Time is Short: Be active, not passive

I’ve known Luke since September 1964, the beginning of third grade. We were busy in our youth, building models — planes, tanks and battleships, primarily – toying around with chemistry sets and playing ball. During attended high school, though on very different academic paths, we still had some hang time during the regular meetings of our “lunch bunch,” a group of five of us who ate lunch together. During college, our paths parted a bit and the gap grew more over time what with careers, families and the other diversions of adulthood. I’ve always appreciated his take on life and the world, and in a recent email he did it again. It pays to listen to people for their golden wisdom, whether it comes in streams or nuggets.

The remainder of the “lunch bunch” – there are now four of us since John died many years too soon – has had a rejuvenation of communications as of late via email on the topic of music. The string of conversation took a bit of a detour on the topic of playing music.

My attention was piqued; I have always wanted to play a musical instrument, and the conversation energized my interest and with more discipline and wisdom than I had when I was 16, my last attempt to learn to play the piano. Luke began teaching himself how to play the bass guitar decades ago. In the group chat about music, he commented on his friends’ critiques from the perspective of the discussed songs’ bass lines and whether he has learned them. Amidst his sharing, the nugget.

“Playing bass has made me like so much more music than ever before. Not enough time left to listen to it.”

We lunch bunch members are not spring chickens. There is definitely much more (life) time behind us than in front of us. Luke’s comment touches on many important lessons about life, but particularly when you realize that time is short.

 

Learn

There is no end to learning. Whether it is learning to play music or how it the instruments are made; whether it is fishing or cooking fish; whether it is the practice of or the theory of…anything. Never stop learning. My dad would often say, “You ain’t gonna learn any younger” as a response to my comments about trying something new. That expression has carried me into many adventures, successes and “failures,” all of which taught me something to prepare me for my next adventure.  One never gets too old to learn.  “You ain’t gonna learn any younger.”

 

Expand horizons

Luke’s musical preferences were clear “back in the day.” He likes more now. Now is also a good time to knock down boundaries to see the expansiveness of the horizon, even if you remain in your current vantage point. Expand your view into various types of music (or cooking, traveling, reading, etc.), or step over to something you’ve never considered trying before. I’ve been convinced all my life that I can’t dance. My wife disagrees. We occasionally dance and we will take country dancing lessons in a few months. It is never too late to expand your horizons; likewise, reveal horizons to young folks, too. The legendary actress Betty White first found her affection for animals in remote backpacking trips with her mom and dad when she was young; Ansel Adams was a teen when he first photographed nature on a family vacation with a camera that his dad gave him. Not that new horizons must turn into legendary careers; expand your view and adventure because you can. Climb the mountain because it is there.

 

Understand time

People spend incredible amounts of time stressed about the future while staring intently in the rear-view mirror. The only time that matters is the moment you are in. Try to eliminate the “I’ll get to that later” mindset, as well as the tendency to keep looking over your shoulder about past actions, decisions and choices. You cannot walk forward straight when your head is turned to look to the past.  Use the wisdom learned through the experiences and choices of the past to provide you most courageous, joy-filled future possible. (To learn more about how to do that, check my book, LIFElines:  Empowering All Aspects of Your Life.)

 

Be active, not passive

Instead of just listening to music, Luke chose to learn to play it. A passive life robs us of much. Learn, create, immerse yourself. There is a time for observation and contemplation, but we spend too much time watching, being entertained, being mesmerized and numbed by media and other influences. Be active in life; engage your brain and creative potential; life is to be lived, not merely observed.

Wise gifts and giving

Gift giving was once sacrificial. As Christmas approaches, we are reminded of that truth.

It was no easy feat for the three wise men to journey to the stable where Jesus was born. Travel was not easy, nor was it easy to face the pressure of the king who wanted a report on the birth. They also presented items of great value to the baby. They sacrificed time, treasure and effort, and gave with respect and courage.

