Living a Meaningful Life at Any Age, full force
By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—
In October, dad turned 90. I took my father, a gentle soul who is normally modest in words but very chatty on his big day, to breakfast at a diner. He had ham, eggs, and pancakes, long restricted due to diabetic and cholesterol concerns. He had a surprise dinner party later.
Dad had to be assured several times that the breakfast on this very special occasion wouldn’t bring forth the undertaker in an hour. He still thinks death happens to other people and will never catch up to him.
A near century of living provides perspective. In 1926, the year he was born, Winnie-the-Pooh was published and magician Harry Houdini died from a sucker punch. In the ’40s, Dad survived World War II and Nazi forced labor. Additional events occurring between 1926 and 2016, included other wars, economic recessions, and the daily bitter-sweet challenges of life.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws, though some states still have not formally repealed them. Housing, adoption, and employment are some areas where LGBTQ discrimination prevails in parts of the country.
A few decades ago when I attended law school, firms in liberal New York and Massachusetts were ambivalent and hesitant to employ someone openly LGBTQ. Many young lawyers in these states kept a low profile about their personal life in the workplace.
Today, huge progress has been made. There also remains enormous work in the area of civil and human rights. It can even seem overwhelming at times, especially when the rights that have been gained can be taken away by an irrational political mood. The next U.S. president may have four appointments to the Supreme Court. This could potentially cause setbacks for the LGBTQ community.
Sometimes personal challenges are best managed and understood by putting them in perspective either looking back on your life or reflecting on social and political history. The pain of heartbreak can be soothed by looking at what’s gone on in your past while knowing that you can move on and love again. The loss of a job is traumatic, but chances are it has happened before and somehow you carried on. The fight for LGBTQ equality today is very different than even 20 years ago, never mind its status in 1926.
Relying more on personal and historical perspective can calm and soothe. It also can help manage emotions and frustrations leading to more “transcendental” daily experiences. Perspective can help spiritually elevate us to a bird’s eye view of the forest, keeping us from being consumed by the thick darkness of walking in one.
I sometimes regret not having kept a journal. Ironically, it’s one of the bits of advice I offer in my inner wellbeing workshops. It’s not only cathartic to vent in the written word, but when you go back and review challenges that occurred years ago, you’re reminded that yes, you’ll overcome it; you’ve learned to manage challenges, and whatever difficulty you’re facing at this moment or on this day or this week, you will move beyond it.
Perspective is an uncomfortable reminder you shouldn’t put off making decisions waiting for something to fall into place. It may never happen. This is not to suggest you can’t make something happen, but free choice has its limits.
In 1942, Dad may have wondered if he’d make it through the war. Today, he’s 90. Prior to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling making a commitment to another person didn’t require marriage equality. The LGBTQ community didn’t wait for society’s approval to make personal commitments of love and fidelity. Life really is living in the moment without any guarantee of tomorrow or hoping the best laid plans come to fruition. That’s what perspective teaches.
*Paul is a corporate chaplain, lawyer in the Albany, NY area, and author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”