The Fountain of Youth

“There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

That wisdom was shared by the one and only Sophia Loren. I didn’t see many movies starring Ms. Loren growing up — except for “Houseboat.” It was shown more than once on the Sunday afternoon movies on the local NBC affiliate. That last bit of trivia has nothing to do with this post, but reminded me of why I once thought having a nanny was a great idea. In truth, I thought living on a houseboat was even a grander idea, but the nanny concept was right up there pretty close.

I have never really pursued a fountain of youth. I don’t recall having a mid-life crisis, either. That could be because I didn’t have one or because I simply can no longer remember.

Throughout my 6+ decades I haven’t really thought about aging because the mental picture I carry of myself is one from my 20s — or perhaps my 30s or 40s — but certainly not my 60s. I spend a majority of my time thinking I can still do things I did a long time ago. And then there are those moments that I can’t. Without a doubt, I am getting old.

Those hesitant moments are different from other moments. After my recent shoulder surgery I was surprised when I could not, no matter how hard I tried, raise my arm. That is an injured moment — acute, but not chronic. These more senior moments are the ones that hit you in the gut with the realization that “this” (whatever “this” is) will never, ever get any better.

I had one of those moments at the gym yesterday. I’d like to tell you about how I can no longer benchpress several hundred pounds and how disappointing that was. However, I’ve been disappointed by that inability all of my life. No, the difficult moment I experienced was in a quiet corner of the locker room.

Often times I go to the gym very early in the morning. And, in an effort to conserve time, it is my practice to shower and dress for work while there. Before yesterday, I had always worn my glasses into the shower area, laid them aside with my towel and then donned them again on my way back to the locker room.

Ever seeking efficiency, I had the grand idea yesterday that I would leave my glasses in my locker. It greatly lessens the chance that I might lose them or drop them. So off I went to the showers sans eyeglasses. Shower completed I retraced my steps to my locker. It was then it hit me.

Without my glasses, I couldn’t see the numbers on the combination lock. I made an effort. I squinted. I rotated my head in bird fashion to elevate my good eye to a superior position. I squeezed my eyes tight and then opened them rapidly. I even tried to read the numbers on the lock in Braille-like fashion with my fingertips.

Nothing worked. The truth became much more clear than the numbers on that lock. I cannot see without my glasses. Nor will it ever get any better. I’m simply to that age.

We all have these moments when we see something we’ve taken for granted slipping away. Or in my case, not just slipping. That train had completely left the station. With that in mind, I was forced to begin thinking differently about the reality of our limited existence on this earth.

You would think at this point in the story that I might introduce a dramatic plot twist revealing my McGyver-like thinking and problem-solving. Instead, I turn to a bit of philosophy.

There comes a time when you have to turn the business of the day over to someone younger and better prepared.

And so I did. I was a little embarrassed to ask for help. Young guy. Maybe late fifties. More than happy to come to my assistance. With it, he offered this sound advice: “Don’t leave your glasses in the locker next time. No telling what might happen to you.”

Words to live by. Keep your glasses close by. Never go too far without extra hearing aid batteries. If you really believe you can outrun that car, you’re simply wrong. But that’s a story for another day.

 

The Pendulum Effect

Over a month ago, I announced my decision to leave Facebook. My decision was based on what I viewed as the debilitating impact it was having on my attitude toward other people. On February 15, 2017, I deactivated my Facebook account. My absence from that space has had a number of positive results for me — more time for other things, less judgmental thoughts about people posting inane political rants or cluelessly posting unsubstantiated information. I have missed the news about families, personal needs, children, and pets. In this few weeks of freedom from the daily Facebook routine, I have experienced a pendulum effect.

The pendulum was a remarkable breakthrough in technology in its day. A pendulum is a weight suspended on a rod or a line. When the weight is moved off center, the force of gravity causes it to move toward center. Because the force of gravity, the force that causes the weight to seek the center, is not strong enough to hold it there, the weight moves past center into the opposite direction. And the process is then repeated in reverse. If you have time on your hands, feel free to watch Mr. Science explain the pendulum effect.

In theory, if the pivot spot, the place where the rod or line is connected, is frictionless and the weight and the rod experience no resistance as they travel, this moving back and forth continues . . . forever. But there are outside forces that diminish the effect. Thus, with no additional assistance or boost, a pendulum set in motion will eventually swing back and forth until the resistance brings the weight to rest in the center.

The pendulum effect I have experienced was not theoretical. In my absence from Facebook, I left my judgmental ways and I experienced an extreme aversion to saying anything about, well, anything. But, then, my previous experience and other influences pulled me back toward center — and then back toward the desire to be excessively judgmental and vocal. I’ve been back and forth on this a number of times.

I’m beginning to feel that constant shifting in my intent fade as the forces of friction and the natural force of gravity — common sense and clarity — pull me to a place of equilibrium. I no longer fixate on a desire to judge others and to express my thoughts in a derisive tone. Yet, I find myself able, in this neutral place, to view what is happening around me and ask those questions that seek truth and understanding.

