Tag Archives: 50

When 50 Years Is Forever But No Time At All

“Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” –Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

Hello friend,

All week long I have been ruminating on the life of Martin Luther King. Well, I suppose it is more like 30 years that I have been ruminating on him. Ever since that day I walked into the library of my high school bent on satisfying the intense curiosity I felt about this man, a fascination that none of my teachers and textbooks had quenched. I read and read, and as I did, the feeling grew that I had found my soulmate across the ages. We were connected somehow, like cosmic brothers. Timelessly so.

My hero was murdered 50 years ago.

FIFTY YEARS!!! That feels like an eternity to me! But even for someone as resonant and consistently present in my life as Dr. King has been, “his time” still feels so long ago and so much before mine. In so many ways, I cannot believe it was only 50 years ago that he died!

I think of all those images in still photographs and grainy video. The fire hoses and dogs, the lunch counters and sidewalk beatings, the policemen’s billy-clubs, the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, the many sermons in churches across the South, and the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall for the “I Have A Dream” speech. I always see the Civil Rights Movement in black-and-white. Some time long before me, just like the Great Depression and World War II and Charlie Chaplin. Ancient history.

But the truth is that Dr. King was right before me, and his time bumped right up to my time. He was murdered in April of 1968. My sister was born the very next month. My goodness, I have never realized that! It shocks me now that I do. Even though I can see the dates in my head and I understand it to be true, somehow my mind just won’t absorb the concept.

I nearly shared an era with Martin Luther King.

I am so stricken by that realization just now. In my mind, it was such a stretch to connect us, at least from a practical standpoint; I felt him in my heart, of course, but he was always a character from such a completely different time, as much as my other major influences: Gandhi, Buddha, Henry Thoreau, and Jesus of Nazareth. Fifty years could have just as well have been 500! It always seemed so far before me.

Everything about the 1960s has felt that way for me: Woodstock, JFK, the moon landing, even Vietnam, which went into the 70s. I see now that everything before me feels like ancient history.

And just the concept of FIFTY YEARS seems like forever. It’s so big!

I guess that I fail to realize that I am 45 years old. That is nearly half a century itself. Maybe the fact that I cannot imagine myself as being 50 sheds some light on why I see Martin Luther King as nowhere near my time.

I think this type of view changes with age. At least it has for me. I know that I have made an effort in my adult years to expand my range on this, to make more real the idea that 100 years and 200 years and things like slavery, the extermination of the Native Americans, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, and the right of women to vote, that none of that was actually very long ago. I have done it intentionally so that I can keep my empathy and be on the alert for narrow-mindedness and entitlement. It is a process that I have mixed results with, occasionally grasping the close proximity of these events to me, but usually not. I take a lot for granted.

The fluctuating nature of my grasp on this concept of Time seems directly proportional to the level of wisdom that I operate with from day to day. When I am clear how near all of this stuff is to today–a blink of an eye, historically–then I am more aware of how important it is for me to use my voice and my life for good and to speak up immediately and passionately against ignorance and injustice, as those things can quickly gain a foothold and wreak havoc on a generation of unsuspecting souls.

I feel like I owe it to my children and future grandchildren to take the long view and realize just how brief a half-century is, how near we are to the previous one, and how quickly the next one will pass. It pushes me to take ownership of my era, to try to leave a better legacy than my generation seems to be allowing to transpire right under our noses.

I don’t want my future grandchildren to look back at this time–my time–and think, “What fools and cowards those people were in that age! How badly they behaved toward one another and toward the planet! They nearly destroyed everything, and barely anyone spoke up on the side of right. How short-sighted they were. Thanks goodness we know better!” I hope that we can see and confront the error of our ways in the present and leave a better legacy than we are on track to.

Fifty years goes by in a blink. That’s what my mother tells me. We can do a lot of good or a lot of bad in that amount of time. When I think about those black-and-white images from the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s death–and when I remind myself that that was only one blink ago–I understand the kind of seismic shift we can make in the next blink, one way or the other. Dr. King and every other brave person who spoke, marched, and bled for civil rights in the 1960s made all our lives immeasurably better. But our potential for greater things is limitless. There will not come an era when it will be acceptable to say, “Okay, we have done enough to improve the world for ourselves, for humankind, and for our planet.” The time will always, as Dr. King says, “be ripe to do right.”

