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 Noises We Make

My gym workouts aren’t as frequent as they were just a few months ago. Travel, distraction, and a bit of injury have cut into my routine. So I was pleased this morning to be back at my Abilene gym. I even checked-in there on Facebook to enter one of the constant contests underway. It was early and quiet. The noises I heard were limited to the music from my earbuds and the muted thudding of my trainers on the treadmill.

noises

Photo credit: Bruno Nascimento/unsplash.com

And then, I heard it.  A sharp cry. And then again. Over time, the brief outbursts morphed into a grunting sound. The noises made as hernias are created.

I looked back for a moment to see a man half my age sitting on one of the nearby weight stack machines. In that instant I could tell he was new to the machine. His form was wrong, the seat was in a bad position, and, from the agony on his face, it appeared that he was attempting too much weight. And so the grunting continued, interrupting my music and my concentration.

I hear a lot of noises at the gym. Half-conversations from people on cell phones who somehow think we can’t listen in. Sounds of machines moving alongside human body parts. Weights dropped by those who believe that such behavior makes them somewhat akin to Conan, the Barbarian. Conversations among friends about sports and relationships and politics. One guy even talks to himself — constantly. He says those things a trainer might say to a client. “You can do it! Two more! DO YOU REALLY WANT THIS??!!” And then, there are those exertion noises like the ones I heard this morning.

I wonder what noises I make. Not just in the gym, but at the office, at home, and in my community. What are the noises that people hear when they think of me?

As we continue to seek a level of equillibrium following a rocky political campaign and as we move now into a period of a new normalcy in regard to our political leadership, I find myself being more and more aware of the noises people are making. We have seen protests. We have heard exasperation from those who don’t like the protests. We have seen individuals choose to fall quiet, to slip on the sneakers of self-preservation and steal away into the shadows.

I have heard good and bad noises during this time. Some are expected and even welcomed. A few are surprising, revealing underlying anxiety that had been previously hidden. And some are like those from the gym this morning — explosive outbursts indicating a lack of forethought and preparation . . . sure signs of pending internal and external damage.

Perhaps in life, as in exercise, attention to the noises we make can serve as a governor to our choices and our well-being — and to our influence as leaders and people of faith.

Why is negativity so seductive?

In random tweets rolling across my phone this morning came this quote “Distance yourself from negativity and great things will happen.” Those words immediately captured me and my impulse was copy and share that idea repeatedly. After all, it’s a great, wise thought.

Overcoming Negativity

photo credit: Gabriel Pangilinan, unsplash.com

And, it’s true.

Yet, as I thought over it, I started to question why it resounded so strongly with me. Was I in quest of great things? Or did I just covet the distance from negative people, negative talk, and negative reaction?

Granted, there’s nothing bad about wanting either. But I think I would seek the distance above the greatness. Negativity makes me tired. It makes me tired when I roll in it. It makes me tired when you do. I totally understand that negativity is sometimes necessary as part of our decision-making process.

The irony of this line of reasoning is that much of the negativity I see in others is a direct byproduct of my own negative ways. When we hear a criticism — particularly if it rings true with our own experience — we jump on the bandwagon. Negativity begets negativity.

So, when I go back to look at the quote, I feel pulled to like it on the greatness side.

If you and I do great things, negativity doesn’t disappear. But it loses its power.

Be powerful today. Help someone else. Give a compliment. Step to the side and give others the time they need. Be joyful in the work you’ve been given to do. Rejoice in recreation. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Do it on your own and with others.

Experience greatness.

Dealing With Difficult People

The hotel clerk simply lied to me. As I watched his face when I confronted him with his lie, I saw his eyes narrow and his chin become set. And thus began another real-life opportunity for me in an area I wish I didn’t have to endure — dealing with difficult people.

I had asked for a simple form. “We don’t provide that form,” he asserted.

“You know,” I said, “I’m a frequent guest with this hotel chain — in fact, I have a fancy membership card. I’ve even stayed here at this hotel before. On many occasions, I have asked for the form and received it.”

