The Bottom of the Inbox

I’m staring at an empty inbox.

That hasn’t happened for months. But this past weekend, I methodically and, somewhat painfully, worked through every item in my email inbox. And there, at the bottom, I found something wonderful.

Freedom. Release from the nagging pile of questions and duty.

I emptied my inbox on Sunday. I painstakingly worked my way through each and every message. I answered some, delegated a few, and organized information from the rest in a way that moves my work and my life along. What a wonderful feeling to see the bottom of my inbox.

When I awoke on Monday, I found my mind drawn to a new view.

I have other life inboxes that are filled to the brim with unanswered questions, unfulfilled relationships, and unmet visions. And, for a moment, I felt discouraged because I longed to see each and every one of those inboxes empty.

Later in the day, I received a message from a former student. He told me of the things that he was doing and of the items that were in his inbox these days. That’s when I realized that the bottom of my other inboxes will probably not be reached by me alone, but by others I’ve been blessed to come to know along the way.

And that is a good thing.

Talk About What Matters

A lot of disgusting talk swirls around us. It’s always been here because people have placed a high value on status. We don’t have to be the very best at anything — just prove ourselves better than others.

Yet, many of those who are the best are those who spend no energy on aggrandizing themselves. In fact, in their quest for excellence in their chosen pursuit, they help others along the way.

I hear — and personally feel — much despair over the tone of our public conversations. We have focused on the rancor in politics, but the same bile is spewing in all levels of our existence. Many have longed for a societal solution to this poisonous behavior.

Here’s one that isn’t original with me, but one that will change the world even if it doesn’t stop the inane mutterings of our elected officials.

Talk about individuals. Tell stories of tragedy and losses balanced with victory and gains. Don’t concentrate on the negativity surrounding an event, but on the stories of that woman, child, or man who stepped forward to do something good.

Those are the stories that matter. The news about the awful things will be framed in the telling of what is good. And that will be talk that matters.

Seeing the Other Side

I’ve seen the other side. And I don’t like it.

The problem with the other side is that it is the other side. It’s not my side. It doesn’t fit my view of how things should be. The other side grates against who I am and, tellingly, what I want everyone to be.

That would be fine — if everything on my side was perfect. Of course, it’s not.

But on my side, I can overlook the puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit the picture and I can gloss over the flaws I sometimes notice as simple mistakes and inadvertent blunders.

As I peer across the street from within my glass house . . . as I heft the rock that will shatter my neighbor’s world . . . as I wonder how those around me can be so misguided . . . I find myself believing that most other people have something wrong with them.

In moments like that, I am redeemed only by a glance in the mirror and the stark realization that I, with judgment on my heart and contempt on my lips, am far more disturbing than those whose ideals and behaviors I have come to detest.

For you see, I know that the only person I can absolutely change is me. And the steadfast refusal to move toward something better is a personal and spiritual defeat.

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.