It's A Gray Area: 'The whole world is not like Irvine'

Life is short, so we all need reminders that our lives are fleeting. I remind myself by trying to keep in mind some rules I made long ago to help design my life which I call "The Designer Niners." They have helped me, and maybe to some extent they will do the same for you. So here they are:

1.) Live your life while you have it. It is truly sad when people are at the end of their lives and look back and say, "I really wish I had done this or I had not done that." For example, throughout my life, when people have heard I was in the Peace Corps, they have told me that they wished they had done that too. But when I say that it is not too late, they always have some type of excuse. I think the better view is that if there is something you really wish to do, then that is the answer: Do it!

2.) Don't worry about what other people think. And a corollary of that rule is Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Be kind, be considerate, but be you. Or, as I wrote in my musical revue, "Americans All," Be yourself; everybody else is already taken."

3.) Be constantly aware of the excitement, grandiosity and wonder of the world. Continually explore different philosophies, concepts and ideas because the world around us is truly wondrous. On the macro level, try astronomy, and on the micro level, try individual cells and crystals — and try everything else in between. Go wherever your spirit moves you.

4.) The whole world is not like Irvine. Travel, read and watch nature shows. Learn about and sample different cultures, traditions and foods. We are so blessed that most of us can drive within a radius of only 10 miles from where we live and sample the foods of virtually anywhere in the world. What an opportunity, and it should be savored often. In addition, ask those who have traveled, "Where is the most fascinating place you have ever been?"

5.) Say hello to people. People are the best things on this earth. Basically most people around the world want to be pleasant and want to be liked. So take advantage of your opportunities to smile at and make conversation with strangers. You will have a really good time giving compliments to people you don't even know, as long as they are truthful. For example, if you see children who are well-behaved at restaurants, compliment their parents. This genuine fun can be doubled by smiling and talking to the elderly and also people who are mentally or physically disabled. Treat them as if they are human — because they are!

6.) Enjoy your children — every day. Often, when I see parents with children, I tell them that "my little girl" is now 37 years old, and children don't grow in reverse. So enjoy them for the short time that you have them. You will always be glad that you did.

7.) Tell the people close to you that you love them. One of the saddest things that can happen is for people to lose a parent or other family member or friend, and then only at that point to realize that they had never really told the deceased person that they loved them. Do not let that happen to you! And, by the way, don't forget to get your hugs in at every opportunity.

8.) Gratification. Contrary to the thoughts of many people, I believe that the most important thing in life is not love, power, success, recognition or money; it is gratification. And that gratification comes from doing things that are beautiful for yourself, for others and for all living things. Of course, these actions can take as many forms as there are people. For example, helping to teach others an appreciation of their blessings; demanding excellence in others, which can only genuinely be accomplished by first demanding excellence in yourself; or involving yourself in small or even large acts of kindness. As a basis for this thought, I am reminded that you only really own something when you give it away.

9.) Capture your heritage. Talk to your parents, uncles and aunts, and record them as they tell you their story. Once you lose your parents and their generation, you (and your children) will be eternally grateful that you had kept a permanent record of your roots, as shown by the life, experiences and stories of those family members who went on before you. And don't forget to record your own story.

So those are my Designer Niners. All of us are so truly blessed, and all the more so if we appreciate those blessings. Enjoy your life while you have it because, as I have heard many times, "Short time here; long time gone."

I end these thoughts with the lyrics to a song that I want to exemplify my life, which are: "I'm gonna live until I die; I'm gonna laugh, riding high; Until my number's up, I'm going to fill my cup; I'm gonna live live live until I die."

May it be so — for each one of us.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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