Tag Archive | "life"

In Memory of Me

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We measure our lives in years, with calendar changes, birthdays, holidays, and other events functioning as milestones along our route from birth to death.  From day to day, life seems as if it may last forever.  Most of us, while in good health, give little thought to the fact that our lives will surely end.  And, that is the way that it should be, because those who dwell on their ultimate demise can never truly enjoy the gift that is life.


At certain times during life, however, it is appropriate to reflect on what has transpired during your days on this planet and what your life has meant to both yourself and others.  When I consider my own life, I think that I surely could have done and accomplished more.  My grandparents migrated from a different part of the world and established roots and raised families here, taking advantage of the freedom and opportunity synonymous with America.  My father and countless others of his generation answered the call to help defend our country and the world from the oppression of totalitarianism.


Thinking of others whom I personally know or with whose lives I have some knowledge or familiarity, I witness great accomplishment in science, technology, medicine, law, government, and a variety of other endeavors.  Considering the giants of history of whom I am aware, I envision men and women who took decisive action that contributed to shaping the world as we know it.  Surely, my own life pales in comparison.


Of course, history and our knowledge of other people in general have, as a component, a certain degree of fantasy or mythology.  The film version of one’s life can never capture all of the nuances that characterize the individual.  And, when one considers the life of another, one focuses on the defining moments in that life, not the multitude of personality traits, attitudes, demeanors, and the numerous other little things that, when viewed collectively, can alter one’s perception of another.  Additionally, people are defined by the times in which they live and the challenges they face.  Powerful adversity spurs people to greatness who, absent such challenge, would live lives of total anonymity.


Nonetheless, in viewing my own life, I must conclude that I have not been a good steward of my God-given talents.  And, I believe that most others who thoughtfully ponder their own lives and abilities may arrive at the same conclusion.  It is human nature to follow “the path of least resistance” and that path assuredly does not provide the impetus required to stir most of us from the state of lethargy in which we habitually reside.


William Shakespeare wrote “some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”  With due respect to Shakespeare, I do not believe that anyone is “great” simply by virtue of birth.  I do believe that, when challenged, most of us have within ourselves the resources to respond, if only we have the courage to summon and utilize them.  Without significant external motivation, however, it is up to each of us to manifest whatever “greatness” lies within us.  This has been both the challenge and difficulty that I and an entire generation of Americans pampered by abundance and relative peace and stability in the world have faced.


But, I and others like me still have time.  To various ancient Roman sources has been attributed the saying “Where there’s life there’s hope.”  Accomplishment and opportunities to use one’s talents are not exclusive to any particular stage of life.  Challenges and decisive moments in time are presented each day anew.


Our choices and actions in those yet to be defined moments may redefine us for ourselves as well as those who both have and will come to know and remember us, forever altering our own and others’ perceptions of our unique life stories.

What Might Have Been

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Strange bird that I am, I frequent the Starbucks in my office complex, yet refuse to drink their coffee.  I like their tea and Greek yogurt.  I can get my tea cheaper at a nearby 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts shop; I can get twice as much yogurt in the supermarket for what I pay Starbucks.   I patronize the king of the coffee magnates as the lights are low, the baristas cheery, and good music wafts through the air along with the warm tang of bubbling java.  Some mornings, I’ll sing along to an obscure oldie and not give a frog’s rump who hears me.  I do these things because Starbucks is a little oasis in the midst of the maddening crowd, a brief respite before my workday begins.


This morning in Starbucks, however, my serenity was shattered.  Just inside the door sat a woman, her newspaper spread-eagled on the table, her Grande brew growing cold beside it.  Long before 9 AM, she was barking orders into her cell phone loud enough to hear over the industrial-size coffee grinders.  Yammering on about deadlines, people who needed to be shoved in line, yada, yada, yada, it wasn’t just her discourteous cell phone abuse that irked me, it was her attitude, indeed, her perspective: everything had to be done now or the sky above her would collapse.  What was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until she’d sipped her coffee, scanned the Entertainment section, and left the rest of us in peace before bounding off to conquer the world?


With her face buried in the phone, I couldn’t get a clear glimpse of her.  And then it went through me like slow ice.  This faceless workaholic could have been me.  In fact, she was me, in days gone by.  It was one of those uncomfortable, surreal moments that we all live through.  A moment when you question how your life may have turned out had you continued on along the road you’d originally set out upon.  Would you be taking a crack at Corporate America, the way this woman was, the way a kid might demolish a piñata stuffed with goodies?  Or would you have walked away, as I did?  And the most discomforting question of all: who of us is better off for the choices she’s made?


Once an up-and-comer, I swam confidently in that Manhattan shark tank known outside the industry as the world of publishing.  Those who do not maneuver in this field assume it to be glamorous.  It is not, unless you run with the filthy rich and bear the title of Acquisitions Editor or better still, Publisher.  Producing a book or even a magazine is a lot of work.  Before pride in craftsmanship took a nosedive by way of desktop publishing, the normal turnaround time to transform a raw manuscript into a superior, richly illustrated hardcover was nine months. In the time that it takes to bring a child into the world, my associates and I labored over our printed progeny.


