Silence over a Year

It’s been one year and sixteen days since I last wrote a blog. An eternity in the world of the internet. And a way to make oneself irrelevant in that same media. But it’s been one of those kinds of years in my life. During these 381 days, I’ve come to understand a number of things important to my well-being.  Maybe they will strike a cord with you, too.

The World Now has too many words:

I’ve been exhausted by the amount of words and media coming at me every day. Some of this is because I am an introvert and prefer more quiet moments, but in reality I get hundreds of emails a week in my workplace, notices on Facebook, and thousands of 140 character blurbs scroll past my Twitter feed in the same time frame. Everyone wants something of me and I have only a finite amount of time to read, respond and give to these requests. So I have been quiet in adding my own words to the mix.  One more voice in a expanding universe of words that is growing, as Buzz Light Year heralds, “to infinity and beyond.”

Learning to Focus in the Universe of Words:

While the amount of words is overwhelming to me, I’ve learned another lesson. Focus on the words and the ones sharing them that make the most sense to you and to the value they add to life and well-being. I follow less than 100 people on Twitter. I know you are supposed to follow many in exchange for those following you, but in the sea of words that are essential for me to know and understand, I don’t need to see someone’s food, hear of their latest breakup, or read political banter and prejudices that don’t really add to public debate or resolution of the world’s ills. I am looking for thoughts and suggestions that add meaning to life. So I follow the few I’ve found that add quality.  And I tweet or pass along this information only if it will be of value to another. I also discriminate Facebook friendship requests. I have over 200 requests sitting in my inbox. My method of screening is “If I wouldn’t sit and have an extended coffee break in conversation, I probably would not “friend” you.  I know we may have many people in common, but I value time together….not more words about things without meaningful conversation.  In Facebook, I even created a category called “Who I want to See.” I’ve gone through my entire FB friend list and checked those I want in this category.  I now go to it regularly as the place to start.  I may get to the trending or most recent, but those I want to see get priority.

Focus on Family and Relationships:

Over the past four years of my life, my mother and my in-laws have died. It is that age in life (now I’m 60) when all rapidly changes.  I’ve decided that focusing on family has the greatest rewards and benefits. I know focus on my children, grandchildren, siblings, and my dad….who is the last. I love him and want to spend quality time with him. I’ve learned it all changes in a telephone call. I want to live my life with no regrets when asked to give a eulogy. No relationship regrets….say it all when the time is right and live it all when the moments are present. My dad, who is in his 80s, reminds me that every day is a gift…no guarantees. I am applying this wisdom to every relationship I have right now.  No waiting.

Attending to the work that matters:

As I said, I’m 60. I may have six to eight active working years remaining. I want to give value to these years. Thus I am focusing in my work on what matters to future generations. I have the privilege of working in higher education. My current focus is on reducing student debt through a major grant. I know that a student going to college will earn in a lifetime at least 50% more than those who do not. But that comes with a price they should also not have to bear. My work is now focused on helping them graduate with little to no debt. That is a major gift. Also, I am focusing on those things that will give me joy in my retirement years. Peter Drucker counseled to create your second career while in your first. I am focusing now more on research, writing, and those hobbies that I’ve had on the side for a few years. I am also attending to my financial matters of retirement. My wife and I know the realities of a less than well financed retirement as we have witnessed it in others we know and in family members. It is heartbreaking to watch…make this a priority of life from age twenty…it does matter.

Health:

What can I say…health matters. If you are not healthy all the rest is irrelevant. I’ve watched vibrant, active people reduced to a bed in semi conscious states and pain over this past year. When your health goes, all the rest is totally irrelevant.  Period.

I trust 2015 will be a great year for those who read this blog. I hope in it there is wisdom for yourself and others. I plan on continuing action on what I’ve learned in the last 381 days. May you also find what matters and stick to it. Grace and peace to you in this opening day of 2015.

Me & Christopher Columbus

Two hundred and twenty five days was all it took for the history changing voyage. Christopher Columbus set sail with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria from Palos, Spain on Aug 3, 1492 and by his return on March 15, 1493 had traversed round trip across the Atlantic Ocean, explored, named and claimed the Caribbean Islands for Ferdinand and Isabella, and opened the New World for future travelers. And as we say, “The rest is history.”

It’s been about 245 days since my last writing on May 11, 2012. I never meant to go that long in writing, but life unfolded in a way that has changed our family history and experience from this point forward. We have traversed uncharted waters for us personally and a new part of history is in the making.