If you are reading these words, you are in the midst of one of those 50-year blinks. Someone is going to look back in wonder 50 short years from now–it might be you, it might be your grandkids, it might be the History books–at the time in which we are living. They will see the images we daily create: school shootings, climate events, cowardly displays of greed and short-sightedness from our elected leaders, showdowns over nuclear weapons, killings of unarmed Black men by the police, and lots of people taking selfies as the rest of the list goes on in the background? Will they be impressed or aghast at us?   Will they find any heroes in their review of our time, anyone like Martin Luther King?

These questions haunt me now in this rare moment of clarity about how quickly time flies by. At least for this moment, before something distracts me and clouds my vision, I want to make a bigger commitment to make this historical blink–our blink–a more positive one. A time for growth and for progress. I want this blink to be characterized by an increase in EMPATHY and a corresponding natural boost in Social Justice and Peace. I want it to be characterized by an awakening in our hearts and minds about the disastrous effects of our actions (and those of our ancestors) on each other and on our planet, and with that awakening a newfound conviction to live bigger and better than we ever have before.

I sincerely hope that with that awakening and conviction come heroes. It would be a shame to be a party to an era that leaves behind no heroes for the next era. It reminds me of the John Mayer lyric from his song “Speak For Me”: You can tell that something isn’t right when all your heroes are in black-and-white. I hope that for the sake of the coming generations, we can leave behind a legacy of moral progress and broadminded vision, and some genuine heroes, too.

Dr. King died 50 years ago this week. Perhaps the more staggering fact is that he was alive for only 39 years. If History blinked, it would have missed him. That’s how fast it goes. But if you do it well, as Dr. King showed us, your blink can shine forever. I want my blink–our blink–to be better. The thought of my hero inspires me to rise up and do my part to make it so.

How about you? Do you realize how quickly your era is passing and the impressions it is leaving in the greater evolutionary journey of our species? Open up your journal and contemplate this infinite topic. What is your sense of the magnitude of 50 years? Does it seem like forever to you–taking you to some foreign territory like a black-and-white film that you can’t make real in your colorful mind–or does it feel like just a little while ago? Do you think this is entirely dependent upon your age–i.e. 50 years seems like nothing for people older than 50 but feels like forever to people younger than 50–or are some people just better at comprehending our tiny spot on the vastness of History’s timeline? As a 45-year old, I grew up with color TV shows but also some after-school re-runs in black-and-white (e.g “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Three Stooges”) that I always had trouble connecting with. Do you think the switch from black-and-white to color images in photos, TV, and movies will change what seems “contemporary” to this and future generations, or will our color images seem old and unrelatable to them, too? Are your heroes from your lifetime? Has the past 50 years–the time since Dr. King–produced a proportionate number of heroes to the other historical eras? If not, what is it about our era that is lacking such that we have not produced the kind of people who are worthy of our idolatry over the long haul? It seems reasonable that with social media and the Internet, this era’s potential paragons of virtue would be easily visible and widely accessible to a broad audience, making it seem likely that we would produce an exponentially greater number of heroic figures than previous eras. Are we? What will be the legacy of our era–this blink–when people look back at it 50 years from now? Will it be all of the negative stuff we see on the news everyday–the corruption and cowardice in Washington, the shootings, the climate change–or is there something greater at play that we are missing amidst all of this narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness? Or is that very pettiness and folly going to be our legacy, the thing that sticks out to the writers of the History books? Perhaps. Now switch gears: what would you like the legacy of this era to be? How different is that than where it appears to be heading now? What could we start doing differently to get it going in the direction you want it to go? Is it a reasonable ask, or are your hope and our reality a bridge too far to cross? What can you personally do to make our era more like the one you would like it to be remembered as? Is that something you can begin today? I hope so. Leave me a reply and let me know: What lasting impression will this historical blink of an eye leave upon History?

Be your biggest,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I hope you will share it on your social media. We need to grow the conversations that make us better. Thank you!

P.S.S. If you haven’t read the Journal of YOU book yet, you can find it on Amazon or any of your other favorite online booksellers. Please leave a review if you have. Thanks!

