Seasons change young man...

William Forrester William Forrester
Seasons do change. In another month, leaves will change colors not to gray like William Forrester and my hair has already but to a rainbow of colors. The summer is winding down, and we are preparing for the fall. Having said that, the winter solstice is lurking in the wings. For most of my readers, you understand this phenomenon at the intellectual level. However, most of you miss the sense of urgency to the coming winter...the coming of your winter. In this essay, I wish to teach you something that you will not understand or accept. I want those in your springtime, summer, or even your fall to come to grips with something that you cannot truly understand...yet. However, Forrester and I did not come to grips with that truth when we were fair-haired youths either and neither will you.

Nevertheless, that reality of you fully understanding will not stop me. It is the Don Quixote-esque in me. I will attempt, as did my friend, Forrester, to share with you a learning that in reality is unattainable if you are not in your winter of your lives. Those that are old and have danced with death are the only ones capable of gripping this knowledge. Nonetheless, trust me even though your minds have not been jolted into a fuller comprehension of life. How can you understand something that you have not even come close to experiencing?

Having said that, read this article. You will not fully understand what Forrester and I know due to our ages, but store our insight for a time closer to your winter. Forrester and I will be gone by then, but wrestle with that foretaste now.

Forrester tells Jamal, his writing student, that one understands more complexly as one gets older. Forrester and I are both aware that we see and understand life more fully now that we are in the winter of our lives. Indeed, because of this more encompassing Weltanschauung, there is much for both of us to do in a limited time remaining.

As I type out this essay, I can hear a crescendo of doubting Thomases out there saying, "I know that I will die; it is a given." I would respond that you could not really know your finiteness. You can approximate that reality by seeing family members or other people die, but you cannot fully absorb that knowledge in the season you are now.

Let me give you a personal illustration. My parents had three boys. I was the first and born in the midst of WWII. After the war, my parents had two more boys: Ken and Gary. All three of us were born about 4-years separating each of us. We came into a normal middle-class family. However, my mother had breast cancer when I was 10. It was not long after her radical mastectomy for the cancer that she developed a crippling case of rheumatoid arthritis and finally lupus. She dealt with lupus for a decade.

My mother died in her early 50s looking like a women in her mid-80s, weighing maybe 90 pounds, and hardly able to move. My father, who worked long hours to provide for his family, was well at her death or so we thought. However, within 6-months, he needed a triple bypass but had to settle for a double bypass due to the location of the other occlusion. He died after another decade and a half of suffering and pain. I knew more about death and dying than most kids growing up in America did. However, knowing has dimensionality. I knew at one level, which allowed me to see and prepare for their deaths.

Knowing that reality at one level caused me to exercise every day. In high school and college, I ran cross-country. I did not run, because I was a good runner; I was not. I ran because I knew that I did not want to die...not like my parents. In the half-century since being in shape in my high school and college days, I have used over the past half-century two different stationary bikes, a regular bike, two elliptical machines, a treadmill, and a kayak to stay in shape. Hardly a day goes by that I do not do 45-minutes of cardiovascular exercise. I worked out just a couple hours prior to starting this essay. I know that we will all die...someday. That reality has been with me for about 50 of my 70-years here on earth.

Having said that, I freely confess as I look back upon a half century of exercising that I did not fully understand my finiteness...until 2008. In that year, I did realize that I was truly finite. I danced with death and not merely watched others dance and die. I went to the University of Chicago Hospital for a robotic removal of my prostate due to cancer. However, the cancer had gotten outside the prostate. I returned a couple years later for two months of radiation. I go back every six months for PSA readings realizing that cancer is still lurking within me.

A couple months later, I fell off a ladder while painting our porch and hit my head on a concrete block wall around our patio. The blow to the head caused a subdural hematoma or what we know as bleeding in the brain. I was in ICU or intermediate ICU for a month and do not recall any moment in the hospital. Then I went to a rehabilitation hospital for another 3-weeks. Only the last half of that stay do I recall anything of my time there. Looking back upon my life, I know that I am terminal. It is surely only a matter of time.