My father-in-law died in late April, which little did we know would be the beginning of other events. By May 4, my wife had unexpected double bypass heart surgery with a summer spent recuperating; my in-laws’ house had to be cleared of all its contents so some future residents could make it their home; our daughter went off to college in August; and my mother -in-law moved further along the highway of dementia as she adjusted to her new home in a nursing facility.

Now with a full semester of teaching and administrative work complete at the graduate school I serve, all these things are reminders that my (our) world has changed significantly.
The older I get, the more I become aware that it is critical to savor the present moments because one’s “history” can be overwhelmingly reshaped in 200 days (give or take a few). Often we are lulled into a stupor of sameness believing that we have control over what will happen and we can guide the days to be similar in outcome from those of the past. But just as Columbus didn’t know he would lose two ships and survive a near mutiny, we do not know what each sunrise will bring in the hours that follow. A slip and fall three years ago which took nanoseconds broke my leg that now leaves me with a lifetime limp and daily ache. In a thirty second treadmill walk, my wife’s life changed with a rush from one hospital to another for open heart surgery. A telephone call in the night, a missed stoplight, being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” can change our worlds—our histories—forever.

I’m learning to hold each day as precious, not sweating the small stuff (as best I can), savoring each blessing I receive throughout the day, and spending time reflecting on the grace extended to me in a 24 hour period. It has made me somewhat more quiet and reflective—which I’ve been most of my life as an introvert—but now with a purpose, being more grateful and less judgmental of those around me than I had been throughout much of my life.

Christopher Columbus had a plan as do I. I have plans for the future that I hope will take me places that are good and the best for me, my family, and to those I am connected. But a lot of life is uncharted, providing adventure each day. So I’ve relearned the old “loose-tight” principle—holding onto things that matter as best I can but not so tightly that I edge into despair when the uncharted changes the course of life—at least for the moment.

Blessings to you all as you traverse open, uncharted waters of your own lives. May you mix courage to move forward in all life’s moments with the grace to learn all you can from each situation. May there be grace and peace in the next 245 days of our life.

Your Next 100 Days

A lot can happen in 100 days. I haven’t written to my website blog for the past 100 days and more for the purpose of watching what happens. I last wrote a blog on the verdict day of the Kaylee Anthony Trial….the loss of a child in a tragic concoction of human choices, law and public fascination with this case. It captivated us worldwide. Dr. Phil has tried to keep this all alive via interviews with prosecutors and the Anthony Family, but alas…we have other things on our minds.

We soon left the trial for the most recent of events coming onto the screens of our lives via media bytes focused on new ways to capture our viewing, Twitter and Facebook posts. We saw the fall of Libya, Egypt and a host of unrest in the Middle East. Iran is trying to keep secret their ongoing nuclear arming, Heavy D died, as did Joe Frazier, and the Greek economy fell apart. Herman Cain seems to have gone the way of many politicians with a sex scandal, an asteroid comes ‘close’ to hitting the earth, and a star falls as Joe Pa and the Lions are embroiled in a sad display of treatment of our children.

I could write a lot here about what distracts and attracts us as consumers of media….but the point of this all for me is that life happens….and this too shall pass.

Yep, life happens. It comes and goes and fills us with events of world importance that grab our attention and “must see TV,” but it is also filled with those things most personal in our lives that supersede even the hottest of topics. In these 100 days, in my own life, family members have received not-so-good health news, some have died, financial burdens reflective of the economy have continued to be at the fore, I have celebrated with new students coming into the college environment pursuing a life calling and eventual vocation, been to some birthday parties, basked in Thanksgiving festivities and food, laughed a lot, cried some, and….well you get the point. Life happens….it goes on….and it is both predictable and surprising all at once.

So, what do we do with all this? I am reminded of my many years of academic training, professional work and personal philosophy that we should live each day as powerfully as possible, making plans for what we hope will unfold in life, loving those near us, counting our blessings, not sweating the small stuff, and being merry…..because we don’t know what the next 100 days will bring. This is not about giving one’s life up to the ‘fates’ but remembering that life is filled with certitude and joy as well as unexpected and unwelcomed moments. It is choosing to live life with gratitude, peace, love, kindness, gentleness, and all those things “against which there are no laws,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. It is about being aware that we live in a tension of the present and the future; finding a way to navigate them both with purpose, hope, joy and contentment.

I know what has happened in my past 100 days…I can only imagine what I must be prepared for in the coming 100. And you know them, too. Ever stop and wonder, “What is about to happen in the next 100 days based on the past 100?” So, bask in your blessings today, make the best choices you can for this moment, hug those you care about, live well as Aristotle challenged us, and work to keep all things in perspective.

Blessings to you for this day, and those yet to come….grace and peace.
David Neidert