Half a lifetime ago I attended a workshop that had me sign a contract not to drink or take drugs during the length of the event.
At the dinner break, my friends who were lapping up the frozen margaritas, passed a glass for their suddenly sober pal to taste. “What’s with you,” they teased, this is delicious.”
“I gave my word I wouldn’t drink,” I stuttered.
“Yeah, but who’s going to know?” was the logic.
I had the glass up to my lips when the answer hit me, “Me”! Duh, I would know!
It was a tiny step in the direction of integrity. And despite tripping and falling time and time again, I look back at that event as the turning point in my life, the discovery that everything needed for a life of joy and meaning is found within, in the redeeming truth of “I would know.”
I would know right from wrong; I would know what was principled and what was unjust. And the choice was mine. I was not powerless, neither a victim nor a dupe. I would choose the path, making adult decisions freed from biased childhood conditioning predetermined by genetics and molded by environment.
It was not an overnight epiphany that suddenly opened my eyes. It took time to convert missteps to steppingstones. But when I realized that my integrity is the one thing I own that nobody can take away, it led me to forge a life that followed my own script, not parental or societal demands. (“My son the lawyer” was the guiding ambition for many a boyhood friend!)
I came to question the importance of striving on the gerbil wheel of wealth and power. I became grateful for the blessing of good health and the ability to earn a decent living. I admit I still scan the real estate pages for the house on the hill but I’m not envious. While I do not have all that I want, for sure, I want what I have!
I hear a lot of older men complain about no longer “being in the game.” I know what they are saying and feeling: instead of running things and making big business decisions they’re having trouble walking and deciding on Ginger tea or the decaffeinated Chamomile. They’re stuck on their perceived loss of influence and affluence.
I say, play a new game! Pen your own mid-life rewrite. I say that with a tinge of regret for I have spent too many days venerating old photo albums that were not true pictures of the past. Right now, this very moment, is our most precious commodity and it is not guaranteed. The phrase, “buy some time,” is a euphemism; it is not for sale.
It took a lot of personal work, regular attendance at weekly Co-Dependent Anonymous meetings (highly recommended) and buckets of tears, but finally I recognized that heartache is not a medical condition. And I exited the loop of nostalgia that kept me circling an illusion.
I can’t write enough about what I’m calling “personal integrity.” Behind all the gloss, bluster, grandiosity, fear, bravado, cowardness, glibness, stubbornness… deep within and then some, is the core of who we are; the inner space where we find the redeeming truth of “I would know.”
This is the space to go to when the big decisions in your life wait to be made. You must be brave. No choice in one direction is without pull from another. Even as you open your heart to embracing the rapture of life, you cannot close your eyes to its unalterable transience. Accepting this reality is the gift and the millstone of growing older.