Timely reminders that spur me on

Column by Jim Bishop

“Precious time keeps slippin’ away
“You know you’re only king for a day …”
-Van Morrison

Electronic mail is a blessed time saver and accursed time waster. These days, the majority of my communiqués are received and transmitted with the assistance of remarkable computer technology. The medium is handy, speedy and usually effective.

(When was the last time you received a handwritten or typed first-class letter from anyone?).

Yes, I even send my supervisor in the adjacent office e-mail messages rather than sticking my head in the door.

The problem: I’m deluged with e-mail. I can scarcely keep up with it. Too many messages are of the “chain” variety – and that’s with a strong SPAM filter weeding out the dross – warning me that bad luck will be my Salem’s lot if not forwarded to a dozen of my closest friends.

Yet amid the many missives clamoring for attention, occasionally shines forth a bright literary gem like this one from novelist George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880) discovered at the bottom of an e-mail message: “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are – chaff and grain together – certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

This describes beautifully what I yearn for in my relationship with my dear companion of 40 years, wife Anna – when we somehow manage to grasp adequate time and space to have the kind of conversation that burrows beneath the superficial.

To have someone you can tell anything, knowing they will keep it confidential and won’t condemn you for what you’ve said – even forgive you when necessary – is a rare and precious gift.

In addition to a trusted personal confidant, I believe everyone needs some type of small group to meet with regularly to talk about what’s important in his or her life, to discuss and debate issues they’re dealing with – preferably before they become unmanageable – to give and receive council and to ensure accountability.

The value of such a group is directly proportional to the level of trust and open communication achieved, and I feel fortunate to be part of such a caring, supportive body.

I’m also heartened by the mentoring program at our church. When a young man or woman turns 13, they can choose someone from the congregation to arrange a mentor-mentee relationship for the duration of their junior-high/high-school years.

This doesn’t replace parental guidance, but provides young people in a critical development stage of life with a conduit to talk with and to fun and significant activities with.

If more youths/young adults had such a supplemental support system in place, I believe we’d experience a reduction in family conflicts, read fewer tragic headlines.

“Well this world is cruel with its twists and turns

“Well the fire’s still in me and the passion burns …”

The older I get, the more I recognize – even though not easy to accept – that the best learning experiences are those which don’t turn out the way I’d hoped, some even ending in failure.

This runs counter to the human desire to succeed in whatever one sets out to achieve, especially when we believe that we’ve given the effort our utmost, our best shot.

In the long run, what I learn from the unexpected or from that which is beyond my ability to control, often is counted among life’s most valuable lessons, even though at the time I might, like Job of old, be sitting in an ash heap on desolation row, wondering what I did to deserve this treatment.

Remember how that story ended: Job remained faithful despite his many sufferings, and God restored all his fortunes to twice what he had before and bestowed numerous other blessings.

“Say que sera, whatever will be

“But then I keep on searching for immortality …”

Some time ago, I received this electronic communication that smacked me up side the head: “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. 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.”

Indeed, I am blessed beyond compare, yet how often I grumble about things I don’t have or fantasize about being independently wealthy.

“Precious time is slippin’ away

“You know she’s only queen for a day …”

Having banged away a spell on the computer keyboard, I put my work aside and check my message inbox – two more screens of messages have arrived in the interim, awaiting replies.

So, it behooves me to read, sort, delete and determine my next priority, as writer T. Alexander Anderson reminds me, “I have enough time to do all that I choose to do today.”

Jim Bishop is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press.

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