After 300 posts… time to experience the risks and rewards of life rather than writing about them

This is my last “Cheating Death” post for a while. The pandemic is fading and it’s time to take the ankle bracelet off and leave home confinement. I’ve come to the end of re-visiting events that have been the source of my weekly essays.  I’m going to pause and refuel. 

My first post was back in February 2016. Now, after five years of writing about cheating death, the archives number three hundred posts about living life.  This is what I learned along the way on my journey from the head to the heart.

  • There is a higher power that is central to the human spirit.   Recognizing its dominion, as opposed to the material or temporal, can create a sea swell of positive change in how we see ourselves, how we view the world, and how we live our final years.
  • Living a life with joy and meaning is not a biological occurrence; it requires a daily practice: meditating; being compassionate and non-judgmental; offering selfless service, day after day.
  • The past is over and done.  The future is conjecture.  Only the present moment is ours, and it is fleeting.  We are blessed to be alive.  Do not take the miracle for granted.  Make the most of it while you can.
  • The pendulum has started its swing; time is running out… stop dwelling on attrition from the creep of time and focus on what you can do to find happiness going forward. In the time that’s left, live authentically.
  • You can change jobs, swap partners and relocate to new geography but there is no point in moving on if the same obstacles that got in the way of your personal growth aren’t left behind!
  • Think of what gives you meaning, pleasure and inspiration and conversely, what causes you discomfort and emotional pain?  Don’t shy away from addressing the fears that keep you stuck. Declare loudly, I am not a victim.  When you stop waiting to be ‘rescued’ innumerable choices materialize.
  • Be grateful for the good luck to have been born in America with a decent brain and the wherewithal to have the options that millions of men can only yearn for.  Hold out your hand to those to whom circumstance has passed the shorter end of the stick.
  • Ask yourself, “If not now, when?”  When the answer comes up ‘never,’ either erase the trip from the bucket list or buy your tickets pronto! 
  • Stop berating yourself with “if only I had done this, tried that.”  See the mistakes of the past not as everlasting indictments but as hard lessons learned.
  • Recognize that the Balance Sheet is not a measure of a man’s self-worth.  You can join the chase for status and wealth but be sure your life is balanced with love of family, philanthropy, and humility.  See with clarity the difference between inner happiness (heart centered) and societal definitions of a successful life (ego-centered).
  • Know that the surface labels we pin on ourselves do not define us at the core.  They are descriptions foisted by the ego. We are defined by qualities that come from within: our personal code of conduct; integrity, compassion, tolerance and empathy; the capacity to express the heart-felt; the wonderment of giving and receiving love.

A year away from ninety, the easy chair and fireside have become comfortable. I still walk with a jaunty strut, but I’ve come to recognize and accept the tempo appropriate to ‘good old gramps.’ But being ambulatory demands more than walking around the lawn. A recent visit to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie was a reminder of our shared responsibility to teach about anti-Semitism and to warn against the dangers of extremism.

As the impact of the museum visit sunk in, I came to realize that protesting against being marginalized simply for being ‘old’ is important, but there is more to address: the struggle for racial equality, women’s rights, climate restitution and now at the forefront, the rise of demagoguery and the erosion of democracy.

I believe that America is in a life or death struggle to find its soul.  I’m anguished, frightened and for the first time in a lifespan that includes the dire threat of WWIII and nuclear catastrophe, I’m not optimistic about the outcome. l look to the future and I see division and hate. Can’t you see, I scream, we are ONE. Black is a skin color not a stigma; education is the path to opportunity not a threat to your place in front of the line; guns kill people; good health is a human right, not an algorithm for an insurance flow chart.

Up until now I’ve engaged in cordial albeit animated debate with the conservatives who scoff at the notion that democracy is being eroded by a despotic ex-president and malevolent Republican congress.  But no longer.

Up until now I’ve given slack to my liberal friends who acknowledge the assault on the environment, minorities, health care and all things egalitarian yet lack sufficient resolve to leave the sidelines and to get into the fight.  But no longer. The incursions have cut too deep, harmed too many who are blameless and vulnerable and emboldened a growing segment of nationalistic extremists to emerge into the open.

The American dream remains a nightmare for people of color, the scapegoat religions and the LGBTQ community.  The conservative evangelicals, the NRA lobbyists and White Supremacists are having the last word on gun control, a free press, women’s right to choose, voter discrimination and the precious freedoms now in danger of belonging only to the precious few.

There is danger in a Supreme Court that puts politics ahead of impartial jurisprudence.  There is danger in wielding the power of social media to further a political agenda.  There is danger when cabinet heads come from the corporations they are sworn to regulate.  There is danger when lobbyists author legislation.  There is danger when elections are corrupted by foreign countries and voting rights are abolished.  There is danger when the free press is slandered with charges of fake news.  There is danger when reprehensible rabblerousers air hateful conspiracy theories that befoul history.  There is danger when the ex-President of the United States is a pathological liar.

There is danger that demagoguery will replace democracy. And as the Holocaust Museum reminds us, the danger has not been fully aired, its ugly presence festering under the cosmetics that cover up the zits, popping up like a virulent whack a mole. Unimaginable is the rhetoric from an emboldened far-right normalizing the January 6th assault against the Capitol as “no more than a typical tourist visit.”  Perhaps even more alarming is the seep into the mainstream of Fox News and Tucker Carlson and media goliaths like Sinclair Media who spread invective nationwide.

Against this background, it’s not enough for me to write about adding a paragraph or two to our obituaries.

Nor do I remotely think that I can do anything about the situation as one man among 3,400,000,000.

But I have, for five years, been writing about the power of love and the unfailing knowing in your heart that love will prevail over hate. Speak up, take a stand against injustice, I’ve trumpeted.  Make amends and strive toward being men and women with compassion and tolerance, I’ve urged.  Each one of us has the capacity to refine the definition of human, as in the quality of being humane, with kindness and empathy inherent to our character, I’ve exhorted.

So I will do what I can do.

And it doesn’t necessarily mean being a Mother Teresa or a missionary in Burkina Faso. For me, quite simply, the goal is to take a break from writing about “Cheating Death” and to offer my life’s experience as a guide to marginalized populations stymied by the negative influences of their environments: victim mentality, self-doubt and low self-esteem.

Before the pandemic stopped us in our track, a colleague of mine and I hosted workshops that gave people the respect and encouragement often lacking in their communities, the goal being a new sense of self-worth to overcome the false beliefs and negative programming rampant in their neighborhoods.

Using conscious breathing exercises, neuro-linguistic programming demonstrations and powerful sharing circles, the participants at the workshops experienced profound transformation. It is not an overstatement: Our programs transformed the lives of a hundred men and women of all ages and backgrounds as they came to recognize their limitations were primarily self-imposed; that their past need not be prologue.  COVID-19 kept us from our goal to grow into a non-for profit organization funded by philanthropy and grants enabling us to offer “The Power In Us” workshop free to all, and to expand the reach of our programs to communities throughout Chicago, and beyond.

I can’t think of a better way to cheat death and add years of joy and meaning to life than to devote a good portion of my time to this project.  In many ways it’s an expansion of the “Cheating Death” blog. Because the paradox is, by reaching out to those who need help, we get back so much more than we give!  It’s some kind of Biblical miracle.  And it needn’t have anything to do with our political views other than to re-direct the angry energy into positive acts of kindness!

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living. (Gail Sheehy)

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. (Confucius)

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Tags: Agism, Lifestyle

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