In O. Henry’s famous short story, The Gift of the Magi, a young couple of very limited means sacrifice to purchase meaningful gifts for each other, unbeknownst to the other. Published in 1905, before overnight shipping and free delivery and Black Friday and Cyber Monday and “no interest for 12 months” and customer loyalty discounts and credit cards, this story of gift giving speaks of love, wisdom and spirit. There was no shame in meagerness; there was humbleness in loving.

Today, the giving of gifts seems to take less true sacrifice. A few clicks, a bit more debt, and boxes appear at our doorstep. I do not think of the crazed crowds of Black Friday when I read Henry’s description of the woman character of the story searching for a gift for her husband: “She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present. She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out.” She, Della, sacrificed more than time as she toured the stores in search of a gift, “that something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim (her husband).”  So, too, the three wise men sacrificed more than the time it took to travel to pay homage to the baby Jesus with gifts.

Henry concludes the story with, “The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

If you have not read Henry’s iconic story of love and irony, take a few moments to read it now. I wonder if the story is used in classrooms today, reinforcing the message of love, unselfishness and sacrifice. Sadly, I doubt it is.

With meaningful giving comes sacrifice, as was put into motion on the first Christmas. The greatest wrapping for that gift was love, as it is for the gifts of all types that we share with each other to this day.

Merry Christmas.  Much love to you and yours.

Christmas 2019

Never Too Late for Thanks or Giving

I chose to not send my Thanksgiving message to you at the time your email box was filled with Thanksgiving notes, memes and sales offers. Part of the reason was to avoid the crowd. Then I realized there was another component to the logic of the timing. In this season of “seasons” (giving, holiday, sales, caring, etc.), limited-time offers and sales deadlines, it is good to remember that it is never too late for thanks or for giving.

Thanks

  • For life and living
  • For loving and sharing
  • For friendships, acquaintanceships and random encounters with strangers
  • For sunny days, dramatic storms, snow, rain and fog; for clouds, lightning and clear skies
  • For walking, hiking, cycling, wheelchairing…getting out there
  • For companionship and solitude
  • For rivers and oceans, deserts and plains, mountains and valleys
  • For stories—lived, shared and heard
  • For opportunities, another day, another breath
  • For abilities, talents, gifts and assets
  • For your past, present and future: What/who you are, how you came to be that way, and what you can do with that

 

Giving

  • Your happiness, joy, sadness and sorrow
  • Your authentic self
  • Your creativity, voice and expression
  • Your ideas
  • Your skills, talents and gifts
  • Your time, energy and attention
  • Your humor, patience, knowledge and wisdom
  • Your love

 

There is always much to be thankful for and much to share every moment of every day.

Thank you for being you.

 

“You can’t make your life longer, but you can make it…”

Wonderful revelations and wisdom come by merely listening to what others share. In a recent session of my Memories to Memoirs™ workshop, one of the participants shared with the group one of her key philosophies. She is Chinese, married to a man who teaches at the local university. Her perspective was truly global but can be implemented at the place where you currently stand.

Wenhan said, “I know that we can’t make our life longer, but I believe we can make it wider.”  I was immediately intrigued. She continued, explaining how she believed she could expand her horizons in life by travelling, by listening and by learning. I paused the discussion to compliment the great wisdom in the simple clarity, “…we believe we can make it wider.” I don’t think she realized how brilliant and understated her wisdom was when she said it; such is how wisdom passes from one person to another.

Whether it is taking a trip to the other side of the world, or going to a nearby town with a great local history; whether it is reading one of the great works, or the story your child or grandchild wrote in school; whether it is attending a lecture on a topic about which you are not well-versed, or listening to the story of the stranger sharing tidbits while standing in the grocery checkout line … we can, and should, expand the width of our knowledge, perspectives and connections. Listen to life; there is wisdom in its stories.

My first time to ever travel outside the United States was 2010 when I had the privilege of teaching photography at University of West Bohemia in a week-long summer program in Pilsen, Czech Republic. I was able to repeat that experience the following two summers, too. The experiences and interactions with the students were incredibly eye-opening.