In other words, without being driven to be right, I am freed to calmly, rationally, and, to a great extent, joyfully explore the world around me. If you are feeling anxiety over events spinning around you, I’d urge you to set your pendulum in motion.

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

a personal note and an invitation

Dear friends, As I announced recently, I am leaving Facebook. In the intervening time, I have heard from many of you and your messages have fallen into a few broad categories:

  1. Don’t go.
  2. Don’t go, but if you do, please let Togo get his own Facebook account.
  3. Please go. But let Togo get his own account.
  4. Buck up. You’re a conflict guy. Deal with it.
  5. Unfollow or unfriend all the people who disrupt your life.
  6. I understand.
  7. Find other channels to keep in touch.

So, just a little more explanation and then my plan.

All in all, people have treated me and my opinions pretty well on Facebook. There are those who disagree and who tell me. There are those who disagree, tell me, and express their continued love for me. There are those who ignore things I post that they disagree with. There are those who ignore everything I post. There are those who listen to me and enter into conversation. So, my Facebook friends are pretty much just like regular friends everywhere. I am blessed.

I’m leaving Facebook to preserve and heal my soul. I am not leaving because of the actions of any of my friends. I am not leaving with the intention of falling silent about what I believe in.

My profession has been peace and reconciliation. I regularly engage people in conversation at times that are very upsetting and disruptive for them and those around them. It can be difficult, but, as I like to say, it’s like having a front row seat to see God at work. The people who come to my table (or I go to theirs) don’t always reconcile, but there’s something healthy about the effort and I believe that God uses that time to lay the groundwork for peace.

Facebook is different when it comes to conflict. The ability for nastiness and utter disregard for others is multiplied on its timelines. And it encourages people to misbehave.

Recently, I became disturbed over the comments being made by one of my friends. He has a very rigid view of the political scene in America and I would see him appear in the comments on numerous posts on my Facebook. We share many common friends. In each and every one, he would make outrageous and sometimes hateful statements. When others would ask him to document his thoughts, he would deflect their requests and make disparaging remarks about their close-mindedness. I was encouraged by those who patiently attempted to draw him into true conversation. I privately wondered what he could be missing. Eventually, I went to his timeline and read a good number of his posts. And there I discovered what I had been missing. In reply to one of his friends, he bragged about how he would spend several hours a day finding posts that didn’t meet his political leanings and then intervene for the sole purpose of disrupting the conversations of others. I’m not sure if he thought this was some sort of sport or entertainment. But I judged him harshly for that.

In fact, I owe him a debt of gratitude. In discovering his secret, I unearthed my own problem with Facebook. And it’s not just Facebook. I grieve over people who refuse to enter into thoughtful discourse and to lay aside their selfish ambition in any venue. But, Facebook is worse than real life because the algorithms push these people into my face. And in this medium, I can’t seem to reach them. So, I judge them.

I’m leaving Facebook because of my need to stop judging people. That’s God’s job and he is really good at it.

Here is my plan going forward:

  1. I will continue to write for my blog, joeycope.com. Despite the advice of blog gurus everywhere, I don’t concentrate on a narrow area of information. I write about all sorts of things. And I have proven the blog gurus to be correct. Such a lack of focus fails to build strong readership. (On a personal note, I appreciate both of my regular readers.) I encourage you to visit joeycope.com regularly. I have a place there for you to sign up to receive my postings by email. And, I rarely post more than once a day — and sometimes I will go weeks without posting. So, sign up there. (If you’re reading this on my blog, the sign-up form is on the right side of the page. If you are averse to filling out the form, email me at copej@acu.edu and I’ll add you to the list. I just need your name and email address.)
  2. I will be on Twitter at @joeycope. That’s where Togo speaks and I have announced new blog posts. For now, I will continue that practice. The only difference is that my Twitter feed will not be showing up on Facebook. I am considering consolidating Togo’s tweets on a regular basis as a blog post. So if you don’t do Twitter, you can sign up for my blog posts to come to your email and Togo will appear on occasion.
  3. I have an Instagram account. I’ve lost the password, but I may resurrect it. Togo likes having his picture taken and we are in negotiation on this.

I will miss the good things about Facebook and I will miss my friends. I understand that I am making our online relationship complicated. I apologize. Thank you for your kindness and consideration. Some of you regularly message me on Facebook. If so, I invite you to email me at copej@acu.edu.

I will leave my Facebook open through February 15, 2017 in hope that friends will see this invitation to connect with me elsewhere.

Thank you, again, for your friendship. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you. And give you peace.

Grace and peace,

Joey Cope

Abilene, Texas
February 4, 2017

Transfer of Power

why climbing on board the train is so hard

I won’t be watching the inauguration today. It’s not that I have no interest in the ceremony or its rich history. I’ve never watched the inauguration. The truth is I don’t enjoy witnessing the transfer of power after a contested battle.

train

In days of old, kings wore special garments to denote their power. Most often, these were ornate robes. And the longer the train of a king’s robe, the greater his power and dominance. When a king would conquer another ruler, he would cut off a portion of the vanquished ruler’s robe and add it to the train of his own.

