had to face. I did not add “Ill-Health” because apart from a few ordinary ailments and a near-fatal heart-attack, I have been remarkably lucky health-wise. In fact, I have been remarkably lucky – period ! I could have had better breaks, but I have no right to complain about the cards I was dealt. I could have used them better – notably as a husband and as a father – but for want of a more original conclusion to this post, I can truthfully say “all’s well that ends well”. I may have to revise that judgement as I grow even older, more fragile and more vulnerable. But whatever fate is in store for me, I hope I will find the courage and lucidity to accept my life’s end as readily as I learned to accept its challenges.