The Gift

For about 10 years I was privileged to tell the Christmas story at Stone Mountain Park. The train would stop on the back side of the mountain, and Grandpa Lacey (yours truly) would emerge to greet the passengers and tell (with somewhat of a country twang) a seven minute story about shepherds, sheep, angels, and a baby in a manger. I told the story many hundreds of times to countless thousands of people through the years, never tiring of the experience; I counted it a great honor to be the voice of every child’s “Grandpa” in the Christmas season.

We called it “The Gift.” It was originally written by my friend, Scott Rousseau, with revisions made in ensuing years. It is still being told this year.

We are in the season of gifts, of course, with the celebration of Christmas just days away. Part of the beauty of the season is due to pretty wrapping paper and decorations that appear exclusively at this time of year. Even the music we listen to changes; festive songs that would seem out of place at any other time come to the forefront. Our clothes reflect the celebratory nature of the event, too, and some of us with dispositions that are typically a bit surly try on more compassionate attitudes; we actually cut people a little slack for a change (unless we are stuck in abnormal and unreasonable traffic while shopping for presents).

But gifts – these are high on our list of priorities at this time. They serve as a way for us to express our love to others in a tangible way. And we make them as pretty as we can.

It has become common for us to create illustrations on the subject of gift giving, and to use them to make philosophical or emotionally insightful commentary on life. We speak of persons as gifts (and they are) and we shed light on their differences by talking about the variety of wrappings in which people come.

Perhaps it is this common figure of speech which points to the story we celebrate at Christmas:

“While they (Joseph and Mary) were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths, and placed him in a manger . . . .” (Luke 2:6-7)

The greatest gift of all time was wrapped, too. Not in pretty paper, or even beautifully embroidered material; rather, in simple cloth, and placed in a feed trough for animals. That is, if you judged that particular gift by its wrapping you would be tempted to leave it unopened.

This prompts me to ask what other gifts I leave unopened, or unappreciated, simply because the wrapping doesn’t catch my eye.

Yesterday, my cardiologist delivered some sad news to me: the damage dealt me by my heart attack 14 months ago is still present; the front wall of the heart has shown no improvement beyond the initial progress made in the first two months after my event. I was (and am) devastated. I am stronger, have improved so much, and expected my heart to show great healing over this period of time. Instead, I am told I need an internal defibrillator to make sure I do not drop dead due to an irregularity in my heartbeat created by the lack of movement in the heart wall.

And I am reminded . . . once again . . .

Do not judge the gift by its wrapping.

The truth is, today as I was driving, I was thinking to myself: each day is a gift. A precious gift. Sometimes the wrapping looks like a problem at work, or struggle in a relationship at home; sometimes the wrapping is the dark color of the sickness or death of a loved one. At times the wrapping that presents the gift of the day is a bright blue sky, or the hug and kiss of a dear friend, or a promotion at work, or . . . .

But make no mistake – the wrapping is not the gift.

The prophet Isaiah, in foretelling the coming of the Messiah, used these words:

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2b)

No pretty wrapping. Nothing shiny about him on the outside.

Since the cardiologist spoke with us I have wondered if I might drop dead any minute. Funny, but I never thought about that in the past months when I had no idea it was possible. The truth is, any of us could drop dead any minute.

The clarity I had immediately after my heart attack has waned with time; this present news has revived some of that clarity. And that clarity reminds me today that EACH day is a GIFT. If you are reading this entry, may I suggest you not be fooled about the gift of this day in your life. For no matter the wrapping that encloses the gift of your day, the gift itself is the treasure.

Some years after the birth of the baby boy in the manger Magi arrived with gifts to present to him and his parents. They had gold, incense, and myrrh. There is no telling what wrappings contained these fine gifts, but my guess is they were impressive.

There are times at Christmas when the wrappings we use to conceal our humble gifts are more impressive than the gifts themselves. This is often the case when we want to give something inexpensive but we want it to look like something someone would WANT TO OPEN. But when they SEE the gift itself, and it pales in comparison to the wrapping . . . that is disappointment, indeed!