The 50 Words That Describe You Best

“The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, Stank, Stunk!” –Dr. Seuss

Hello friend,

I told you recently that the way I want to feel this year is BRAVE. After saying goodbye to my trusty old job at the end of the year, I knew that, in order for this year to turn out alright, it would have to be defined by my courage. So far, I would say it has been.

There are many passages in my journal that show me propping myself up, reminding me of both what is at stake and how I have stepped up before. Those journaling sessions have been invaluable, as I have used them to propel myself toward finishing a book and submitting it for lots of potential rejection. I have risen to the challenge. I have been brave.

I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to describe myself as brave! That adjective is hard won, and I am savoring it now. I have realized something else, though, in these days of summoning my courage: I wouldn’t need to be brave if I wasn’t so darn scared!

That’s the thing about courage: it doesn’t show up unless you are afraid.

So, while I am still proud of myself for being brave lately, I would be lying if I said I haven’t spent even more time racked in fear. Fear of going broke. Fear of failing as a writer. Fear of a future in a soul-crushing job. Fear of not being enough. Sure, I have stepped up and worked through it most days, but it has felt crippling anyway.

It was nice to use “brave” to describe what I am all about, but if I am being honest, the adjective “afraid” fits me at least as well. That seems weird, right? I have been wrestling with this seeming paradox this week, trying to understand who I really am. Am I brave, or am I afraid? If one of those words defines me, does it mean the other one shouldn’t? Am I a walking contradiction?

I decided that the best way to work this out is to come up with a bigger list of adjectives to describe who I am. That way I would know if I am being pulled apart on other issues, too (and if I am a good candidate for the loony bin!).

The list, I decided, should be long enough so I am not just a cartoon figure, but not so long as to cover every single thought or emotion I have ever experienced, making me a mere blur of every adjective in the English language. I went with 50.

So, without further ado, this is how I would describe myself, in no particular order:

  1. Brave
  2. Afraid
  3. Curious
  4. Sentimental
  5. Self-confident
  6. Impatient
  7. Sincere
  8. Optimistic
  9. Driven
  10. Altruistic
  11. Mindful
  12. Insecure
  13. Open-minded
  14. Spiritual
  15. Competitive
  16. Pacifistic
  17. Principled
  18. Kind
  19. Stubborn
  20. Unsocial
  21. Grounded
  22. Progressive
  23. Opinionated
  24. Passionate
  25. Compassionate
  26. Silly
  27. Independent
  28. Spoiled
  29. Intuitive
  30. Positive
  31. Non-confrontational
  32. Generous
  33. Grateful
  34. Introverted
  35. Selfish
  36. Happy
  37. Playful
  38. Unforgiving
  39. Wise
  40. Adventurous
  41. Inclusive
  42. Cerebral
  43. Demanding
  44. Nostalgic
  45. Sensitive
  46. Authentic
  47. Caring
  48. Self-isolating
  49. Wonder-filled
  50. Serene

Okay, that is enough! There are plenty more I can think of to cover all of my moods and my worldview, but this is good. It is a fairly clear picture, at least from my eyes. I know we don’t always see ourselves the way others see us, but I will not worry about the others for now. It is challenge enough to clarify my own view.

In looking at it now, I can see that the brave-afraid duo is not the only seeming contradiction in my personality description. I am definitely both selfish and altruistic. I am both cerebral and intuitive, passionate and serene, open-minded and opinionated. And I am certainly, depending on the moment, very often self-confident and very often insecure.

In those combinations, I can see how foolish we are when we try to put others in a box based on one thing we know about them. After all, if I am any indication, the opposite characteristic might be just as true for that person we have tried to trap in the box. So, making them into a cartoon character so that they can quickly fit into a box in my mind simply doesn’t tell the truth and shortchanges both of us.

Much like the contradicting combinations, there are some of these qualities that have both positive and negative aspects, and I can see myself covering the full spectrum. Sensitivity is one. It can be wonderful when appreciating art and being compassionate toward my fellow human beings, but it can also make everything sting more than it should and make me resistant to hearing criticism of all sorts. I can see this range of positive and negative outcomes with my fierce independence, too. As with the combinations, this broad-spectrum view reminds me to be more open-minded when observing someone else’s personality.