I hauled work home regularly and loved it, selecting and discarding halftones, slashing and rewriting lines, and creating page layouts that balanced logic with aesthetics.  In my early twenties, I crisscrossed the country regularly, proofing and overseeing the correction of blues in typesetters’ offices as the clock neared midnight and the maintenance crews vacuumed around me.  Sleeping in hotels face up and fully dressed like a corpse, I’d bolt to the plants the minute the printers sounded the alarm that we were about to go to press.  The sole female on the premises, I’d tick the pressmen off royally until the signatures flew off the giant web rollers perfect in register, depth of color, and pagination.


I plied my dubious charm along with my shaky high school French to negotiate the appearance of Van Gogh’s Irises on a botany text, and this was not the only dead artist’s estate I disturbed.  And I always succeeded: our covers were, literally, works of fine art.   Any vendor who did not step and fetch to my schedule, I cursed out in Italian.  Terrified that I’d put the evil eye on them — or worse, yank my business — they did my bidding.  I pinched production schedules until they doubled over backwards.  Finally free to take a vacation, I’d call the office to find out whether or not this, that, and the other had been done properly and on time.


I progressed to another publishing house where I juggled my official job, promotional writing for a domestic and international suite of professional journals, with my unofficial task of correcting the blunders of the production department on the West Coast.  I soothed the seething advertisers who’d been screwed by those blunders and then played the two largest ones against each other to quadruple (no lie) the revenue generated by one of the journals’ advertising sections.  I had a lovely corner office, for which my co-workers would have gladly backstabbed me, had I given them the opportunity (I’d overheard them on several occasions).  But unlike them, I was brutally honest and I do mean brutal, refusing to bootlick my way to the top.  Coupled with my expertise, this bohemian approach earned me two assistants, the respect of The Powers that Be, a decent salary with regular raises, and very generous bonuses.


And one day, all of that changed.


It wasn’t a stock market crash or a downsizing.  I won’t name the title of the person with whom I’d been speaking, but it was a higher-up.  A very much higher higher-up whose salary would have choked a horse had it been oats instead of dollars.  This person possessed one-tenth my knowledge and even less in terms of guts.  And yet, he’d reached the top of the corporate ladder because he’d kissed the feet of the Big Boys.  It occurred to me then and there that I could work for idiots the rest of my life, climbing that same ladder, or I could do what brought me joy: writing for a living in an environment bereft of bootlickers and backstabbers.


This revelation coincided with my husband’s transfer.  But his transfer would not have stopped me from remaining at my job had I so wished, for I could have commuted.  I secured a writing job in our new State with a much smaller company and gave up a bunch of perks.  I also gave up sleepless nights engendered by a piled-up desk, angry advertisers, and assistants who sometimes fought like cats and dogs.  I gave up business suits, cross-country flights, and a nice expense account.


Although I never returned to Corporate America, the woman in Starbucks this morning brought me back there for a brief moment.  Had I bitten the bullet, would I be living in my beloved Manhattan now instead of a place that cannot, on any level, hold a candle to that city?  Would I be living a more monetarily comfortable life, or would I have forsaken my integrity and perhaps my sanity for the Almighty Buck?  Might I have died early of a heart attack brought on by unmitigated stress?  Or might I have been a casualty of this recession, a cog in a very big wheel downsized to fatten a shrinking bottom line?  Is that what had happened to the woman in Starbucks, who was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, not a suit?   Was she business savvy or was she desperate?


I’ll never know — the same as I’ll never know what might have been, had I remained where I was.


Do you ever question where you were meant to be?   Does the thought of what might have been plague you?  For every choice we make and every gain we achieve, we experience a loss.  Do you ponder what you’ve allowed to slip away?  Or do you walk away as I did this morning, grateful for the tea and the new day, thinking, “Life is too short to look back.  Go forward and live it.” 

Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls

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bells-tolling2

This morning, as I was preparing for another working day, I noted on the crawler below a morning news show I regularly watch that the Swine Flu pandemic had claimed its first U.S. resident in Texas.  A normal part of my daily routine, reading that tidbit had no more impact upon me than any of the other pieces of data by which I was bombarded as I scanned various news, business, sports, and weather channels for information.

 

When I reached my office and turned on my computer, however, the picture on the headline story on my Internet homepage captured my attention.  It was that of a beautiful young woman and next to it the title “American with swine flu dies.”  As I read the story, I discovered that the victim, Judy Trunnell, was a 33-year-old teacher of disabled children who, during her two-week hospitalization for the illness, had given birth by Cesarean section to a health baby girl.

 

In that instant, the apathy I had felt toward the news earlier in the morning was transformed to genuine sadness.  Viewing the picture and learning something of Judy’s life had personalized her death for me.  Her story had somehow penetrated my own!

 

Each of us has our own life story, and we each star in our own stories.  We may have co-stars, a supporting cast of characters, a production crew, and walk-ons, but our stories revolve around each of us individually.  Sometimes, events external to us play a critical role in our stories, but just as often, external events have little or no impact.

 

As the stars of our own lives, we crave interaction with other lives and stories to share in their joys, but frequently try to shield ourselves from those stories that are painful by ignoring them.  No matter how much we try, however, lives and stories that we would prefer to avoid can and frequently do impact our own.

 

As citizens of the world and, by extension, the universe, we share our stories with every other living being at this unique moment in time.  When we realize that fact, we also come to believe that it is our responsibility to live our lives not merely for our own benefit, but for that of others as well.  Although this sentiment has been proclaimed by many, perhaps the English poet John Donne expressed it best when he wrote “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”

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