As I turned "Medicare eligible" this year, I have been reflecting more and more about the time I have left on this planet. Maybe we all should — no matter how old we are. So I thought I would share some of my reflections with you. I know as you read these lines that you might think of me like Polonius, the father from Shakespeare's Hamlet who was sometimes seen as pushy with his advice ("This above all: to thine own self be true…"), but if these thoughts stimulate even just a few of you or, better yet, your children, then that is a risk I accept.
My first focus is upon some of Rick Warren's observations in "The Purpose Driven Life" about Proverbs 4:23, when he says, "Be careful how you think, (because) your life is shaped by your thoughts," and that "Change always starts first in your mind."
In so many ways, we are the captains of our own ships, and we can shape our attitudes, spirits, and thoughts to live whatever life we seek.
So what is the life we seek? Obviously that is a multifaceted question. But boiled down to its essence, all of the world's great religions express it in a similar fashion, and that is to be of service to others. For example, Jesus said: "If you love me, feed my sheep" (John 21: 15-17).
Similarly, the Dalai Lama said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; and if you want yourself to be happy, practice compassion."
There are many more examples, and if you want it presented better than I possibly could, read Henry Miller's short parable "The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder." Nevertheless, particularly with our lifestyles here in Southern California where the concept of "my yacht is bigger than your yacht" can often lure us toward a false god, it is helpful to be reminded to "keep our eyes on the real prize" of life, which is being of service to others. That is where the real gratification on this Earth lies, and we can achieve it in every part of our lives, be it at home, work, or during our leisure time. Of course we can't bring peace and compassion to the whole world, but we can help to bring them to our little corner of it.
Among the saddest things in life are, first, for a person to look back over his life when he is about to lose it and conclude that he never really lived it, and second, for a person to lose a family member without ever really having told the deceased family member that he loved him. Take positive steps to keep those tragedies from happening to you!
Along similar lines, make an effort to record your elders' stories on an audiocassette or videotape. Forget taking pictures of your vacations if you must, but be sure to capture your parents and the people of their generation telling the stories of their youth and the rest of their lives, and also capture their interactions with you, your children, and friends. This will be a priceless treasure both for you and your descendents.
And maybe you will want to do what my father did by taking those boxes of old photographs and letters that we all have and making a family heritage scrapbook of them. Most of the time, once the elder generation is gone, those pictures and letters have no meaning because we don't know the identity and stories behind them. But if they are labeled and we are told who those ancestors are and where they fit into to our history, you will be creating another priceless and lasting family treasure.
Furthermore, as your parents retire and grow older, encourage them to delve into painting, gardening, writing, baking, or some other hobby. Keep trying to find the right fit until you see their eyes light up at one of the prospects. Then every time you see or speak to them, inquire about how they are progressing, and then be sure to enjoy it with them. And then try the same approach with your spouse, your children, and even yourself. Imagine the excitement in probing into things like the worlds of geology, hummingbirds, oceanography, astronomy, other people's cultures, the life of Caesar Augustus, or whatever lights up your eyes. Like Rick Warren said, "It's never too late to start growing."
And along the way, never accept mediocrity in yourself, your children, your employees, or anyone else whom you can affect. Aristotle said that excellence is not an act, but a habit. So develop the reputation that if you are going to do any task, people can be assured that it will be done well — every time — and help your children to do the same.
I have been blessed to have the opportunity for the past three years to share my various thoughts with you in this column, and I thank the editors of The Daily Pilot for the opportunity. I originally promised the editors that I would contribute these columns for a year, but it became such a gratifying outlet for me, I simply could not stop. And I also genuinely appreciate all the emails and other responses I have received from you as the readers — both when you agree and when you disagree with me. Please keep those responses coming.
Finally I want to share part of my all-time favorite poem with you, with the hope it will have the same stimulating effect upon your lives as it has with mine. It was written by Ric Masten, is titled "Let It Be A Dance," and is shortened to read as follows:
"Let it be a dance we do.
May I have this dance with you?
Through the good times
And the bad times too,
Let it be a dance.
A child is born, the old must die,
A time for joy, a time to cry.
Take it as it passes by,
And let it be a dance.
The morning star comes out at night,
Without the dark there is no light.
But if nothing's wrong, then nothing's right.
So let it be a dance.
Let the sun shine, let it rain,
Share the laughter, bare the pain.
And round and round we go again,
So let it be a dance."
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the composer of the high school musical revue "Americans All" (Heuer Publishing), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net, or through his website at http://www.JudgeJimGray.com.