Therefore, trust me. Unless you have danced with death, you cannot truly appreciate several things: your life has an end, the brevity of your life, and your clock is ticking louder and louder. Forrester could hear the clock ticking also and wrote this letter to his student, Jamal:

Dear Jamal, Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail or worse yet, afraid we may succeed. You need to know that while I knew so very early that you would realize your dreams, I never imagined I would once again realize my own. Seasons change young man, and while I may have waited until the winter of my life, to see the things I've seen this past year, there is no doubt I would have waited too long, had it not been for you.

Seasons changed for Forrester, and they will change for Jamal. Your seasons will change for you also. Trust me. Here are a handful of suggestions that I offer all my readers even though most of you will not get the urgency to these suggestions.

  1. Exercise. If you wish to get to the place of comprehension, you should exercise daily. I was so into exercise that I used this formula to determine my target pulse rate. Start with 220 and subtract your age. Then multiply that number by 60%. In my case, 220-70=150 x 60% = 90 beats per minute is my target pulse rate. I would exercise for 45-minutes every day and get to that target pulse rate. It is important not to exceed that rate during exercising. Many physicians believe that setting a target point is unnecessary. They will merely want you to exercise for 45-minutes every day without getting into doing all the math.
  2. Plan your time. If you wish to be the captain of your ship, you must plan your day. The alternative to you planning your day is that everyone else will plan it for you. I want to be honest with you; I have not done as great of a job planning as I have exercising. Nonetheless, even if you accomplish half your plans in your desired time slots, you will be happy and more productive. The types of planning tools are many. You can plan on an hourly basis tasks that need to be accomplished. Another planning technique is to write down a daily list starting with the most important task for that day at the top of the list, then the next most important, etc. Then start working on the list. Try both. Then pick the most productive one for you.
  3. Get involved in something important in life. Forrester picked Jamel. Since I have attention deficit disorder (ADD), my mind will jump around picking up all sorts of things that I think are important. One of them Forrester and I have in common is Scotland. The Scots are voting for independence from the United Kingdom on September 18, 2014...just over a year from now. I have written about a dozen and a half articles about the independence movement and done an interview about it on NPR in Chicago.
  4. Dream dreams. Forrester told Jamal, "Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail or worse yet, afraid we may succeed." Dreaming dreams is a two-fold issue. The first issue is to dream. However, Forrester tells Jamal that the next problem is that we are either afraid that we will fail to obtain our dreams, or we are afraid that we will succeed. There is almost a Pygmalion effect in our dreams. Ovid, a Roman writer, wrote a poem about a Greek sculptor, Pygmalion, who falls in love with the statue of a woman that he is sculpting. The story of Pygmalion predates Forrester by two millennia.
  5. There is power in dreaming the impossible dream. It worked for Pygmalion and for the Man of La Mancha, and it can work for each of us...provided we dream seemingly impossible dreams. Once we set the dream, we need to work hard to make the dream come true. Forrester cautions all of us not to procrastinate on realizing our dream by merely dreaming and not acting. Listen to Forrester's insight, "Most of you are too young to know what your wishes will be. But when I read these words...words of hope, dreams...I realize that the one wish that was granted to me, so late in life was the gift of friendship."
  6. Steve Biko, the great black anti-apartheid leader, said, "It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die." Biko danced with death as a young man living in South Africa under apartheid. His insight about freeing his people from oppression was uttered by a man that was well aware of the brevity of life inside a racist dictatorship in South Africa. Nonetheless, he acted in spite of the possibility of death, which did come on September 12, 1977. Now, the critical question that we must ask is whether his struggle against apartheid that for him ended in being beaten to death was worth it in hindsight. Did that man's death enable many others to live? We know what he thought; the question is what you think. Had you been in his position, what would you have done? Dancing with death allows you to see life far more clearly. Interestingly, the Man of La Mancha also understood this truth:

And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star...
This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...

  1. Pass on your learning to another that way you live on within the human family. Forrester redefines what it means to be a part of a family.

Losing family obliges us to find our family, not always the family that is our blood, but the family that can become our blood. And should we have the wisdom to open our door to this new family, we will find that the wishes we once had for the father who once guided us and the brother who once inspired us to those wishes...

Forrester and I want all our family to pass on our learnings and your learnings to the next generation.

An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

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Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

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Don Quixote

"Don Quixote"

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