That, I can see now, points to the difficulty in gleaning any meaningful conclusions from the list taken all by itself. If I just looked at this list of 50 adjectives and didn’t know who it represented, I couldn’t be sure if I liked this person or not, precisely because each characteristic can show itself in a number of different ways. Sure, some characteristics are almost certainly more favorable than others—kind is better than unforgiving, right?—so we can get hints from the list. But, without the context of the actual person, it is a challenge.

So, though I wouldn’t necessarily use this process as the answer to finding your soul-mate, I found it immensely helpful for examining myself (and that is exactly what our journaling is all about). I learned a lot from those very first words I wrote in my notebook after I said, “GO!” And then later I learned a lot from the end of the process, when I had written around 80 words and had to narrow it down to 50. That is when I started digging harder: “Who am I REALLY?” My answers were revealing, more so than I would have guessed before I started the list.

In the end, I think my biggest takeaway is that I am complex, that I don’t fit very well in any neat box, not even one of my own making. That is an important lesson for me, not just for my own self-awareness, but in how it affects the way I need to walk the world. I have been journaling every day for 20 years, so I know myself extremely well and know that I have well-defined views and attitudes on just about everything. If I am still revealing contradictions and wildly divergent personality traits about myself–and if I am feeling more certain than ever that I don’t belong in a box–then I ought not be so quick to put anyone else in a box, either.

This process, then, has been a necessary reminder to make better use of some of the adjectives I listed in my 50: open-minded, curious, kind, compassionate, altruistic, generous, caring, and inclusive. Yes, I think I will work on those. If I walked out of the world tomorrow and could leave the people in my life with any words to describe me, I would be satisfied with those.

How about you? Which words describe you best? Open up your journal and your vocabulary. What are the very first words that come to mind about you? What is it about those characteristics that make them so prominent in your description? Are they things that you have always thought about yourself? Are they things that other people usually mention about you? How close are they to the core of you? Which of your words are ones that maybe only you think about yourself, words that would surprise other people to read? How much of your personality do most people see? How much of that is because you intentionally protect certain sides of yourself? If I gave a list of 200 words—including the 50 you wrote about yourself—to your three closest loved ones and asked them to pick out your 50, how many would they guess correctly? What if I asked your co-workers? Do you feel like you are honest and authentic about who you really are in most situations—e.g. at work, with friends, with acquaintances, with family, etc.—or do you mostly wear a bland mask until you are with your closest loved ones? How much has your list changed in the last 10 or 20 years? How different, if at all, will it look 20 years from now? How many contradictions are on your list, like my self-confident/insecure combination? Are you more or less complicated than most people, or about the same? How much do you cling to the boxes you put people in? Did this exercise change the way you think about that? Do you like who you are and what is on your list? Which words do you hope to get rid of? Which are your favorite characteristics? Which ones are not on there now but hopefully will be soon? Can you add a new one today? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words describe you best?  

Live free,

William

P.S. If today’s challenge made you look at yourself differently, please pass it on. Let’s all be our beautiful selves!

A Golden Life: Reflections on My Parents’ 50 Years of Marriage

DSC_1086“Falling in love is easy, but staying in love is very special.” 

Hello friend,

Over the recent holidays, I got to spend several days in my childhood home. The place still feels like a haven for me. It cradles me. I love its energy, its vibe. Around Christmas, though, that calming influence is mixed with utter pandemonium, as 20+ people, a few dogs, and a cat all share the space every hour of the day. It is a circus. A delightful circus, but still a circus. The tendency is for the days to whirl by in the madness, and suddenly I am in the car again, heading back to the uncertainties of “real” life and away from the place that still fills me with the comfort and security of a child in his parents’ arms.

This time, however, even amidst the chaos, I couldn’t help but pull back a little bit and take stock. I had a few moments—when the decibels were at peak level as all the kids tore into their presents, or as the multiple conversations criss-crossed at the three tables (one for the adults, one for the teens and people like me who don’t want to grow up, and one for the little kids) at Christmas dinner—when I simply sat back and appreciated the overwhelming swirl of Love and community that filled the house. It was truly awesome. I couldn’t help but notice myself mouthing the words “Thank you” as I looked on in wide wonder. I was humbled by the gift of a seat at the table amongst such beautiful souls. What a family!