It comes as no surprise that so many surveys reveal that one of the most common regrets of older people is that they did not travel. But then again, there is beauty, new perspectives and much to appreciate within 20 feet of where you stand now. There is something to see differently, something to appreciate or someone to talk to. It is a beauty-full life (see my ongoing project, A Beauty-full Life 2019), and there are many ways to make your life wider by what you hear, see, taste, touch and feel.

“Reflections of My Life”

For as long as I can remember, beginning before my age reached double digits, I have been emotionally connected to the process of aging, the passing of time.  As a kid, I loved Puff, the Magic Dragon, but it always made me sad that Puff lost his friend. When my friend, Brian, died when we were 19, I could no longer listen to Puff until I was in my 50s. The first time I heard it after decades of musical quarantine, it made me cry again. Passing time and its changes get to me.

At 16, I wrote a poem about a man who was aging. It made my dad cry. He was 60 at the time. I admit to being strongly influenced by Neil Young’s Old Man that had come out about that time on his Harvest album. I included the poem in my book, Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad. I am now past the age dad was when the poem touched him. The words surface in my memory as I feel the effects of time:  “Old man, can you manage / With that cane in your hand? / Can you continue watching / The dropping of the sand?” I don’t need a cane, but changes are afoot for my future years.

My mom told me about a pastor who said, “You are now what I once was.” He was referring to conversations with people younger than oneself. I try to remember his poignant message whenever listening to, or conversing with, younger folks.

A beautiful song from the late 1960s pondered Reflections of My Life. The thusly named song by Marmalade did quite well here and “across the pond.” Its creator, Dean Ford, had a life that made reality of his lyrics. He died this past December from Parkinson’s. I thought of my poem as I watched the beautiful tribute video to him that includes clips of him performing his famous song “then” and “now.” Though he played the song thousands of times, even the renditions from late in his life were shared with genuine gentleness and wisdom. The exuberance of his sharing 50 years prior was replaced with a kind, wise, knowing expression. Youth’s insights had become age’s wisdom.

I think of my high school years with Chuck playing acoustic guitar for a gym full of high school students. Phil did the same. I hope they look back at those days with amusement and appreciation. We all have past experiences that reflect the things that mattered to us then and influenced who we are now.

Life is for the living. Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Examining is one thing; performing a full-on autopsy of one’s life is quite another. I believe the former is part of the growth process; the latter, a process of over-analysis, can paralyze. Autopsies are not performed on the living.

Our past experiences provide great wisdom and insights, as well as shape who we are. Aging, like parenting, is not for the weak or cowardly, but in those moments when you pause for reflections of your life, allow yourself to appreciate the abundance, the blessings and the way you’ve touched others in your life. Reflect. Smile. Keep going.

 

 

Here is the poem that I wrote about the old man. I have a dream of it being put to music someday.

Old man can you manage

With that cane in your hand?

Can you continue watching

The dropping of the sand?

 

Do memories plague you

Of the days in the street?

Do memories haunt you

Of the people you did meet?

 

So slow to walk

And feeble to stand.

Old man do you need help?

Can I lend you my hand?

 

Those arms that hang and shake so

Were once trunks of power

Does the loss bother you?

Has your life become sour?

 

Your steps are now in inches

Yesterday they were in miles

How come?  What is it old man

That continues to bring you smiles?

 

Old man you make us wonder

Is old age such a sin?

Old man my eyes water for you

But, remember, here’s my hand.

 

(c) Dion McInnis

“How do you pronounce your name?”

Shopping at the local Harbor Freight is always a pleasure because I get good stuff there and they always have coupons for something free with purchase. I got something else for free – something better, something wonderful – on my recent foray into that world of tools and gadgets.

The woman working the register at the check-out was in her early 20s, I suspect.  A friendly gal. She asked for my phone number so she could pull up my record.  I provided it.

“How do you pronounce your name?” she asked. “I’m never quite sure how to pronounce it.”

