Friday, January 07, 2011

Random Thoughts Volume XIII

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die. So...let us all be thankful.
-The Buddha

Looking back at 2010, these words of the Buddha probably do a good job of summing up the past year as well as remind us to always be thankful. Of course, every year when we look back we can remember reasons to be happy and reasons to be sad. Ever year we experience new births, rebirths, conversions, transformations, and new ways of seeing things. Most of us also experience some type of loss. Relationships can change and sometimes fall apart. People we care about leave our lives or sometimes die. Some of us are better off materially and financially and some of us are worse off. Some of us are in the spring or summer of our lives and others are in the autumn or winter of their lives. Some of us are gathering in the harvest of our lives while others are letting go and simplifying their life. Doors close and windows open. The unfolding of life, year by year, is the great mystery in which we all live. Now we are on the threshold of a new year with new possibilities and, if last year wasn't so great for you, this year can be a year of new hope. A few years ago I saw the Rolling Stones perform at Churchill Downs. Keith Richards, a member of the band and a guy who should have died ten times by now, looked out on the crowd and said, "It's really nice to be here. It's really nice to be anywhere"! I share his sentiments. I'm really happy to still be here and I look forward to starting my sixth decade in a few months. 2011 is the year that the Baby Boomers officially start becoming senior citizens. Approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 years old everyday for the next 19 years. Here's hoping for a great year! Start it now by seizing the day and living well with a grateful heart.

The build-up till Christmas is long and it's intensity increases the closer you get to it. One thing I find a bit jarring is that when Christmas is over, it's over. There's a real anti-climax. We are quickly thrown back into the reality of our lives. I know that this weekend my wife will be cracking the whip so all our Christmas decorations are taken down and packed away. I will be treated like a pack mule as I haul all the boxes and crates outside to our storage shed. This, of course, will be followed by mandatory cleaning and getting our house back in order. When all of this is done there is a sigh of relief. Although January can be a brutal month in terms of the weather I love it's nothingness. After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and it's aftermath of packing everything away and cleaning up the mess, it's good to slow down and withdraw a little bit. Dark and cold winter nights are times to be home with a good book or movie and hot soup or chili in the crock pot. I've always thought a perfect day is a day at home when it's snowing, you went to the grocery the night before, and you have no where you need to be. If I could I would take off the entire month of January so everyday had the possibility of being such a day. Of course, by spring all of us will have had enough of our hibernation and we will be more than ready for blooming flowers, blue skies, and warm temperatures. One thing I really like about living in this part of the world is that we have seasons. Each one has it's beauty, even winter.

Earlier this week I was sitting in my car outside of Kroger waiting for my wife to pick up a prescription from their pharmacy. The Kroger parking lot is like a demolition derby with people and cars going in every direction, seemingly with little regard for one another. On the inside Kroger is always a zoo, especially if there is any chance that a snowflake may fall from the sky. While sitting in my car I found myself thinking that the world seems to have changed so much in my lifetime. It's more crowded, more hostile, often makes no sense to me, and it's definitely faster. It also never stops. We live in a 24 hour a day culture. The more I age the more alien the world seems to me. The "Leave it to Beaver" world I grew up in no longer exists. Along with lifestyle changes, I think it's normal for an older generation to look at a younger generation and wonder, "What happened"? I'm sure my parents used to look at my friends and me and think "I fear for the future". Yesterday I read that many baby boomers live in despair and they have lost their optimism and hope. I have not reached that point although I sometimes feel a certain world weariness that is probably normal for anyone who is over 50 and has been "out there" for a while. This is usually cured by a good nap, some great music, a visit by my granddaughter, or all of the above. I admit I don't always understand my own children, or young people in general, but I don't worry about them. Every generation finds it's way while making their own mistakes. I have spent most of my working life being around people younger than me and, in some cases, younger than my children. I like it because it keeps me young and it makes it harder for me to be a grumpy old man. The young can learn from the old and the old should listen to the young. Of course, some things in life can only be learned by experience. My parents used to call that the "School of Hard Knocks".

Many people start off a new year by making New Year's resolutions. They usually involve dieting, efforts to stop smoking, or exercising more. More often than not they are attempts to improve ourselves as though we are completely inadequate as we are. One of my favorite writers, the monk Thomas Merton, had an epiphany while standing on the corner of 4th and Muhammad Ali here in Louisville in 1958. As a man who entered the monastery to escape the world, he had a sudden moment of clarity in which he realized that he was just like every other member of the human race and he wondered if people realized that they were all "walking around shining like the sun". As this new year unfolds, instead of thinking that you are inadequate and need improvement, tell yourself that you, too, are "walking around shining like the sun". If you want to make some New Year's resolutions, let them be to utilize your strengths and gifts for the enrichment of those around you. Be who you are and recognize your own potential. Focus on that and don't get hung up on your weaknesses. We all have some inadequacy or dysfunction that we struggle with. Even the great St. Paul lamented his "thorn in the flesh". We are never told what that weakness was but we do know it didn't keep him from doing great things. Nelson Mandela has some great words about how we see ourselves.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, or fabulous"?
-Nelson Mandela

There is an historical marker over on the corner of 4th and Muhammad Ali commemorating Merton's experience. Our new mayor referenced this event in his inauguration speech earlier this week.

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