But the wrapping of a job promotion is just shiny paper if there is no life to put it with. And the wrapping of an illness cannot diminish the value and beauty of your life. Truthfully, the gift of life cannot even be compared with the various wrappings in which it comes.

This Christmas I am once again made aware of the value of life, the substance beneath the veneer of wrappings (be they sparkling, or be they dismal). And I will try not to confuse the two. Each day I can take a breath will be to me a gift. Each day I can give and receive love will be to me a gift. Each day I can feel the air outside, or even battle the annoying traffic of the big city . . . will be to me a gift. For I am alive.

Each day.

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Me Too!

A week ago I found myself googling to find the meaning behind the numerous memes on Facebook with the simple words, “Me too.” The answer appeared quickly, of course. The numbers of persons expressing identification with the experience of sexual abuse and molestation grew each day to a staggering number.

I wasn’t surprised. If you’ve lived any length of time in this nation as an adult in recent years, and have shared openly with others about early sexual experiences in life, or even just paid attention to the news, or bothered to read a book on the subject, or watched a documentary or two about social/familial issues, or . . . (if you’ve just been conscious at all) you have been aware that the phenomenon of sexual molestation in its many forms has become a thread woven tightly into the fabric of our modern enlightened society.

From time to time there is an outcry regarding this that receives media attention, and for a bit we focus on the issue, watch and/or listen to newscasts about it, or discuss it on talk radio programs.

Such was the case earlier this week as I listened to Tom Ashbrook on NPR, interviewing an expert on the subject, taking phone calls from women who wanted to express their feelings on national radio and give guidance to others who had experienced sexual violation at some point in life, as a child, or as an adult.

One caller suggested that men ought to get with their female friends and listen to how this kind of thing affects them; another said that men ought to get with other men and discuss how they can better treat women and not exploit them.

Nice!

I have no objection to those ideas. Except that . . . that’s not likely to change a thing!

We talk out of both sides of our mouth in this American society. We promote free speech. That is, until it is offensive to us. [Then we don’t want to allow hate mongering radicals to speak on our college campuses]. We balk at the notion of creating/enforcing laws that ban pornography, and we fight vehemently for the rights of adults to have the freedom to choose their own particular “poison” (so to speak).

When sexual abuse comes into the media stream we create programs that highlight the exploitation, and garner support for groups that help strengthen those affected. Then we go home and turn on the TV and watch Game of Thrones, and we further embed in our minds the very notions that contribute to the perpetuation of the abuse we decry.

We cannot have it both ways!

And yet, we try. We stand for freedom in the extreme. Because we are afraid we cannot pronounce a proper moral edict, or define moral boundaries for others. The masses no longer seem to agree on right and wrong, and so we are an impasse.

If we truly want to reduce the amount of rampant sexual abuse in this country we must first of all realize that when we pronounce an action WRONG or PROHIBITED, we must by necessity buttress the moral pronouncement with matching laws, attitudes, and instruction in our society, and in our individual homes.

If our adult entertainment has no boundaries, and we fight for the rights of adults to choose for themselves carte blanche, then we cannot expect what entertains us to never appear in reality. Human beings reflect exposure. That’s why PTSD is a real problem, and not just something those wounded by it are told to simply get over.

Our society is laced through and through with sex: sexual innuendos, sexually themed entertainment [have you been to a country music concert lately?], sexually oriented advertisements, sexual comments made by political figures, allegations of sexual misconduct in the news, sexual humor, etc. Can you expect that a young man growing up in the midst of all this, watching cavalier sexual behavior on TV and in the movies, being introduced to the notion that anything that smacks of strict laws and mores that govern appropriate sexual conduct is prudish . . . can escape the temptation to engage in, experiment with, or fully embrace the identity that “Me Too” victims call sexual predator?

“No rules. Just right!” Maybe this is more than just an Outback motto.

When my rights violate your rights we tend to quickly say, “That’s out-of-bounds.” But when my rights create a place in my mind for the fermentation of evil thoughts/desires which may eventually violate your rights, no violation has occurred. [I have a gun, it is loaded, and I am watching training video after training video on how to shoot and kill women.  I have even pointed it at several woman. But I haven’t pulled trigger. Yet!]