“Well, my manager told me that we don’t provide that form,” he asserted. “So we don’t.”

“Let me get your full name so that when I talk with your manager, there won’t be any confusion,” I replied.

He shifted his name badge my direction but it had only his first name. “That’s all you need to know,” he said. “And if you want that form you can download it and print it.”

I did just that. When I handed it to him a few minutes later, I could see what he was thinking, “OH! That form!” He slid my keycard across the counter and said nothing.

“Thanks!” I said. “You know, an apology and acknowledgment now would be nice.”

He said nothing. I picked up the key and headed to my room. Within fifteen minutes, I had written and saved the text I would paste into the survey I always get from this hotel chain after a stay. Here’s what it said:

“Your desk clerk, Tim (not his real name), was having a very bad day when I arrived. I hope that you’ll encourage him. Tell him that I understand his difficult position and sometimes he just needs to pause and breathe. Often, the right thing to do is easy to choose when you simply pause and breathe.”

That, of course, wasn’t the first thing I’d written. It was what came to me after I paused and did a little breathing.

 

 

“If just” — our answer to all things Ferguson

When I went to bed last Monday night with the images of mayhem in the streets of Ferguson burning as brightly as the fires in those streets, I knew that I would have to write something to express my feelings. So I did.

Thankfully, my writing session yesterday was interrupted repeatedly with meetings. I would return to my computer, read through the words that were there, edit a few, and then be called away again. What a blessing that turned out to be!

When I give advice to others about writing, I decry the evils of interruptions. Focus, write, close, ship! My advice is classic and echoes the lessons taught by many of the great writers of all time. And in this day of instant publishing, that outline for success could be seen as essential.

But it wouldn’t have served me well yesterday.

I wrote a long article. It had some great elements to it. But there was something haunting about those words. Slowly, I realized that I had fallen prey to my desire to judge and to correct from my sole perspective. That view is not simple — particularly when you add my thoughts on social and legal systems and my penchant for productive activities. Yet, I realize that my sole perspective should never be the only consideration. And I realized that I should never assume I fully know the perspectives of others.

Despite the fact that I invested several hours on that post, I couldn’t hit “publish.” This morning, just a few hours ago, I opened it one last time and then sent it to the trash. I thank God that it is gone.

Why?

Because, like most of the things I saw in social media and from the news media in the last 36 hours, it was from the “IF JUST” angle. If just people would do this. If just people would not do that. If just the prosecutor had done this. If just President Obama had used these words in stead of those words. If just . . .

“If just” paints my view and my judgment on everything. That’s the problem with most of our “justice” conversations. The concept of justice is self-centered. We agree to a set of norms or rules because, under certain circumstances, we want those rules to benefit us.

Honestly, every society in history has written laws and rules to benefit self. And the “self” that was benefited was always those who were in power at the moment. I’m not just talking Democrats and Republicans here. For the sake of continuity, the concept of legal precedent surfaced to help people make decisions — so they would know what to expect from their behavior and from society’s response to that behavior. And the laws and the precedents have shaped multiple systems that raise barriers and increase the likelihood that you and I will never have true relationship and understanding with those we perceive to be different from us.

Systems are efficient. But systems aren’t perfect. Some systems are just bad. One of the strengths of a system is its ability to resist change. That strength is also the biggest threat posed by systems.

We must change some systems in this country. I am of the opinion that we suffer from systemic racism. Maybe you don’t share that view. Yet, perhaps you would agree that we have some sort of problem. However, if your answer to that problem is preceded by “IF JUST” it has little chance of success in the long term.

I hope I haven’t urged “IF JUST” beyond what I hope is a clear statement of our need to make this conversation about more than our personal justice perspectives. Let’s truly scrutinize the things we do and the things we permit that discriminate and devalue others. And let’s do it in a spirit of building instead of destruction. And let’s take action.

You know, perhaps our conversations should be framed “IF JESUS.”