I finished last week’s blog by saying I would use an upcoming blog to explain why I was reading Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. Writing in one blog entry that I would use a future entry to explain my reasons for reading a book may have made it a bigger deal than it actually is. Mountains Beyond Mountains is about a dedicated doctor’s efforts to curb HIV and tuberculous in Haiti, and all I wanted was to read a book about someone who had dedicated his or her life to making a difference. 

Not surprisingly, reading Mountains Beyond Mountains came about because I have been looking at my own life from this same perspective. Every morning I sit at a table just inside my living room window. Sometimes I dabble with new ideas for a book, sometimes I work on next week’s blog, and still other times I simply think about subjects more deeply than I’ve ever thought about them before. My impact on the lives of others recently came to mind.

I am not on the tail end of life wishing I had done more. In general, I think my life up until now has been a good one. As a teacher and an author, I’ve hurt no one and, for a handful of people, have done some genuine good. I’d give myself a B+, and as I told students who used to come to my office to complain about their exam scores, B+ is a good grade. 

I do, however, wonder about my recent contributions to society. Since retirement six years ago, my priority in life has been to make sure I have enough time to fish, bicycle, and write. Is this self-indulgent? I honestly don’t know. I am sixty-eight years old, healthy, and spend most of my time doing whatever feels like simple fun. I can’t even get myself to take on minor home repairs, so jumping into a major social or environmental cause doesn’t seem likely. 

Along with the question of whether I should be doing more good work is a strong sense that I have one more big adventure left in me. The two might be related. Manyu and I talk about leaving La Crosse and returning to Asia. Is there something worthwhile I could be doing in Taiwan or Thailand? Is there something I should be doing in either of those places? Again I honestly don’t know.

One thing I do know is that whatever comes next, I need to be intrinsically motivated. I would not go so far as to call it passion, but I need the next long-term task to be personally satisfying. I have never made a sizable commitment to anything just because I thought it was the right thing to do. I’ve always done it because I wanted to do it. If I am waiting for the next big thing to hit me, will that happen if I spend every morning sitting in my living room window? 

Steven Simpson