Monday, August 24, 2015

Mentors for our journey to becoming

It’s hard to beat a good example---a role model who shows us how to deal with the good times, and more particularly the hard times. Many of us late-life travelers on the road to “becoming” appreciate that---having someone illustrate, by a life well-lived, how fruitful October, November, even December can be. It’s a fact, you know. The souls we choose to guide us will help shape our journey.

In that light can you think of a more inspiring sight than watching President Jimmy Carter smile his quiet, confident smile in the face of an intimidating future? Is there any doubt that you are witnessing a strong faith at work? In what is likely his personal December he is still showing us how to make the most of our time and energy, illuminating new pathways to becoming.

And beyond the trauma of his present situation consider the lasting legacy he has created. Whatever you thought of the man’s politics, there is no denying that he has been a prime example of how to live a productive and eventful life after the “main event” has come and gone---another proof that becoming is a life-long process. Though he rose all the way to the top, here he is making his December as important and meaningful in its own way as his September and October.

Take a moment to think about your own life journey. If you’re like me you’ve been retired so long that it’s hard to remember when you weren’t. Yet chances are you can still recall the giddy moment when you finally reached the end of that work-a-day rainbow. Since then, if you are among the lucky ones, you have had the time and opportunity to pursue at least some of the dreams you dreamed on the way to your October. I hope it’s worked out that way for you. 

But what about those late-life peers who complain of having too much time on their hands. Listening to them grumble I wonder why they ran out of reasons to keep going before they ran out of time. More to the point, don’t they realize that in a world full of possibilities we never stop “becoming”? We are always on the way to somewhere. In that case why not make the journey a productive one?

It’s true, we will never be able to do everything we dreamed of back then. Our world has changed. Our expectations are different. We have new goals to strive for. Besides, our capabilities have probably retreated a bit, perhaps more than a bit. The old ways of doing things may no longer work. But there are new ways that will.

We have learned that when circumstances change our responses need to reflect that new reality. We must adapt. We used that logic in our career, our parenting, and our relationships. Surprise! It also applies in retirement---one of the most important “change of circumstances” we will ever encounter. October and beyond is bound to be an unfamiliar world, with new rules and new challenges. If ever there was a time to trust our instincts and reach for the most inspiring role models we can find, this is it. 

I know there have been times when I’ve had to “adapt.” I’ll bet you’ve been in that space too---where the old ways were not as effective as they used to be, and better ones were hard to find. That happens at our stage of the game. I’ve probably spent more time than most focusing on October and its challenges. In the course of ten Tanner Chronicles novels I have explored many late-life speed bumps and their impact on October lives. 

I have dealt with loneliness and grieving, with disability and dementia, spending weeks at a time weaving those unsettling elements into a story. Along the way I have created friends that I consider October role models---who even in the worst of times trusted their instincts and never stopped becoming.

I suppose I have always been drawn to the imagery of the “role model,” a label I gladly assign to President Carter. On the other hand, the notion of “trusting our instincts” was one I had not explored until recently, when I read T D Jakes’ latest title---Instinct.

I sometimes make a big deal of “change.” It is, after all, an important part of October. So I was taken by Jakes’ way of addressing change---at any time of life, including retirement. The change he writes about is not an “off-the-shelf,”  “one-size-fits-all” process. Instead, he stresses the uniquely personal nature of change. For it to be successful it must focus on the individual ---on his or her history, preferences, expectations, and perhaps most surprisingly---his or her instincts. All that, of course, requires serious self-examination, something most of us resist. Yet, without an understanding of what makes us the person we are, how can we expect to create effective change?

I realize that for some T D Jakes’ reputation will precede him. He is, after all, a highly successful mega-church pastor who often writes on Christian topics. For some that can be a red flag. My take on such concerns is pretty simple. If you disagree with Jakes’ treatment of change, and the role instinct plays in that process, I assure you it won’t be because he has turned his case into a religious rant. There is nothing remotely approaching a sermon in the whole book---just his straight-forward explanation of the many ways our instincts impact change, or the lack of change.

Those of us who reside in an October world know the truth of it, change happens at every stage of life---no thing and no one stays the same. Our choice in the matter is rather simple---we can choose to play a part in directing our own change, or simply sit on the sidelines and accept whatever change comes our way. 

Perhaps you have decided to have a voice in the matter, but wonder how to make that happen. Should you model your response to change on The Donald---and the juvenile ravings of a geriatric egomaniac---or instead the quiet counsel of a caring role model? Personally I am swayed by Jimmy Carter’s example, and T D Jakes’ reasons for relying on my own instincts, along with my old friend Wayne Dyer’s thoughts on the power of intention---all of which urge me to continue my becoming, while retaining my role as co-author of my own story. 

In the end the choice is ours to make, dictated by our own soul prodding. But don’t forget, our choices and the way we live them are apt to influence those whose lives we impact, who like us are still becoming.

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