The year 1955 seems like a watershed year.
- The Eastern Bloc formed a military alliance deepening the tensions of the Cold War.
- A tired little woman in Birmingham refused to give up her seat for a bullying bus driver. The boycott that followed was the push of a row of domino called the Civil Rights movement.
- America made its first commitment to an unknown country in Southeast Asia called Viet Nam.
- World War II hero Winston Churchill was forced from office as British Prime Minister.
There was a little insignificant news as well.
I was born on September 13, 1955, in Hendrick Hospital in Abilene, TX, at 8:07 in the morning. (I suppose that explains my desire for the mornings!)
Birthdays (and any other milestone) are human inventions. One day is no different than the other. Every 24 hours charge into the dark future. Every sunset and sunrise provide rhythm. We impose meaning.
One of the things I have worked on recently is compiling some kind of narrative of my life. I wanted my kids and grandkids to know more about who I was, and the times I lived in.
As I have written, I have recalled long-forgotten events in my life. People peeked from the shadows. Emotions flowed. Connections rekindled.
In short, I have had a chance to look over my life until today.
Our world is different, angrier and ruder. Leadership has evaporated into posturing. Social media likes and drivel have driven deep thought from our society. We lock doors. We suspect strangers. We have more things and less meaning.
The truth is valid in all ages. At some time, we glance backward with the fog of nostalgia filtering events. I was amazed at people older thinking fondly of the Great Depression. But one is familiar, and the other is not. I get it.
We all change. (Those who believe differently are deluded.) All rearrange our furniture in rooms we mark spiritual, professional, family, and personal. It’s not a body that wears out. It is a life that accumulates lessons.
For several years on my birthday, I spend time completing an exercise I learned from Bobb Biehl called “A Single Year.” It forces me to examine where I am and where I am going. Coupled with a morning journal, I get a good look at my life from a higher horizon.
On my birthday, I am reminded of three essential truths that come with age.
The Need for Purpose
Everyone lives by “take care of yourself.” While I understand the need for self-preservation, too many times it spills over into gorillas pounding their chests in the Congo.
Often, life becomes “what is best for me.” Ego and competition push others away.
I think of the crab basket. A crab fisherman said he never puts a lid on a crab basket. He knew that as soon as on crab started to crawl out, the others would pull him back. The desire to be “above all” kills all the crabs.
The greatest joy is not getting what I want. It comes when we help others become better. The strange chemistry God has created is when we serve, we feel contentment. When we pump our own product (which is what I see on all social media sites), we lose our humanity.
Helping others who are grieving, confused, or struggling (without expectation of reward) opens your life. It connects you to the eternal nature of God…to give others life and it comes back to you.
The Push for Growth
I remember hearing, “it is not the years in a life that counts. It is the amount of life in the years.” It forces me to ask, “what can I do improve, expand, and grow?
I took up a foreign language a couple of years ago. I can now confuse people in a second tongue!
I am troubled when people believe settle for good enough. Inertia puts on a disguise of synonyms. Style. Accomplishment. Achievement.
When people think they have arrived, they need to think twice. The only thing that arrives is the hearse at the graveside.
If on my next birthday when I do my Single Year exercise, if it doesn’t move the needle, then I need to check my pulse.
I want to challenge myself, see new places, think new thoughts, get better at some well-honed skills.
Simple resting on my backside of what I have done creates another year of slow death.
The Influence of People
My autobiographical writing brought back a simple fact. John Donne put the sentiment in verse:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The list starts with my parents, my wife, and my kids. But there are many others.
I remember Orvie and Olivia Green, Mr. Felts, the Cates family, and Mrs. Freshley. All are names, but it was their influence that meant something to me. In some way, each person I have met has shaped some part of my life.
Life is a creation of fibers twisted into threads woven into tapestries. The great appreciation for those who made you who you are is the real gift of a birthday.
I hope you have as good a day as I will.