The Two Most Important Days in My Life
I ran across this quote by Mark Twain the other day: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
It takes most of us a long time to “find out why.” Unfortunately, I was in my early 50s before I finally figured it out. I always assumed that my goal was to advance as far up the ladder with my company as I could and to provide an enjoyable life for my family. That was the goal of my parents and of our extended family, thus it became my goal as well. Only in my 50s did I realize that my life on this beautiful planet went beyond that simple goal.
We have all heard many times that money cannot buy happiness, but a recent study contradicts that emphatically. It shows that over the last few decades people are more inclined to say that having sufficient money in their savings account relieves a lot of financial pressure and makes life easier. That has been the case in my life, and I don’t know anyone with sufficient financial resources who is unhappy unless they have health problems. On the other hand, I know several who lack those resources and struggle daily as a result.
The only bone of contention I have with the study is that it cannot acknowledge the degree of happiness that financial independence brings. Personally, I believe it only gets you on the first rung of the ladder. Other things allow you to advance upward, such as sustained health for yourself and for your loved ones; having a significant person in your life to share your life with; and having an extended group of family and friends that are involved in helping you live a robust, yet relaxing lifestyle.
Some say that as we grow older we gain a “crystalized intelligence” that will continue to get better as we age, and that we will often become more agreeable and less prone to anger. Scientists haven’t been able to pin this down but they think that older people are able to control their emotions better and focus on how to make life happier.
Now we get to the “find out why” in Twain’s quote. When we eventually get past the desire to collect as many “things” as we can to prop up our feeling of self-worth, and after we have travelled to the many places we thought would add adventure to our mostly dull existence, we come to realize that something is missing. It took me a long time to think outside the bubble of my life where the question was always, “What’s best for me?” As I got older, I thought about what I could do for others. My wife and I live a comfortable life and can help. We have decided that we want to help those people in our lives who need a helping hand. We have all heard the old axiom, “It is better to give than to receive,” but I doubt many of us felt that to be true, especially if your life has been a series of financial struggles.
As a younger man, I could donate to charity by having my employer withhold a generous amount from my bi-monthly paycheck and each year I could look with satisfaction at the amount. After I retired, that option wasn’t available, so I had to figure out another plan. Now when December rolls around, we sit down and write checks to our favorite charities. The satisfaction derived from this effort definitely lowers my stress levels because we know that we are helping people who are, perhaps, unable to help themselves.
Yup, it took me a long time to find out why I have been placed on this earth. I am confident that a lot of us never figure that out. If I had asked my parents that question, they would have responded, “to raise you two boys,” and they would have been content with that answer. I remember my mother calling me about a year after my father passed away in 1986 and saying, “Tommy Joe (she never called me Tommy), I want to let you know that I have $50,000 in the bank.” This was Dad’s goal in life—plus a Lincoln Continental sitting in the driveway😊. That was it, no higher motivation, no helping the sick or poor, no helping the sad looking Vietnam veteran sitting at the stoplight with a cardboard sign pleading for money to buy food. This is the way it was back in my hometown all those many years ago. There was no safety net if your life took a rapid turn for the worse, so people weren’t inclined to help.
But in my many yearly trips back home, I have seen that change, not because the people there are now wealthier, but because they have become more enlightened. They too, have come to realized why they have been placed on this planet, and they know it’s not just to accumulate $50,000 in the bank. You may think I’m being critical of my parents and the people in my hometown during that time, but you would be wrong! I’m proud of my hillbilly heritage, and my core values came from those fine people, but it’s difficult to visualize a higher purpose in life when you’re struggling to put food on the dinner table. I probably have an ulterior motive in my enlightened attitude: “I’m not looking for a hole in the ground, I’m looking for one in the sky.” —Keen Mountain Boys.
Two weeks ago, my wife and I were walking one of our favorite trails and came upon a fellow standing by his bicycle taking a break. As we approached him, he started a conversation, so we paused to talk with him for a while. He informed us that he rode this trail on his bike every day and wanted to know how often we walked it. I informed him that we walked it every Wednesday, and then I pointed out in a friendly manner that the trail was three miles long, but for him to get the same cardiovascular benefits as us he would have to bike 21 miles. A one-mile walk was equal to seven miles of biking. In retrospect, it was probably impolite for me to make that point, but I did, and he didn’t seem offended. During our conversation, I also glibly told him about the monthly walking challenges I have with my three granddaughters. He responded that at his age (he appeared younger than me), he no longer wanted to create challenges in his life. That caught me by surprise because challenges to me are part of what makes life interesting. Reminds me of a quote often attributed to Glenn Campbell (the singer): “I can still jump as high, I just can’t stay up as long.”
