How Much Time is Left?

The following is a note I wrote to myself approximately two years ago, shortly after I retired:

I’m sixty-three years old and recently retired. I found myself asking this question, “How much time is left”? I’m wondering is it natural for me to do this, or is there some hint of morbidity to such a question. I think I’ll just accept the fact that the question is appropriate for me. After all, we’ve all heard it said that time seems to past faster at some point in your life. I’m convinced we think this way because, we think in some way, we could have done more with the time that’s passed. And now, we know the time that’s left is much shorter than what’s passed.

After spending forty years working in the public service sector, doing jobs I mostly enjoyed, I’ve been given the responsibility for charting my own direction. There will be no supervisors, no externally imposed performance standards, no clock, real or virtual to punch. It goes without saying that God will certainly be the pilot, but He’s given me the awesome responsibility for navigation. I’ve got to make choices that will keep me engaged in worthwhile activities that will contribute, in some small way, to making things better in this messy world. My head is filled with limitless possibilities. The most daunting decision I’ve got to make is that I not allow the sheer number of choices, mind boggling as they are, to prevent me from moving forward. It’s almost like being deposited in a garden containing endless varieties of flowers, being asked to pick the best ones, and they’re all gloriously beautiful.

I think I’m at a point mentally where collecting a bouquet of any flowers, any choices from things to do in this stage of my life, is fine. There can be no wrong choices, if what I do feels right, is right in the sight of God and provides a service to others it’s okay. This isn’t the time to waste countless hours of self-indulgence, which always begin with the pronoun “I” when a description of what I’m doing is the main topic of conversation. Instead, “We” should be the prefix to most of the phrases I’ll use to describe my activities from this point forward. We will be the prefix to explain what I’ve done to improve relationships, provide service to others and grow closer to God.

Many have congratulated me on my retirement, and I’m enormously grateful for those warm expressions. Now, let me be worthy of the chance God has given me to write the last chapter in a manner that shows just how grateful I really am. The question is not, “How much time is left, but rather what will I do with that time?”

Older Bodies, Young Souls?

I was watching an episode of Oprah’s show, “Super Soul Sundays” recently, when she had Dr. Christiane Northrup as a guest. Dr. Northrup is a best-selling author and thought leader in the field of women’s health and wellness. She said something to Oprah that really got me thinking,” Getting older is inevitable, aging is optional.” That resonated in my brain like any good thought-provoking phrase should. The Baby Boom generation, of which I’m a card-carrying member, could benefit tremendously from meditating on that phrase.
At sixty-five, I often find myself in groups where people of digital vintage are in the majority. Often I observe a manner of thought and behavior that is the antithesis of Dr. Northrup’s quote. Dr. Northrup’s quote reminds me of another mind set voiced by Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, the Catholic Television Network. Mother Angelica believed that the soul never ages. Though our bodies react to the wear and tear suffered through years, our souls are as fresh at eighty as the day God gave them to us. Society tries its best to force upon us a model of thinking and behavior that telegraphs to the world that we are ancient in mind, body and soul. Unfortunately, most of us buy into this line of thought.
For the last four years, I’ve had the joy of spending a good amount of time with my four-year old granddaughter. I’ll confess up front that it’s next to impossible for me to render an unbiased opinion of her social and mental development. As with any grandchild, she’s the smartest child God has ever shared with us ordinary earth dwellers. In all seriousness though, I find myself connecting with her in ways that remind me of the times I used to play with unfettered joy as a child. Whenever I’m with her, I freely cast aside all thought of my age, and simply enjoy the moment. She assigns no importance to my age either. To her, I’m just papa, we are just having fun. I even find myself learning things from her. One thing I learned early on is that she seems to have an intuitive ability to master technology without a blink. She mastered my Kindle at three years of age. I left her with it once and to my shock and amazement, she ordered a movie from Amazon. I thought it was an accident, but my wife convinced me it wasn’t.
One great way to keep your soul working at its age is to spend time with younger folk. Or, simply don’t let your older body convince your soul that it’s old, too.