Are you comfortable with that?

No big deal, right? No harm, no foul! Really?

Ladies! If you have been the victim of sexual molestation, I am so sorry. Band together with others who have been hurt, support one another, talk to your male friends and encourage them to learn to see you as a person instead of an object. But know this: the tide of sexual abuse will not be stemmed until a major part of our society can agree upon more restrictive boundaries of sexual freedom, a more conservative definition of inappropriate entertainment, and the implementation and enforcement of more conservative laws that govern sexual behavior.

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Sunblock, Total Eclipses and Other Solar Phenomena

So, this is the BIG DAY in the U.S.A., the total eclipse of the sun! It will happen in just a couple of hours from the time I am writing, and I am really excited. Supposedly, it hasn’t happened in quite this degree since 1918, well before my time, of course.

We prepared a couple of weeks ago, buying special glasses at Lowe’s so we could be ready for the event. And even though some clouds and the possibility of rain was predicted a few days ago, it appears the sky might just be crystal clear here.

As I reflect on the coming solar phenomenon this afternoon I am reminded that blocking the sun is not such an uncommon thing; human beings have done it for untold years, of course. With shade trees, umbrellas, sunglasses, sunblock for the skin, etc. The difference with THIS sunblock today is that we are not in control of it!

For approximately 2 and 1/2 minutes the moon will block the sun, and if you are in the right spot darkness will come in mid day. Sounds almost Biblical, doesn’t it? I plan to video the fade into darkness with my iPhone while looking at the sun itself as it appears to vanish. I’ve heard it’s an eerie and unnerving experience. Unforgettable!

https://i0.wp.com/www.space.com/images/i/000/046/427/original/total-solar-eclipse-2015-proba-2.jpg

We use the word “eclipse” all the time, of course, usually in a metaphorical way, describing when some event is overshadowed by another, when a thing that previously drew our attention succumbs to a new phenomenon that upstages that which preceded it.

Right now in our country we are wrangling over racial issues that threaten to divide our nation, or at least the media tells us we are in danger of division; sometimes it’s hard to tell what is really going on in this age of instant news. Morality, right and wrong, and social sensitivity are the hot topics of the day, woven together with politics and the economy.

We have been introduced to the idea of “fake news,” not a truly new phenomenon, but one that seems more apropos to our nation now more than ever before. Occlusion, blockage of the truth, obfuscation; these are the things that alarm us now. We’ve suspected for a few decades that we were being misled from “on high” about a number of important social issues, but now we feel certain that the information we get from television, internet, radio, etc. is tainted with agenda and deception.

Monuments, flags, place names, and other symbols of our nation’s past are now in question, and the attempt to destroy or remove these objects must run the gambit from the face of Stone Mountain in Georgia all the way to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, from New Orleans in Louisiana to Savannah, Georgia and beyond.

But for between two and three minutes this afternoon EDT we will pause in the midst of all this turmoil and uncertainty, look up into the sky, and marvel at the majesty and incomparable celestial display right in our backyard. It’s as if Barnum and Bailey have come to your house and set up the Big Top tent right where you live.

But again . . . it is a phenomenon outside of our control. We couldn’t even control the threat of clouds blocking our sight of this event. We are completely and finally just observers and witnesses of the event.

As for me . . . I expect to take those 180 seconds of time today and allow myself to be awed, lifted for a brief time out of the conundrum of current social ills fed by the lack of moral principle in our country, and immersed in the awesomeness and grandeur of our solar system (and our universe) which is present and active each moment we take a breath, not just in this brief eclipse event.

In so doing I may be reminded of the fact that human beings, no matter their color or nation of origin, are important to their Creator and important to me. We realize we are all tiny beings when we encounter true awesomeness. And that insight will come as I look up, as I broaden my scope of vision, as I am made right-sized by seeing the total eclipse of the sun.

And perhaps . . . if I can learn to live from this broader perspective, this macro framework, maybe I can better measure the things that are smaller.