Come to think of it, my life is full of challenges: writing this weekly missive, getting 10,000 steps daily, getting 7 hours of sleep each night 😊, lifting weights—I could go on, but the list would be way too long. I can only imagine how boring my life would be if I didn’t have daily challenges. Some are a lot tougher than others, but they all dance to a tune that make my life taste like a piece of pecan pie with a big ole slab of vanilla ice cream on the top. 😊 “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” —Joshua J. Marine
New Word for the Day:
Philomath: a lover of learning, a student or scholar. One of my granddaughters is a philomath. I just love learning unfamiliar words. I hope wherever you are on this wonderful planet that the people you love return that wonderful feeling in abundance. —Tommy
Stay Calm, Help Is On The Way
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” — Helen Keller
She is absolutely right! The other day I was trying to address a package bound for Russia. My son, who passed away in June of last year, had someone who was very close to him and lived there. I had an engraving on a glass ornament with a picture of him that I wanted to send to her. She gave me her address but my wife and I were having difficulty determining how to meet the US Post Office’s requirement for a package leaving the states. I called the secretary of our church to see if anyone in our congregation could help and was told there was no one that she knew of. I decided to ask for help on our local area website. Within 30 minutes I got a response from someone that gave me an online website he thought would help. I went there but still wasn’t able to figure it out. Fifteen minutes later I received an email from a young lady named Andrea and she said that she had lived there for a year while attending a Russian university and she was more than willing to help us. Shortly, she arrived at our home and set to work filling out the necessary paperwork that would satisfy the Postal Service and ensure our package would arrive safely.
We had been struggling with this problem for quite a long time, and as I watched her diligently complete her task I was overwhelmed with gratitude. She had gone out of her way to help a stranger that was struggling with a problem she could easily handle. I believe that is something we all should strive to do at every opportunity. I do not know this woman very well but I sure wish she and her family were our neighbors. We already have wonderful neighbors, but she would certainly be a welcomed addition. As she left our home, we stood on the porch and waved goodbye and watched her drive away. What a wonderful feeling it is to encounter kindness from a total stranger.
The world is divided into three kinds of nations: those that spend a lot of money to keep their weight down; those whose people eat to live; and those that don’t know where their next meal is coming from… David Landes
I think old David is right with his comment about there being three kinds of nations. As for myself, I have experienced all three. In the first five years of my life I never knew when I would have my next meal. I remember picking up orange peels on the side of the road to eat and that would be all the food I had for that day. I lived with my grandparents (McCoy’s) and their youngest son was only two years older than I was. He was diagnosed with rickets (Childhood disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin D and sunlight) and wouldn’t take his medicine unless I took it with him, so I did (the doctor said it was ok). When I was five, I moved in with Mom & Dad (WWII was over), and I started getting regular meals but there wasn’t an abundance of food in our home. We got three meals a day, there was nothing to snack on except leftover biscuits and cornbread, and a lot of times we ate the same thing day after day (green beans and potatoes). After graduating from high school and joining the US Air Force, food became more plentiful, and my weight started climbing. I weighed 156 lbs when I left home, and within a year I was up to 190. Food was everywhere, and I didn’t know how to say no to all those tasty things that constantly beckoned me. After a few years of eating everything I wanted, I decided I needed to slim down, so I tried all kinds of diets and diet pills. I remember one prescription the doctor gave me made me so high that I was waving my hands at complete strangers on my way to work. I was probably around 25 at the time.
So yes, I have been thru the three stages that David talks about and it is easy to decide which is the best stage to be in. Luckily, I have devised a plan to deal with it, and it is working 😊.
Shakespeare added 1,700 words to the English language during his lifetime. That seems unimaginable to me. That would almost be enough words for a primitive culture. We add a lot of new words to our dictionary each year but we never know who coined them.
It has been estimated that an English-speaking adult has command of 42,000 words at age 20 and 48,000 at age 60. In comparison, a 1-year-old knows 50 words, a 3-year-old 1,000, a 4-year-old 5,000 and an 8-year-old 10,000.
Of course, these are only estimates. I seriously doubt that I know 48,000 words, and I’ll bet you doubt that you know that many. It was estimated that Shakespeare knew 35,000 words. Yup! The same guy credited with adding 1,700 words to our dictionary.
I’m of the opinion that it’s not necessarily important how many words you have in your arsenal, but how well you use the ones you have. Great speakers don’t impress us with the vastness of their vocabulary, but by the way they craft their words to illustrate grand ideas, convincing us to do something they consider extraordinary.
On January 20th, 1961, Jack Kennedy said, “Ask, not what your country can do for you…” We were impressed with his plea to think of country first.
We can’t all be great speakers, or great writers, but we can try harder to express our thoughts in a meaningful and clear manner. We can strive to make The Bard of Avon proud of us 😊.
Of course, Benjamin Franklin would chime in with, “Well done is better than well said.” He may also have a point.
I was listening to a talk by Ali Muldrow the other day and she said that as a child there was very little crying in her family. She was determined that when she had children, she would encourage them to show their emotions. One day she walked into her very young daughter’s bedroom and she was crying. Upon seeing her mother, the young girl tried to stifle her tears. Getting down on her knees and looking her in the eyes, Mom said to her, “Sweetheart, teddy bears only drink tears, and they are thirsty”. The little girl promised her mother to cry more so her teddy bears would have something to drink.