(Some of you may remember the story from Bible class about David cutting off a corner of King Saul’s robe while the monarch was sleeping. It was a show of defiance and power as David sent a message — “King Saul, your life was in my hands and I spared you. You belong to me.” You might also remember that David later apologized for this act of disrespect.)

Consider the fact that when a king did lengthen his train the addition was made to the end of his robe. He didn’t carry forth the legacy of his conquered opponent up high with respect. Instead, he placed it in direct contact with the ground where its history would soon be covered with dirt and the filth of the streets and the sewers.

I won’t be watching today as Mr. Trump slices off a generous hunk of President Obama’s robe, holds it high over his head, and then pins it to the tail of his train.

Remember that whenever leadership focuses only on power, the fibers of the lengthened train are not just some bit of cloth, but the lives and well-being of people. In a divided society — and we live in one today — the transfer of power is often realized in hurtful and even violent ways against at least some of our fellow citizens.

In the coming days, if I witness Mr. Trump easing graciously into the power of his office, a power that can be benevolent and beneficial, I will be most grateful. I believe that he can do that. After all, at this stage of the process, he no longer needs the antics of his campaign to grasp and faithfully execute matters of the public trust within his understanding of his charge from those who elected him. It is my prayer that he will do that with dignity and grace . . . and a reverent respect for the power he holds and for all people.

 

The Sum of Our Experience: Math Cannot Explain the Results

I have always been fascinated with math. I’ve never been good at it, but I have been fascinated. In fact, in an effort to exercise my mental muscles, I’m thinking about taking up the study of math. I get a little tingly thinking about the possibilities. The ability to look at a set of data and to derive some truth from it is a very inviting challenge.

math

photo credit: Roman Mager/unsplash.com

I’m a little intimidated by the proposed path ahead. I’ve been thinking that I would return to the level of arithmetic and geometry that I mastered in school as my baseline. Upward and onward from there. Yet, a little research has caused me to step back and reconsider. The plateaus I once traveled have dramatically changed. Language is different. Processes are different. I’m coming to realize that the concepts my granddaughter mastered in middle school may be far beyond my ability of comprehension.

Humankind has progressed so far and learned so much, in math and in so many other arenas, how can I ever come to even basic understanding of the world around me? Here’s a list of things that I am woefully under-prepared to fathom:

  • Math — see above
  • Things related to math, like physics and computers — I benefit from the principles of physics and computers, but I don’t really know why
  • Politics — or at least why people support some candidates and platforms over others
  • Sports — since the early 1980s, when I simply didn’t have time to watch games or sports networks, I have been totally incapable of being excited about sports at any level (I’ve tried. Please don’t see this as an invitation to try to enlighten me or make me a fan. Yes, I will sit with friends and watch the Super Bowl or the World Series. But that’s my weak attempt to be seen as normal.)
  • Disease and health-related issues — I grasp the concept of aging, accident, injury, infection, and the changes we should expect over time, but I don’t understand cancer or addiction or unexplained takings of the young
  • The systems at work that track budgets and people and productivity — I’m confused constantly (However, I am blessed by the opportunities for friendship with those who do understand these things.)
  • God — I get the concept of a higher authority, I struggle with concepts of justice and mercy and unending love

You may have gathered that I see myself as one who is cast adrift in a sea of ideas and concepts and experts and problems and opportunities. Cast adrift.

But before you feel sorry for me — or yourself if you share some of these same thoughts and feelings — please consider the great gift I (we) have been given.

Every moment of every day is like an exciting novel that I can lean into expectantly, anticipating the next turn in plot. I recently sat in a meeting where a friend talked about the unique possibilities of reading fiction, where a stream of events are strung together to form a plot line. We have no need to know everything that happens between those events. In truth, the great gift of fiction is seeing the pieces of the story that our imaginations provide.

Our imaginations, our resources for creativity, reside in the gaps between what we know and what we desire to know. The tragedy in our existence comes when we demand to know everything and accept nothing less. For in that quest, we assert ourselves as the know-all-and-end-all — the ultimate authority.

I have come to recognize the people in my life who I view as having true authority are those who live in a constant wash of humility. They share what they have learned and they constantly express their wonder at what they have yet to learn.

As I listen to people talk about a variety of subjects, including those on my list above, I am saddened by those who have ceased to live in that wonder. When we determine that we know all there is to know about anything and refuse to promote further exploration and curiosity, we begin to die.

I hope that I will never be the sum of all my experiences — that there will constantly be an unknown in my equations. I want to be blessed by the opportunity to gaze at the void, to wonder about the stretches of what it represents, and to experience the joy of discovery that God promises us.

And just because I can, I’m going to pick up a textbook in geometry.