I pondered why this total stranger would ask how to pronounce my name, in the first place.  I think that would be a great customer service lesson for people who work phones, registers, etc. to ask how people pronounce their names instead of butchering the names and then try to act like they are life-long friends. But, I digress.

I pronounced it for her. “DEE-ahn.” My mind was still racing with her question. There are not a lot of Dions out there, and certainly not spelled that way and most certainly not of my age. Before I had a chance to figure out how to ask, she said, “I love Dion’s music, but I never knew how to pronounce the name.” I instinctively smiled before asking in a genuinely shocked voice, “Dion? Dion and Belmonts, Dion? You like his music?” Maybe her parents, likely more so her grandparents, may have listened to his tunes, including the famous The Wanderer.

She rattled off the titles of a few of her favorites.  I couldn’t stop smiling. I asked if she knew how his music career had shifted to Gospel music (she didn’t but was intrigued with the information). I told her that I have been emailed several times over the years by musicians asking my permission to cover one of “my” songs and how I have to thank them but explain that I am not THAT Dion (she thought that was funny).

I figure the entire transaction lasted about three minutes. A lot happened in those 180 seconds, much of which supports Dale Carnegie’s premise that the sweetest sound for someone to hear is that of their own name. The cashier used my name; she honored it by connecting it to Dion DiMucci and she opened the door for conversation, which I was more than happy to pass through. She seemed to enjoy it, too.

I said that I got something better and something wonderful for free with my purchase. Whether we are buying or selling or just interacting, we can use the reminder of using other’s names and the gold-nugget advice of asking someone how to pronounce their name. There are other questions or interactions that can be used  — “That’s a nice name.  Is it a family name?” – but connecting with names reveals respect, interest and courtesy. It only takes a second.

 

PS:  People ask me if my mom had a crush on Dion DiMucci and thusly I am name.  Nope. That is not where the inspiration came from for my naming.

Give the Best of Who You Are

I miss you, Jack, though I only met you once.  I still share with others and to myself your story of barging into a board room to meet an executive who kept ignoring your meetings. I remember your speech and thinking then, more than 35 years ago, that I wanted someday to touch lives as a speaker, too.

Jack Yianitisis died on August 3. (His tribute page can be found here and some of his wisdom can be found here.)  A Marine and veteran of the Korean War, he was in the motivational speaking business when I heard him speak. I can’t even say that I officially met him. A local bank to the Alief area of Houston had Jack in for a presentation and they “loaned” him to the chamber to be their luncheon speaker since he was in town. (To this day, I’ve wanted to have a bank as a client like Jack did.)  Somewhere, I have the recording that I made of his motivating, inspiring message that day. He gave his best and it stuck with me.

Among his stories, he shared that he was working hard to get a particular client but the executive kept standing up Jack come appointment time. On about the twelfth attempt to meet the potential client, Jack was again stood up and the receptionist said that the man was in a big meeting.  Jack, disappointed, returned to his car and there he considered a key question. “If I have something that will truly benefit this man, I cannot walk away. Not again. If I truly believe I can make things better for him and his company, I must talk to him.”

Jack returned to the man’s office, walked past the receptionist and straight through the closed double doors of the board room. He said that when he walked in everyone looked at him like he was a waiter bringing them water.  He approached the man he had been trying to meet and said, “I talked to God this morning.  Why can’t I talk to you?”

I’ll never forget that story. I remind myself of it often when I am facing fears or doubts about talking to a potential client or contact.

Jack shared that he ended up working for that man for about 14 years, as I recall.

I have thought about Jack many times over the years as I have worked to help others with my speaking. I have thought about Jack a lot when I face challenges and fears.  And all because of one presentation I heard when I was a 20-something writer-photographer trying to find a place for his heart and craft in this world.

Many times over the past five years, in particular, I have tried to find Jack. I found information about him, but the listed phone numbers were disconnected. I tried again today.

I think Jack would like me to remind you to always give your best, laugh a lot, maintain your faith, be strong and be humble. You might be touching someone’s life. He did mine.

God bless you, Jack.