Of course, when I think about my family and its remarkable run of happy togetherness, the road leads swiftly and certainly to my parents. The part of this trip that made it extra special was that we all got to share in their 50th wedding anniversary. FIFTY YEARS! Even as I write the words, the concept astounds me. Fifty years of marriage. I was patting myself on the back when my wife and I hit twelve years last Summer. I guess we better pack a lunch!

I have spent a lot of time thinking about marriage in the last couple of years. My own, my parents’, and the concept in general. I think about how tough it is to make marriage work, why so many of them fail, and why some people stay in them long after they should probably be gone. I have seriously pondered most of the couples that I know. Gradually, though, as my study has progressed, I have spent more and more time thinking only about my own parents. They have become the example.

For many years in my adulthood, I wondered why in the world they stayed married. I wanted what was best for my Mom, and frankly, I just wasn’t convinced that being married to my Dad was a healthy thing anymore. Alcoholism lays waste to most things in its path. It is clear to me why most relationships with an alcoholic end badly. Some disastrous combination of untruthfulness and hurtfulness wears the other down until there is nothing left but to leave or be lost.

I once asked my Mom if she was thinking about cutting ties and moving on. From her reaction, it was clear that the thought had never even occurred to her. Her only goal was to get my Dad feeling well again. She knew that the magnificent man that she had married when she was only twenty years old was still in there, that he just needed some help to find himself again. And she was darn sure going to be there every step of the way. Encouraging him. Comforting him. Challenging him. Holding his hand. Loving him. And always, always believing in him. In them.

I have to admit that at the time, I just couldn’t see it very clearly. I would have cut and run, not wanting to go down with the ship. I am hypersensitive, so lies and hurtful words and acts turn my heart in a hurry. I was always amazed—but also dismayed–by my mother’s capacity for patience and forgiveness. There were definitely moments that I wanted her to stand up and shout, “ENOUGH!!!” And I thought less of her for not doing so.

I see it differently now.

As I said, I have been thinking pretty hard about this lately. I think about my parents at that time and how miserable it seemed from my view on the outside. And then I think about them now and how happy and in love they seem, so grateful to be growing old together. I realize now that I was wrong and my Mom was right. She took a lot more than I could take, and a lot more than I wanted her to take. But in her seemingly unending love and patience—and more importantly than that, in her unyielding belief in her husband and in her commitment to him—she was able to weather the storm and carry them back onto the road, where they now walk hand-in-hand to their Happily Ever After.

There are a couple of things I take heart in when I think about their long journey, and in particular about the storm. First, even though I am sure she would do a few things differently, I am even more sure that she would carry his burdens again if need be, and that her belief in him and commitment to him would never falter. And second, I know he would do the same for her.

This is how a marriage works.

I am thankful every day that I was born to these two amazing people. I am thankful for the way they raised me, the love and self-confidence that they instilled in me. I am thankful for the way they have supported me and my siblings as we have endeavored to live meaningful lives and build families around their model. I am thankful that my kids get to love them and learn from them. And I am thankful that, amidst all of my ponderings of the difficulties of marriage and the many ways that marriages fail, I have a shining example of how marriage succeeds, of how marriage is meant to be. I only hope that I can follow their lead.

How about you? Who are your greatest relationship role models? Open up your journal and examine what it is about the couples you know who are doing it right. What characteristics do they have that makes their relationships work? Do both parties have that characteristic equally, or one more than the other? Do their personalities and skill-sets complement each other? What makes some relationships last where others fail? Is it the depth of commitment each person makes? It seems that people in my parents’ generation felt more of a moral obligation to marry for life than is expected in the current generation. While you can definitely argue that that doomed many people to remain in unhappy relationships, what do you see as the upside of that moral obligation? Is my mother’s resilience and willingness to weather the storm a byproduct of such a morality? Do you see that as a good thing or a bad thing? If you are married now, how confident are you that you will make it to the end of your lives together? If you aren’t married, does the poor success rate of marriages make you more hesitant to marry, or does that awareness not play a role in your confidence? How happily were/are your parents together? Are they a good role model for you in the marriage department? What about their relationship do you most want to avoid? What do you most want to emulate? Do you expect to live happily ever after with someone? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would people say about your relationship 50 years from now? 

Let Love Rule,

William

P.S. If this made you think about your life, pass it on. Let’s build a community of self-aware people!