If the sun were to stay eclipsed, remain overshadowed, we would truly experience disaster. But when it emerges again this afternoon, and shines its light on us, we would do well to soak in its rays of insight and reflect its warmth around the world.

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Will

“It sounds like you’re getting to do many of the things that bring joy to you. And that is very good!”

These were the words of my friend, Will, spoken to me almost a decade ago.

They still resonate with me. Loudly.

Because, you see, I was disappointed when he said them. Sounds crazy, I know. But I was! I had just finished providing Will with a litany of reasons why my life was not going as I wanted it to go; how I was having to work four different part-time jobs to keep body and soul together for my family, and how even that was not adequate since it didn’t provide health benefits, etc.

And when I got done, he said those words that have haunted me ever since. I could not see why he didn’t feel sorry for my pitiful plight. I was singing/playing guitar for a living, teaching music at two other facilities, and working at the office job that used to be a full-time position. And I was weary of the pace.

Weariness is a burden, no doubt. And it can color all the rest of our lives if we allow it to take root. I am not saying it is imaginary. It is very real, and cannot be ignored for long. But a far more serious malady was plaguing me the day I spoke with Will: a combination of feeling sorry for myself and wanting others to commiserate with me about my situation was the real culprit at work.

Those were the days when I believed joy was elusive, before I realized that

joy can undergird a person’s life in such a way that tragedy, pain, and struggle cannot surmount it, cannot overtake it.

I was making the classic error of missing the forest for the trees, of discounting the good in my life because it was mixed in with the not-so-good.

When you embrace negativity, whether it is due to fear or true disaster, it invades your psyche like a cancer, metastasizing at a staggering pace. It eats up the good along with everything else in its path.

When my wife and I were newly married and I was in graduate school we were friends with a great couple, Randy and Patsy. They were so much fun to be with. After a while we began to categorize one another as either “posi” or negi,” that is, positive or negative. Guess which category I was always in?

The tone of your life is seldom set merely by circumstances.

Those who have experienced great tragedy are not always the ones with a gloomy outlook. And those who have experienced great ease in life are not always the happy and serene ones. In fact, many times the opposite is true.

Will had listened objectively to my list of jobs, and he could see more clearly even than I that much of what I was doing for a living intersected beautifully not only with my gifts, but also with my joys. I wanted sympathy from him, but what I got . . . was much more valuable. A fact substantiated by my keen memory of his words years later.

My wife reminded me, today, to hit my “reset button.” Look around, observe the beauty surrounding you, the blessings of life that are priceless, the persons that adorn your day. In a word . . . the joy of which you get to be a part.

As I was speaking with a fellow employee at work this week I used the expression “default” to refer to my natural tendency to fret and worry. Before personal computers we didn’t really describe our penchants and proclivities that way. We always knew we had emotional and psychological defaults, but we certainly did not refer to them in that way.

If I can be aware of my emotional defaults, then work toward adding some new software to my negative psyche that would be a great improvement. I might even find, as Will pointed out many years ago, that the things I am doing actually bring me joy. And I have every right, nay, full responsibility to embrace that joy.

I guess I could call that new approach “Will Power,” or something clever, right? Ha!

Perhaps you are not currently in the job you thought would bring you satisfaction, or the relationship you just knew would make all the difference, or the financial situation you dreamed of having, or the level of health you counted on. Hit the reset button on your life.

Look at your situation! Ask others close to you to weigh in on your situation, too. Do not discard their points of view just because they might clash with yours. You may find yourself quoting their words many years hence.

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The Biltmore Estate

Photo by Ivan Benson

Today my wife and I visited The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It was our first visit. And what a delight it was, too.

If you’ve never been there you must put this on your bucket list; it is well worth your time and the price of admission. Named for their Dutch family village of origin (“Bildt”) and an old English word for rolling countryside (“more”), this estate was imagined by George Vanderbilt after a visit to North Carolina in 1888 when he was just 26 years old.