Your Life is Amazing

Your life is amazing! We live in a time when adoration and what oftentimes seems worship of others is the norm. The first few months of each year is peppered with one celebrity award show after the other: the Academy Awards, the Grammy’s, the People’s choices awards…the list goes on and on. Last year, I monitored Twitter during the Academy Awards. I noticed every few seconds or so someone was Tweeting about what this celebrity was wearing, or what another one was saying. Why is it we’re so enamored with what others are doing, saying, and being?
At my age, I tend to offer perspectives on just about everything with my age providing the filter for evaluation. One age-prism-bending perspective I often notice is that our young people seem to be the very best at celebrity worship. They have no hesitancy at finding value in observing every action of the latest trending behavior of some actor or singer. Some of this behavior would have resulted in a public outcry fifty or sixty years ago. But, today, the latest outlandishness of some pop singer gets front-page news for several days running. I often wonder if some of this behavior is by design, intended to get more press.
Don’t let me be too critical of our millennial group of celebrities. Have you paid much attention to the campaign for the Presidency lately? Some of these candidates, and I won’t name any, exhibit behavior for which my elementary school teachers would have sent me to the principal’s office. Of course, back then that office visit wouldn’t have resulted in a call to my parents, but a good tenderizing of my behind with a leather strap. (I’m not condoning corporal punishment…just making a point.) The point I’m trying to make is that our society has gone from outrage in response to public figures behavior running amok, to acceptance in far too many cases.
Why do we look for the amazing in someone else? Why is it that someone who’s on the society page, in a movie, on the pop charts with the latest hit song, more amazing than we? The Bible tells us that we’re all “wonderfully made” by God. With that thought in mind, I think we should all reevaluate this notion of celebrity worship. When we worship celebrities, we are oftentimes putting a stamp of approval on behavior that we wouldn’t dare exhibit ourselves. Aren’t we assigning value where it maybe shouldn’t be attributed? Each of us is amazing in our own God-given right. Let’s spend some time and energy on ourselves, developing ourselves to be all that God wants us to be. Your life is amazing…give it some props.

Back to the Future: Diversity for Today from the 1960s

A few years before I retired ( January 2013) from my position as associate vice chancellor for Human Resources at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, I  wrote a piece for the campus’ diversity and inclusion newsletter. I’ve had a strong interest in diversity and inclusion work since the late 1980s. I just ran across that piece from years ago in my archives…thought I would share it:

A few years ago, the Chancellor’s Diversity Committee invited Judge Wendell Griffith to campus to be our annual Diversity Week speaker. Being a Trekkie (or is it Trekker?) from the early days of the 1960s television show “Star Trek,” which aired with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and crew, I remember being transfixed when Judge Griffith began his talk by describing the bridge occupants of the Star Ship Enterprise.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the “Star Trek” series, had a vision of what the future could look like in a world that was like no other I had ever seen. The Enterprise’s bridge crew that was beamed into my living room every week consisted of a confident white male captain who exhibited all of the inspiring leadership qualities one would find at any leadership seminar; an alien from the planet Vulcan, who was completely left brain (analytical, void of emotions) in his approach to everything; a young officer of Russian ancestry with a very pronounced accent; another young officer of Asian ancestry; a communications officer of African ancestry; and a host of other characters who provided weekly views of diversity never before conceived for prime-time television.

For me Star Trek was loaded with value, especially since it dealt with many of the current social ills of the 1960s. Though the show was purely fictional, it carried the strong message that a collection of characters, who  looked nothing alike, could work collaboratively to explore the universe. They accomplished this while showing respect for other-world civilizations and the uniqueness each added to the cosmos. Being a young African-American male in the sixties, “Star Trek” truly fascinated me, especially in the context of the cultural, social and geo-political backdrop in place at the time. The 1960s were marked with heightened racial strife, the beginnings of the women’s movement, American troops on the ground in Vietnam, mistrust among young people of anyone over the age of 30 – just to name a few of the issues that made the 10 o’clock news regularly. “Star Trek” presented a poor, young Black teenager with an image of what a bright future could possibly look like where the isms of race, sex, age and the like would no longer exist. Every sentient being from throughout the universe could work together for a common good on each and every weekly episode.

Many would say that Roddenberry was a bright-eyed dreamer, who came up with a fictional concept that only had value because it was highly marketable for Hollywood. Over five decades after Star Trek first aired, many of  the technological marvels on the show remain implausible. However, “Star Trek” also presented us with a vision that provided a ray of hope to me at the time – hope that if a forward thinker such as Roddenberry could dream of such a future in fiction, could not we apply the lessons from his creation to the real world? Obviously, one of those lessons was recognizing the value of diversity and how, when applied, can result in greater success when we are faced with monumental challenges.

If one doesn’t look beyond the fictional qualities of “Star Trek,” one can never see that the show had merit through the connections it made to real life. Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed the role of communications officer Ohura on the show, considered leaving at one point. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a fan of the show, encouraged her to remain because her presence made a powerful statement. She portrayed a Black female in an authoritative, non-stereotypical role on prime time television. That was an important message for society at the time, and some might say it is yet the case today.
I am still a huge fan of “Star Trek”, and I’m still hopeful that we can someday, maybe during my life time, go where no one has gone before by acknowledging, valuing, harnessing and utilizing all of the diversity the creator has vested in our world to make it a better place. I often find myself going back to the future that Gene Roddenberry created. I think I would happy there.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.