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Addition and Subtraction

John W. Pinkerton


For many years, since I was just a young fellow in high school, I've wondered if life was dominated by addition or subtraction.  I know it's a strange question, a nerdy question, but, nevertheless, it is one which returns to my consciousness from time to time.

We begin life tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which can be written anything.  Now in my old age, I question this.  I question whether we are actually blank pages.  It's become obvious to me that we aren't  born with blank pages: some of our pages are colored in for us from the beginning.  Perhaps a purity of heart, a love of our neighbors, or an affinity for nature.  Perhaps a dark heart is written upon the “blank” page, contempt for our fellow man, or an antithesis to nature.

We can not erase or alter these marks we are born with.  If we are lucky, we become aware of the predestined marks on our souls and embrace them or push them away.  If we are less fortunate, we live our lives as though we somehow earned these marks written on our souls---good or evil.

But back to the addition or subtraction question.

In our earliest years, addition is, obviously, the dominate force.  We add skills: walking, talking, laughing, playing---some of us add useful skills---skills which make us valuable to others and ourselves---reading, studying the world of academia, studying the world of human relations.

The confusion about the question of addition or subtraction comes in our middle years.

In our later years, subtraction becomes the dominate force.  We subtract our physical agility, and, if we are unlucky, our mental agility; most of us lose friends to old age or death. 

In recent days and months, I've become aware of a loss which troubles me: my loss of interest in so many things which at one time filled my head with thoughts of them.

Being male, in my youth and middle years, my thoughts were filled with statistics and moments from athletic contests.  Baseball, football, golf, and the summer Olympics were my primary interests.  Baseball---you couldn't pay me enough to endure a game now; football, slowly my interest slips away; golf, the one game I played and felt intensely about, I seldom play and seldom take note of; and the Olympics holds no interest for me at all.  They have been subtracted from the list of things which interest me.

Popular entertainment is a subject of which once I had an encyclopeadic knowledge.  Singers such as Huddy Leadbetter and Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin are the only ones which remain of interest, and two are dead.  Actors such as Cary Grant, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Jack Nicholson were my screen idols.  Jack is the only one remaining.  The younger fellows of today are often interesting, but don't hold the same charm for me.

Politics on a national level began to be a primary interest with the Kennedy-Nixon contest.  Politics has always been something which has held my interest through the years.  In recent years, I've almost been willing to give up this interest.  Carter, Obama, and the last straw, Hillary, made the prospect of turning away from my television and avoiding the written political word seem inviting.  However, the Hillary debacle was avoided, so, I guess, I will still watch the news.  But…I've lost much of my enthusiasm for the pursuit.

Art, by choice, by addition, has been my most recent interest, but I intend to put my commercial participation in producing “art” aside when and if I reach 80.  I suspect that my interest in art in general will endure beyond my eightieth birthday.  We'll see.

My interest in the written word seems to be my most enduring interest.  The subject matter has changed through the years---fiction to biography to art.  My production of written words is fairly new to me.  I still find it stimulating and hope this interest doesn't decline…but, who knows?

I've always been interested in the people of whom I've met and befriended or made enemies.  Being that I've had a good understanding of who I am, I've had the ability to see who others are.  This interest will, undoubtedly, not diminish…or, perhaps, it has already begun to diminish.

So, in my old age, I think, I believe, that I have a better understanding of the addition-subtraction question.  In the end, of course, subtraction will be the ultimate force.