I turned 60 yesterday. It was a wonderful, quiet passage to this phase of life. When my youngest son was younger, he declared often that I had to live to 120, so I must be at midlife. Of course, the truth is that I am much further along than “half way” and I wonder how I got here so fast. I can only imagine how quickly the rest of the life-trek will pass by.
But this is not a negative message. I’ve pulled to the side of the road at a scenic rest area for a pause on the trip so that I can consider more than I usually do this all-too-fast flow of experiences. Socrates (I think he graduated in the class ahead of me) said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I examine often. Too often. In my self-talk, poetry and writings; in my presentations and preparation for presentations; in my photography and prayer. Sometimes you need to simply behold and not examine.
As I behold the trail behind me, I see teachers, wisdom gained, sincerity and love. Faith of varying levels and types seem to hold it all together, too often taken for granted but oft-times tested to its limits. But, by examination, it is clear to see that my life has been blessed, relatively easy, and something for which I have no regrets. Granted, it would be nice if occasionally life provided mulligans. Instead, we have breath: the chance each day and moment to try again if the previous outcomes were not as desired or intended. As I share with my sons and friends often, “Never surrender.” Invictus is more than a poem.
My dad was among the older fathers among my friends’ dads. I was the surprise caboose to the McInnis family train. When younger men would ask dad if he wished he were younger, dad would reply, “I wouldn’t want to be a day younger than I am right now.” That is living in the moment.
Dad was one of my great teachers. His gravestone declares “He has left us a most noble pattern.” It doesn’t say perfect. Mom was another magnificent teacher. Her gravestone states, “Tender mother and faithful friend.” No truer words could be spoken about mom. With early teachers like that, how could life not start out from a solid foundation?
Teachers are everywhere. In my first book, “Listen to Life: Wisdom in Life’s Stories,” I share my belief that for those who listen to life, there are teachers available every day. Buddhist wisdom states “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Listen to life, listen to others, listen to experiences, listen with all your senses and you’ll never be without teachers. I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful teachers.
My sons are more than my heroes, they have been my students and are always my teachers. Mom used to say that she stayed young by having me late in life. Being able to access the lives, stories, thoughts and emotions of our children keeps us young. I’ve been blessed with openness with, to and for my boys, and I look forward to what is developing as a granddad. I can only hope that my life as granddad is as fulfilling, joyful and meaningful as life as dad, though in different ways.
I teach a program called Memories to Memoirs ™ and use the tools of that for a variety of other workshops. The process uses four timelines, and each time I have delivered the workshop or presentation, I am reminded about more of my teachers. Mark Nelson, Brian Atwood, Jeb Bartley, David Adams and other guys where I grew up on Faust Lane, a place that I describe as a quarter mile of wonder. The nuns and teachers at St. Cecilia’s, and my friends (and foes) there. High school buddies and adversaries, and the priests and teachers there. Managers, colleagues and customers at my first job at Handy Andy. University life as student and employee/administrator, life as entrepreneur, photographer, writer, track (and other sports) coach…the list of roles and functions includes teachers from all corners of those experiences. I behold a life full of teachers. To name them all would sound biblical in the recitation of the names of those I knew and the descriptions of those for whom I never knew their names. Mom and dad somehow instilled in me a fascination and appreciation for all who teach lessons, wisdom and insights. Examples ranged from pastors to ancestors from Poland or the deep woods of Mississippi, and anyone in between. Everyone we meet can teach us if we let them share. Thanks for that lesson, mom and dad.
Wisdom comes with listening, and allowing others to be teachers. I like folksy wisdom. I recall the Halliburton executive who told me why early in his career he liked to recruit from land grant universities (basically, these are the agricultural and mechanical universities around the country). He said he did so “because farm boys know the bolt tightens to the right.” I love it. His message was deeper than the simple statement; it was full of understanding about people with common sense and knowledge born in experience, not study. Perfect. Wise.
Dad had practical wisdom; mom’s was poetic and philosophical, as well as practical. I guess practicality is a natural characteristic when growing up on a farm (dad) and living through the Great Depression (they married during that time). Their combined influences created a lifelong classroom. I experienced the gift of listening to poets as well as the fisherman on the pier, and everyone in between.
We all have wisdom. The challenge for many is accessing it. We seek coaches and counselors, guides and gurus in search of wisdom. Don’t look for wisdom. You have it. Search for the key that lets you access it.
Instinct. Gut reaction. Self-confidence. Awareness. Intuitiveness. They are doors opening your mind (and decisions) to the wisdom within you. It is often the openness that prevents people from making use of their own wisdom. Live life openly.
Sincerity is the key you seek. Being sincere about who you are, what you believe, how you feel, what you know, what you don’t know, what you fear, what you aspire to, what you desire, how you love, what you need … is the key. Be sincere with yourself before walking on the tight rope of sincerity with others and the world. You can’t be sincere with others if you’re lying to yourself. Your heart won’t buy the BS you’re shoveling, and then you struggle with dissonance. Don’t struggle with dissonance; dance with sincerity.
A few months ago, I met with a woman entrepreneur about the possibility of my programs and hers coming together in some way. We covered a lot of topics and territory, reaching far back into each other’s life experiences to better understand how we ended up in our respective places of business and life. She said, “You’ve made a life and career out of vulnerability.” I think she is right, and it has been a good journey because of it. Vulnerability is openness. Maybe that is the poet side. Or the knight side of risking to help others. I don’t know. Now is to behold, not examine.
Sincerity walks through the open door with its friends: genuineness, authenticity and humility. Ironically, it is confidence that allows them to come together as a team. Confidence about one’s capabilities and flaws, and humanity and foibles empowers the ability to be genuine, authentic and humble. Be real, don’t dip your head and push dirt with your toes (that is not humility), and carpe diem. Do yourself a favor and read Desiderata, no matter whether you’ve never read it or have a hundred times before.
About 35 years ago, I drew a picture of my tombstone on the divider page in my binder. It was a simple stone with grass growing at its base (there is a reason God allowed me to be a photographer – I can’t draw). On it was written “People knew he loved them.” I’ve been blessed with love, and I hope others have felt, understood, appreciated and felt empowered by my love for them: friends, family, strangers, colleagues, team members, clients … everyone. It hasn’t been perfect and there are those who likely don’t believe me. So be it. If I examine my life, I realize that I have not been perfect in this regard based on moment by moment analysis, but if I behold my life as a whole, I believe that I’ve done a pretty good job of it. I’ll strive to do better. And I will work very hard at learning and applying “love your neighbor as yourself.” We must love ourselves first so that we can serve and care with strength, not appeasement. We cannot forsake ourselves in “love.” How else can we take care of ourselves and our Selves? How else can we give due respect to the gifts God has given us? How else can we love others?
Six decades. 60 years. Three generations. That is a lot of moments and memories. A lot of times as victor and many as the vanquished. Many as the sage and quite a few as the dunce. Life is a mix that way. It is all aggregate that needs to be held together to create solidity and strength. Faith holds the materials of life together.
My faith in God (which, admittedly, has waxed and waned over the years, but never ceased to be part of my life) works for me. You find faith in your own higher power. It is that faith that allows the smaller scale faith that we must have in ourselves, in others and in life, for all the potential each holds.
Sixty. How did it get here so fast? Zero to sixty in the blink of an eye.
I think I’ll pause on the side of the rode to behold a bit more often, and examine a bit less. And give thanks all the time.
(c) Dion McInnis, 2016