The massive acreage initially purchased has been reduced drastically to a mere 8,000 acres now, the lion’s share having been sold by Mrs. Vanderbilt to the U.S. Forestry Service for a pittance after her husband’s early death in 1914. George Vanderbilt first opened it up to friends and family on Christmas Eve 1895.

The house had electricity from its very beginnings, and sported an indoor swimming pool, bowling ally, gymnasium, etc. It was filled with ornate furniture, thousands of first edition books, original artwork from the masters, an elevator; it employed 35-40 house employees, and included extensive flower gardens and an enormous greenhouse.

Unlike other opulent places I have seen in the past that have left me with admiration but also a desire to just go home to the simplicity of my own life . . .

I could move into the Biltmore tomorrow and be just fine and dandy.

George Vanderbilt was the grandson of the extremely innovative and tenacious Cornelius Vanderbilt. Although raised in simplicity, his grandfather’s acquired business acumen served him well, as did his catlike ability to seemingly always land on his feet. He left his descendants a fortune.

George was an avid reader, reading approximately 81 books per year; his collection contained over 22,000 volumes. He had the wherewithal to travel, collect rare pieces of art, furnishings, and ideas; his home is filled with the evidence of these travels. It is an exquisitely tasteful collection.

You cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the estate: extensive fields of wildflowers, heavily wooded expanses, fields where hay is being mowed and rolled, rushing streams, wild azaleas lining the roadside. And inside the house itself with over 250 rooms the amount of hardwood is astounding. The craftsmanship is unparalleled, and I could not see a single crack visible in the plaster. Every look out the rear windows, whether from the long porch or from a bedroom, provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the mountains and surrounding forests.

Innovative systems for the ironing of tablecloths and bed sheets, a basement motor supplying air for the pipe organ in the first floor dining room, a lighting system installed in the floor of the swimming pool, and even a creative way to collect the excrement of cows in the dairy farm floor (which has now been replaced with a winery BTW) and use it for fertilizer in the gardens, etc. The innovations go on and on.

But I digress. As I was saying, the sheer size of the estate is a show stopper. And it was interesting to me, today, that as a large storm was moving in on the area, dark clouds approaching ominously . . . I was struck by the fact that the estate itself seemed equally as impressive as the mighty storm:

two large and immovable forces facing off with one another.

To build, furnish, and landscape the Biltmore no expense was spared. George’s wife had opened it up for visitors as early as 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, to increase tourist revenue during the Great Depression. But as with all things material, soon it was too expensive to maintain. After about 1956 there was no longer any original Vanderbilt family member living there. And the large estate fell into disrepair.

The family has assured that great pains are taken to make its restoration authentic to 1895 standards; a worker there today told us it takes approximately 5 years to restore a single room properly and furnish it with original art, books, rugs, and furniture.

Stone Mountain Park is practically in my own backyard, so I see the three figures carved into the granite on a regular basis. But it impresses me every time with its grandeur. I’ve not seen Mount Rushmore, but I’m sure I would be impressed there as well. And one day I hope to see the amazing Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Noah’s Ark replica in Kentucky.

These man made marvels, along with many others I have not yet seen (particularly in Asia and parts of Europe) are awesome. And a part of their grandeur is more often than not their enormous size.

Please understand, I am not saying that The Biltmore would win in a contest with a giant thunderstorm, or that any number of these monuments could not be effaced by the forces of nature; certainly they can. All I am saying is that the feeling one gets in the presence of these fortresses of creation is one of stability, majesty, and longevity.

Human beings tend to be wowed by size and grandeur. Witness the Tetons, or El Capitan; Kilimanjaro, or Everest. The size of the oceans, the grandeur of the Redwoods and Sequoias . . . . The list is endless. [And if we go the opposite direction and begin to include in our list the tiniest things we can see our reaction is the same; the minute impresses us, too.]

Size matters, doesn’t it?

It is built into us human beings to respect grandeur; we are floored by splendor, awed by enormity. Although there may exist in us a sense of smallness in the presence of the majestic, concomitant with that there exists a sense that things are in proper proportion.

