“I am contemplating my own mortality, and…..yours. There was a time when I thought we would live forever. Now, I know we will not, and before we go on to whatever comes next, I want to take the opportunity to say hello again. And good-bye to some of the special people I have known and loved in my life.”
That was the beginning of a letter my brother sent members of our family over ten years ago. Just for the record, my brother and I have chosen to go different paths over the years. We are not close. I’m somewhat more than an additional addressee on his e-mail lists; a reminder of times before me, and times after me. Little brothers have a way of becoming that. As I hear Gandhi’s words echoing in my ear, or Obama’s, maybe that will change. All I know is what he wrote is true. Time forces many men, after they turn a certain age, or their children reach a certain age, to realize they can’t move as fast as they once did. They don’t remember as well as they once did. They are more fragile than they ever dreamed of becoming.
Does any of that resonate in your life? Do any of you have a sense of your own mortality as you realize you can’t wear the same clothes anymore, you can’t run as fast or as long as you once did? Are you seeing your life slip by?
After answering those questions, ask yourself: “When is the last time you said hello to some of the special people you have known and loved in your life?” E-mails and columns are okay, but when is the last time you actually picked up the phone, or visited someone who made a dent in your life? Take time and think about it. For some of you, it may have been too long. Others of you may do it on a daily basis. Many of you are somewhat like me, constantly struggle for the moral high ground, but never really reach it. It’s okay. Forgiveness is easier when you start with yourself.
“Good parents are guilty parents.” I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it’s a stereotype that should make you think. Labels and stereotypes consume or control much of our lives. We allow TV, mothers, preachers, and even politicians to dictate what we believe. Many of these label our understanding of who we are, from the way we contextualize the meaning of various words. Words like guilt. I’m sure when a lot of you read guilt you thought about your parents; you thought of your kids; you thought about being consumed both by guilt and a misunderstanding of why guilt is not necessarily a bad thing!
Sometimes you do something you know is wrong and feel no remorse. That might be sad, yet everyday, there are some people who don’t feel one iota of guilt for not being where they should be in regards to their relationship with others. The others could be an assortment of friends or family, but the bottom line? The bottom line is the question: “Is someone hurt and no one feels the compassion to do something about the hurt?” That’s when we learn to be better than we are, as we see images of God in our lives.
Reminding people to find images of God is something that is coursing through my life right now as I get faced with my own mortality. Right now with all the turmoil in the world, my emphasis is experiencing God and finding ways to heal and be healed. We are the ones who can heal this country. We have the power to “let the dogs out…” or tame them! That’s where mortality comes into the picture.
I cannot ponder my own mortality without seeing extensions of who I am. It’s as if someone braided my hair with locks I no longer have. Each day I’m overwhelmed by how little control I have over the things changing around me: my children, my wife, my health. As my wife and I looked for the latest CD by some group without any vowels in their name, my mortality brimmed. As I share different music, Dionne Warwick, Simon & Garfunkel, ABBA with my classes, I realized how the music industry has changed. I realize with Usher, Eminem, Beyonce how different my kids are becoming. They’re growing up, and I can’t keep them as little kids anymore. I’m growing old. One day I will die, and then who will take care of them? They must be able to fend for themselves. As I told my mentor, my concern is more on preparing them than pleasing them.
That’s a challenge I give to all of you. That’s a challenge I expect each man to step up to. We can’t keep them as kids. However, we do have control over the type of men and women they become as we provide the models they need as we compete against the models being provided through movies, TV, books and schools. As my brother mentioned, we need to find a way to say hello again to life, not consume ourselves with what we can’t do or rely on movies that are fake, TV that doesn’t reflect us, books that are out of touch, or teachers who think they know better how to raise our children than we do. If we yield to these irreverent, inaccurate and inarticulate models our children are lost and our mortality destroyed. Rather we should see what allows us to make a memory that is something we can be proud. So that when we say good-bye, we know we have sown seeds that will keep our children warm, secure, and most of all faithful to a set of values we gave them!
I will not live forever, yet through the things I’ve written, friends I have made or the things I’ve done my memory will become an encampment if front of battle ridden city as I still have a choice in how I live, raise my kids, and serve my God. Knowing and believing this is a security blanket I cling to each night, as I try to do the right thing for my family, my country, and my God.
You’ve got to believe deep inside yourself that you’re destined for great things.”
from Always my Dad calendar
Archie Wortham, Ph.D.
Educator & Columnist