Jim Bishop: A mantle mantra for the next stage of the journey

Column by Jim Bishop

Preface: A man, desperately searching for the “right” church, slipped into the back pew just as the congregation intoned with the worship leader, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.”

“Thank goodness,” he exhaled, “I’ve found my crowd at last.”

Whether an actual anecdote or not, I can relate, for I find myself at this life stage, age 63 (how did I get here so fast?) harboring guilt feelings for my many good intentions that have remained exactly that.

Meantime, phrases like “retirement planning,” “long-term care insurance,” “Zocor refill” and “short term memory loss” monopolize my thoughts and vocabulary. I determine to read the fine print more carefully, check warranties and expiration dates, scrutinize my spending patterns and review and reorganize priorities. Certain issues that engaged many waking moments now seem less important.

I also ask practically every business place I patronize whether they offer a senior discount, wondering whether such gestures serve as a painful reminder of the aging process or as a reward for having survived the journey to this point.

I find myself scrutinizing the daily obituaries in the paper, my eye going immediately to the deceased’s name – is it someone I know? – then noting his or her age. I don’t think it’s my imagination playing tricks on me in noting that more and more of the dearly departed are close to my age, many a good bit younger.

In a chapel service the other day, the speaker reflected on significant experiences, persons and events that proved pivotal to his personal growth and faith pilgrimage, noting especially the important role that music has played, so to speak, at critical points along the way. I could identify, because hearing and singing certain songs speak so much to how I’m feeling, what I’m facing and give fresh encouragement for the journey.

At the close of his talk, the speaker invited listeners to jot down a personal response to the query, what’s something you feel you need to focus on in the days ahead

I wrote on my slip of paper: What must I do to live life more fully, openly and resolutely in whatever time I have remaining – not worrying unduly about what is or can’t be changed but focusing more completely on what can be?

I have a reminder sticker on my computer that reads, “If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of this world.”

Furthermore, “If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish somewhere you are among the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy.”

Wealthy? Never saw myself in that spotlight, but guess I qualify. I’ve tended to measure my “riches” by the barometer of relationships, physical and mental wellness, In this regard, I’m incredibly prosperous.

I struggle a lot these days in deciding what to reduce or eliminate from my hectic schedule. I believe I’m involved in more activities, projects and extracurriculars now than I was 20 years ago. Problem is, these are all things I enjoy doing and fear that those activities I may downsize are the very ones that energize and give greater meaning to more routine aspects of my life.

Recognizing the importance of periodic self-examination and adjusting the rudder, I hereby (publicly) declare in the days ahead:

-To keep an open mind, seeking to lower my amount of cranky brain waves, even as I fight my penchant for cynicism and snap judgments.

– To be more spontaneous, capricious, in making my daily rounds – no small feat for this churlish curmudgeon who likes things predictable, orderly and having a strong sense of knowing who’s in charge.

– To listen to more great classical music and hymns of faith while still clinging to songs I grew up with and continue to speak to me.

– To take more time to read reflective articles, to meditate, dream dreams, solicit advice from others, to offer prayers that are more confessional than petitioning.

-To be still and know (Psalm 46:10).

The older I get, the more I realize this verity: Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain – even if you think you have little sense of rhythm and two left feet.

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