There is a sense of security that accompanies our awe, a rightness that inspires safety to our trembling emotions.

Thirteen years ago this month I stood in front of Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, the church where Franz Joseph Haydn was recruited as a singer at the age of 8. It is awesome in size and architecture, and absolutely gorgeous inside. It was Easter 2004, and the church was packed during mass.

And I felt the same awe, the sense that things were as they should be: my smallness, and the greatness surrounding me. Proper proportions. Security.

“. . . All’s right with the world.”
(Robert Browning)

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Metaphor: the Essential Ingredient

Photo by Ivan Benson

We lost a famous poet this past week at the age of 87; his name was Derek Walcott. Today, NPR has been featuring his work, and discussing his effect on humanity. In one sense, I must confess I don’t know that I’m familiar with his work. Nevertheless, I am intimately familiar with one of the tools of his trade: the use of metaphor.

I have been thinking about the power of metaphor over this past week, especially since returning from an out-to-town trip to visit with my wife’s elderly and frail parents. We tend to listen to music a good bit when we are traveling, and one particular piece struck my heartstrings as I listened to the haunting and ominous song, “Into the West,” from The Lord of the Rings.


What can you see on the horizon?

Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea, a pale moon rises.
The ships have come to carry you home.

Of course, as I listened, I pondered my own close brush with death this past October. But more than that, I was struck with renewed realization of the awesome power of metaphor. And I pondered writing about it soon. Thus . . . this blog entry.

We are sentient beings, of course, aware of our own existence and the existence of persons and things around us. Yet this awareness alone does not explain our penchant for expressing our deepest thoughts and longings through metaphor. We are “all about” denotation, what words literally mean, until it comes to things we hold closest to our hearts (Ah! There is metaphor at work, too).

When it comes to love . . . or hate . . . or birth . . . or death . . . we flee to metaphor, we latch onto hyperbole, we cling to illustrative language, because something deep within us tells us that the simple, straightforward definition of things isn’t enough; it isn’t the whole truth, or the full spectrum.

And that amazes me!

It must be that the nature of life, the awareness of existence, the fullness of living in this world calls us, engages us, even pushes us into a level of contemplation that goes beyond the visible, beyond the readily explainable, into another realm.

Thus, we have poets writing poetry. We fly like birds, we drown in sorrows, we pass away like the early morning fog, we are ablaze with anger, etc. And it doesn’t seem to matter if you “like” poetry or not; you may find it quite cumbersome and confusing. Nevertheless, when you encounter the Gordian Knots of your life you will, more often than not, be forced to use metaphor to describe them.

When my mother passed away in August 2012 I was at her bedside within an hour or so of her death. We watched as she was briefly examined, then pronounced dead in the wee hours of the morning. I approached her body as it lay still, touched her hands, examined her face with what would be my final glimpse of her on this earth. Her hazel eyes were mostly closed as I drank in the serene yet lifeless visage before me.

And I was completely engulfed in the stark reality of that moment, and sobered beyond words. Of course, all that had happened was that her heart had stopped beating. She had taken one final breath (the nurse told us) after having been asked if she was all right (and she had said, “Yes”), and she was gone.

But metaphor will not allow us to stop there. Because the facts are not adequate, it seems.

When a loved one passes we must use metaphor; to refuse to do so (even if one could) would dishonor and dehumanize the whole occasion to such an extent that it would be surprising if the rocks themselves didn’t cry out from the ground.

This is one reason why some war atrocities are so infuriating to us. Life is sacred. And when we do not treat it as such we do damage to ourselves that is not possible to quantify.

I think metaphor points to a reality we all wish were true, even if we find ourselves unable to embrace it intellectually, e.g. atheists, agnostics, etc. It is the cry of our primal nature (if you will), buried deep within our DNA. And we dare not extinguish it, for to do so would make us less than human.

I, for one, do not pray that I can write; rather, that my words will flow freely. I do not merely want to be understood; rather, I want to make heart connections. And when I do depart this life at some future date, I hope to either fly away, or bag-in-hand, board a ship that will take me home.

