Knowing there's only so much time, I don't rejoice less but more. Knowing how many things will now not happen, I wish them Godspeed and pass them on to someone down the line. I honor my regrets, the part of me that never happened or happened wrong and proceed on course though the course is not known. Only the end is known and some days it's a comfort. We live on love, whether it's there or not and rejoice in it even in its absence. If I had known, I'd have come here better equipped - but that's another one of those things you can't change - as we can't alter that part of us that lives on memory, knowing all the while that time is not real and that what we are we never were in the light of that timeless place where we really belong, have belonged always. . . .
Albert Huffstickler (“Don't Ask The Angels How They Fly”)
I was more contemplative ten years later, when I turned 40. With mouths to feed and bills to pay, career pressures mounting, I could no longer dream of frivolous adventures, my hours filled with the obligations of work and family. By age 40 it seemed, true adulthood had finally arrived. There was no turning back, the crutch of youth and inexperience no longer an excuse for mistakes or passivity. Yet in mind and spirit, I remained forever young, my jump shot still arcing through the net during my weekly basketball games, and my importance to the world seemingly acknowledged by the prestige and recognition associated with an advancing career. My hope of unfilled dreams still shined with optimism.
It was not until I turned 50 earlier this year, marking my half-century existence on this planet, that I sensed for the first time that certain of my dreams may forever be deferred, that time is a gift, its limits felt with the passing of each year. Though it seems as if I need constant reminding that I am no longer a young man, fresh from law school, determined to accomplish high-minded things, I remain confident and sure of myself about certain matters, full of doubts and insecurities about others. But I now recognize and feel, gradually, incrementally, the burdens of aging – the chronic back pain, the cranky joints, the perpetually tight muscles. And while I hope to live to 114, while taking long walks and watching the sunset with my great-grandchildren as I sit on the deck of my lakeside house and complete the final touches on my memoirs, I know now that life is not forever. Mortality awaits me and, for the first time in my life, I am truly aware of its dimensions. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for it forces one to recognize the truly important things in life – family, relationships, closeness with God, and the true meaning of success. As Albert Huffstickler wrote, “Knowing there's only so much time, I don't rejoice less but more.”
I have on my refrigerator a well-known poem, usually attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, though perhaps originating in a work by Bessie Stanley, on success. It is one of those poems that, while perhaps a bit cliché, is profoundly true, and thus a source of inspiration:
To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch . . . to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.I have been blessed with good health, two beautiful children, a wonderful woman in my life, and a terrific family. Such blessings, I have come to learn, are determined as much by luck as any actions on our part, something that I believe most of us fail to recognize during our lifetimes. Many of those who fail in life start with a bad deck handed them – a fatherless childhood, the lack of role models, unsafe neighborhoods; some people are struck by illness, the death of a loved one, the pain of addiction, or the humiliation of unemployment and rejection. We all fail at something – indeed, most of us fail to live out our dreams or even to try, choosing instead the comfort and security of routine and all things familiar. How we respond to failure, our willingness to try a second and third time, to strive for perfection knowing we may never achieve anything close, this is how success in life is achieved, and how character is formed.
When my first marriage ended in failure, my children assumed even greater importance to me, their happiness and health tied immeasurably to that of mine. I have often wondered whether, given the chance to re-do portions of my life with the benefit of hindsight, I would have made different choices. But with age comes, I hope, some small tidbits of wisdom, including the acknowledgement that life permits no reruns and that the ability to forgive others for their mistakes, and yourself for your own, is spiritually and emotionally liberating. We must come to terms with our choices in life, the luck we are dealt, and the skills we have and are able to develop. Then do the best we can. My time remaining on this planet is likely less than the time already expended, but my destiny and the legacy I leave for my children and anyone else who may benefit, is in my hands. My only limits are time, fear, and imagination.
When I was nine-years old, I would lie on the grass in my backyard and stare at the sky, admiring the cloud formations, the richness of the unending image of blue, and the tranquility of the evening’s first twilight stars. I do not remember everything it was I used to contemplate as I lay with my head pressed against the ground, my mind deep in thought, escaping in sight and mind the pressures of life. Even at this young age, I can recall the burdens of life’s self-imposed expectations – to do well in school, to succeed in sports, to be liked and accepted by my peers. Maybe it was the solitude of space I was attracted to as I lay staring at the uppermost boundaries of heaven. Was there really a heaven, a dwelling place for God and his angels, I would contemplate as the first evening star sparkled its way through the darkening sky. Is there life on other planets? Has God assigned a purpose to my life here on earth? The universe held me in awe, inspiring my imagination until the call for supper abruptly intervened.
I do not remember the last time I lay on the grass staring up at the sky. It is unfortunate, really, for the sky has such a profound wisdom to it, an innate ability to put things in perspective, to keep us humble and remind us of greater truths for which we lack understanding. Life is too short, it whispers, do not overlook its simple pleasures or become embroiled in life’s daily struggles; experience the oceans, walk in the woods, skip stones on a stream, hike in the mountains, love your children, and appreciate your friends. Listen, empathize, show compassion, be generous of spirit, laugh, and love.