What a wonderful way to show our children that it’s ok to express how you feel. I think most of us are guilty of hiding how we really feel. When criticized, most of us walk away feeling the pain but seldom showing it. When sad, we suffer internally, never letting it show to the ones we love. But, if we remember that teddy bears can only drink our tears, then we won’t be reluctant to cry when we need to. My wife has about 200 teddies so she and I need to cry a lot.
“God gave us crying so other folks could see when we needed help and help us.” ― Joshilyn Jackson
December 6, 2020
⌘ My wife handed me this old poem a few days ago and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to include it in this missive:
“I have to live with myself, and so,
I want to be fit for myself to know.
I want to be able, as days go by,
always to look myself straight in the eye.
I don’t want to stand with the setting sun,
and hate myself for the things I’ve done.
I don’t want to keep on a closet shelf,
a lot of secrets about myself.
And fool myself, as I come and go,
into thinking that nobody else will know,
the kind of a man that I really am…
I don’t want to dress myself up as a sham.
I want to go out with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men’s respect.
But here in the struggle for fame and pelf (money),
I want to be able to like myself.
I don’t want to look at myself and know,
that I’m bluster and bluff, an empty show.
I never can hide myself from me,
I see what others may never see.
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself, and so,
whatever happens, I want to be,
self-respecting and conscience free.
―Edgar A. Guest, 1881
I believe the reason this poem was so meaningful to me was that it is something we all strive to do with our lives, to be true to the authentic person we think we are, to be honorable and to always do what is right. I wish my parents had given this poem to me when I was a young boy. I wish they had sat down with me alone and explained what it meant and that I should always conduct myself in that manner. I am confident that I would’ve passed it on to my two children. I thought about passing it on to my grandchildren, but they’re adults now and would probably think I was being presumptuous. My great grandchildren live far away and don’t know me very well (my fault), so I’m not inclined to tell them how they should live their lives.
I hope that I have lived my life in the manner that Mr. Guest described (despite being unaware of his insightful poem) and that I accomplished it by being true to my Christian faith.
D. H. Lawrence said, “No creature is fully itself till it is, like the dandelion, opened in bloom of pure relationship to the sun, the entire living cosmos.”
⌘ A few days ago I was talking on the phone with an old friend, formerly my next-door neighbor, and I asked him how things were going in his life. He and his wife (Mary Beth) are close to my age (79), living with their oldest daughter and her husband, whom they adore. Mary Beth has described her as the perfect daughter from the time she was a small girl until this day. I doubt that my parents would ever consider using that adjective to describe my brother and I 😊. I recall my mother telling me that I was a, “good boy” and I considered that high praise, but I never came close to “perfect”.
Back to my conversation with John. They live in a three-story home, with John & MB on the 1st floor, daughter and husband on the 3rd floor, and the living area on the 2nd floor. They are having an elevator installed that will take them to any floor in the house. I commented to John that I have not known anyone that had an elevator in their home. I said that we have a friend up in New York who builds million-dollar homes and that he often takes us on tours of those homes, but we have never seen one with an elevator. I could feel his smile traveling across the many miles of phone line between us as he responded, “Well, how about that!” followed by his trademark chuckle. During our banter, I mentioned that I had visited my barber and gotten a haircut but was hesitant to do that because of COVID-19. John responded that he didn’t go to the barbershop very often since he had little for them to cut, but he said that, “God just made a few perfect heads, and for those that weren’t perfect, he gave them plenty of hair to cover his mistakes.” I’m sure our laughter filled both of our homes!
Now you see why my wife and I still miss having our old friends next door, but the bus of life moves on and we are still aboard, just waiting for life’s next adventure.
⌘ My 2012 iPad informed me the other day that I could no longer update its operating system past version 9.0 and that 10.0 was now available. Of course, I need to keep the latest updates on it for security and efficiency reasons. I decided to purchase a new one, but to wait until “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” to do so. After some research, I determined the price I was willing to pay and then waited until the day after Thanksgiving to get serious about looking. Sadly, the price I was hoping to pay was not the price they wanted for their devices. I opened up an app on my phone called “Offer Up” that allows you to buy and sell locally. Sure ‘nuff, I found a slightly used iPad that had more features than I expected (keyboard, pen, and cover) and at a price much lower than I expected. The only downside to this transaction was that the seller lived in Long Beach, California. I made an offer that was $50 less than he was asking, figuring that would pay the shipping and taxes, and then I sat back and waited for his response. Before long he responded by rejecting the offer, expressing his concern about getting his money. He wanted to sell his device locally where the exchange would be in person and was unsettled by the prospect of his device being on the East Coast while he was 3,000 miles away on the West Coast awaiting payment.
I calmly responded, “You will get your money. In 80 years, I have never failed to pay what I owed. There has to be trust on both sides—you that you’ll get paid, and me, that I’m getting a wonderful device.”
I don’t know what changed his mind, whether it was the 80-year thing or the never failing to pay thing, but he immediately responded that he would accept my offer. It always amazes me that life offers so many ways to make my existence wonderfully entertaining. Maybe it’s because it takes so little to do so. 😊
“In the deep of the night, lying on my back, I ask myself what life is and I see that I do not know; but I also see that it is a royal thing to be alive.” ―C.F. Ramuz