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The True Cost

Photo by Marco Bellucci

Photo by Marco Bellucci

It’s hard to know what something really costs, isn’t it?

I mean, if you buy a piece of clothing you find appealing, and you begin to explore where it was made, who designed it, how and by whom it was manufactured, and the source of the raw materials used to create it . . . you could almost fill a small book.

The storybook I used to read as a young boy . . . you know the one that shows where food comes from, and traces the journey back from the milkman, etc. is a profound resource that creates a much-needed perspective on life. I no longer remember the name or details of the book, but the concept it taught remains with me to this day.

The business world is very cost-conscious, of course. Businesses that don’t count the cost do not usually last very long. And lasting a long time, or at least long enough to make a healthy profit or create a healthy benefit for people, tends to be a well accepted raison d’etre for any business.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday regarding the pace at which we live our lives in the United States, and we contrasted that with the apparent pace of life in much of Europe. For example, both of us were familiar with the enormous number of “holidays” that friends of ours seem to have in Holland and Germany.

In spite of the fact that we tend to view pioneers in our nation’s history as harder working than us lazy 21st century Americans (and no doubt their comparative deprivations were sizeable), and we muse about how we probably wouldn’t last a day without air conditioning or central heat, etc. the truth is we work longer hours and carry much more stress than our forbears ever dreamed was humanly possible.

And . . . they might be right! Now granted, we live longer, grow taller, our athletes are stronger and faster, our level of production is something that would cause a John Henry to drop his steel-driving 20 pound hammer and shrink in awe. We are rather amazing, aren’t we?

But heart disease is killing up prematurely, various cancers are rampant, and our fascination with all things technical has taken up captive with our iPhones, iPads, Apple watches, and multifarious devices; things intended to save time have made it possible for us to fill our time even more efficiently. “Time is money,” we have often said. And money is what we want. What we need. What we must have. At any cost.

The high incidence of criminal indictments for fraud, tax evasion, insider trading and the like is testimony not only to the long standing human predicament, but also to the fact that think we need so much more than can be honestly derived.

My 2016 heart attack has caused me to rethink a great deal of what I used to take for granted. One thing that continues to haunt me is the notion that the way I learned to live my life, the way I learned to work (from 7th grade onward) at a go-at-fast-as-possible pace, may have indeed led to a heart attack in an otherwise healthy-looking man in his early 60s.

Our life patterns are usually begun at a very young age. And changing them is like pulling teeth; most of us think we would rather just ignore the decay and make the best of it, even though we know extraction is the only thing that will bring relief.

Do you, for instance, know the true cost
of the way you are living your life?

We look around us at the Jones’s (you know, the ones we’ve always had to “keep up with”) and what they have, and we arrive at a standard of living that we accept; we would swear by it like the rising and setting sun. We berate ourselves until we reach it. And when we do we set our sights a bit higher and choose a new and improved family of Jones’s with whom we compete.

And who can begin to say what effect television and movies have had on our standards; cloistered in our homes we make friends of flickering images on the screen in front of us, and we look to them to define our relationship standards, our income standards, and our whole way of life. After all, dealing with real people as become an outmoded skill; we have machines that do that now.

And the stress is crushing us. But we do not relent!

We cannot drop the steel-driving hammer. We cannot surrender. We cannot do the thing that would bring us more peace, more health, more joy, more . . . . for fear that we will fall behind in the race to – the race to . . . . What exactly? What are we racing toward in such a headlong fashion?

We are, as it has been phrased, “hell bent.” That is one goal I think we will attain.

My heart attack makes me want to reconsider some things.
Like almost everything about how I function.

Is it too late for me to change? Time will tell.

But I can make a marathon out of a simple household task. I can attempt to “fill every minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run” (thank you, Rudyard Kipling), but is that what will truly bring me life?

I want to get off the treadmill, out of the hamster’s cage with the spinning wheel powered only by my effort. I want to learn how to rest. How to simply BE.

I hope you will go with me, if only because that will make it easier to keep going the right direction. But with you or not, I must go. I must reset my sights. And honestly, I think I may need a whole new operating system.

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