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ďI 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.Ē
That was the beginning of a letter my brother sent members of our family over ten years ago. We are not close. Iím 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 Gandhiís words echoing in my ear, or Obamaís, maybe that will change. All I know is what he wrote is true. Time forges many different courses we take, particularly as we reach a certain age things happen: accidents, deaths, births. We realize we canít move as fast as they once did. They donít 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 canít wear the same clothes anymore, you canít run as fast or as long as you once did? Are you seeing your life slip by?
After answering those questions, ask yourself: ďWhen is the last time you said hello to some of the special people you have known and loved in your life?Ē 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? 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. Itís okay. Forgiveness is easier when you start with yourself.
ďGood parents are guilty parents.Ē I donít necessarily agree with that, but itís 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. Iím 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. Some weeks ago I wrote about following rules. Remorse is good. Feeling remorse is a rule you should file under Ďbeing human.í Yet every day, there are some people who donít 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: ďIs someone hurt and no one feels the compassion to do something about the hurt?Ē Thatís 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 courses 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 ďlet the dogs out...Ē or tame them! Thatís where mortality comes into the picture.
I cannot ponder my own mortality without seeing extensions of who I am. Itís as if someone braided my hair with locks I no longer have. Each day Iím 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. Theyíre growing up, and I canít keep them as little kids anymore. Iím 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. Yet each day I wonder as with many other parents, have I been too much of an enabler?
We canít 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 canít do or rely on movies that are fake, TV that doesnít 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 Iíve written, friends I have made or the things Iíve done my memory will become an encampment in 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. Thatís what will change this country, not rhetoric, not rules, not rivalry. Trying to do what we were raised to do: the right thing and then turn things looseÖGod will handle it then. Thatís allowing boys to become men.