We often debate the influence of nature versus nurture in childhood development. But how do the adult forces that act upon us shape middle-aged lives? I know several men whose careers were cut short in their fifties, leaving them without a full span of professional satisfaction or the economic stability they’d anticipated. Gerhardt Quast is a thoughtful man with a background in committed community. Now he lives alone. I could not help but wonder how his career reversals contribute to his more isolated life.
“My friend’s say I’m a hoarder.” Gerhardt remarks without irony as he shows me through his townhouse in Portland’s St. John neighborhood. I am inclined to dismiss his assertion because I’m pretty sure a true hoarder would never admit to it, nor would he invite someone to stay in his home. Gerhardt does have a lot of stuff and many unpacked boxes in a place he’s owned over a year. But I have unpacked boxes in a house I’ve occupied twenty years; I just have the benefit of hiding them in a basement.
Gerhardt’s originally a machinist from Duluth. He’s moved between Minnesota and Oregon a few times as work opportunities sprouted and failed. He had a stable job as a Quality Assurance engineer, secure enough to invest in a house, but he was laid off in July. Like many men unemployed in their fifties, Gerhardt’s disenchanted with his economic options. He’s not pursuing another engineering job. Instead, he’s decided it’s time to do what he wants. He’s studying music and hopes to be a bass player in a band. It may not be the most promising career path at this stage in his life, but it’s time to do what he loves.
Gerhardt is an active member or Portland’s Society of Friends and was involved in one of Portland’s early cohousing communities. He speaks of community with a tinge of reverence and regret, as if he misses it but doesn’t have the energy to commit to it anymore. Late a night I heard Gerhardt playing his guitar. He is very good. I hope music brings him the connections he seeks.
How will we live tomorrow?
“When I lived in Cascadia Cohousing, it was barely intentional, but that is what you need. What I think is going to work is more communities that are organized. There will be more cohousing, more CSA’s (community supported agriculture).
“There are times that I am glad I don’t have kids. I have nieces and nephews and I am embarrassed by what we are leaving them.”