Octo Observations: From Head to Heart

Summer should be a time of carefree living, dashing off to the mountains or the beach and letting all winter doldrums flutter/wash away. That is as it should be. However, real life has an insidious way of interfering. The other day another friend passed away, all too soon. She was only 77, a beautiful, brave lady in every respect, who waged a valiant battle against pancreatic cancer for nearly two years. We were not close friends, but we liked each other, and when our paths crossed, we were glad. Her husband adored her, her two married children live nearby, and she was able to spend ample time with all her grandchildren. A blessing.

Why do I begin this story with news of losing a friend? Why do I begin with a story that is sad rather than upbeat? I believe it is because more and more I realize how important it is for Seniors to Carpe Diem. To embrace each day with eagerness, and to do whatever we can to live, learn, and grow as human beings. We CAN make a difference, we CAN impact the lives of others with positivity, with good cheer and with kindness and understanding. We CAN take the blinders off and broaden our horizons. We can be examples.

For young folk time stretches out in a seamless, never ending flow. Life is limitless, mortality is impossible to comprehend, and it is okay to be self-absorbed. Think of all the hurdles young people must vault: academically, socially, and physically. They are not meant to view life through a broad lens. Their own plates are exceedingly full. We cannot expect them to identify with how we think or feel at our ages. “Walking in our shoes” time of life is many decades into the future.

If there is one fact that becomes increasingly more critical to me, it is a yearning to be aware of the world around me, to view it with greater knowledge and more understanding. That is not to say that my deeply embedded values are diminished. They are simply more acute. I realize what I do NOT know: I realize that the world has changed dramatically since my youth. I realize that our young people are coping with challenges that did not exist when we were young.

Underneath this evolving “climate of change,” however, I wonder what role a person’s heart plays in guiding them wisely? In helping them make solid choices? In picking appropriate partners? As a young girl, I remember my mother saying, “Don’t let your heart rule your head.” True, as so very many young marriages, especially in today’s world, end up in divorce. My husband and I are very blessed. We learned early on in our 62 years that falling in love is easy, staying in love is harder. My mother also knew that to travel a smoother path in life, education is essential…and a good liberal arts education can open endless doors to the outside world of literature, art, science and history. A degree in history or government can lead to a career in law or teaching, just as a degree in psychics or chemistry can lead to a medical or even an engineering future.

Luckily my mom’s words have not gone unheeded. Although married at age 19 after only two years of college, I was blessed with a love for reading and keeping my eyes open to whatever opportunity to learn. During 12 moves in 20 years, my young husband John, our children and I lived in several different cities, including Salina, Kansas; Ottawa, Ontario; Mobile, Alabama; Armonk, New York; Livermore Falls, Maine. Adjusting to cultures in the north, south, east and west expanded our horizons, hence our learning. I may lack a college degree in English literature or European history, but I believe I earned a PhD in moving hither and yon with a husband and four young children! 

As years pass, and there is far more sand at the bottom of the hourglass, we older folks realize the importance of accumulated learning, be it from a book or from life. Recently a good friend, suggested that I write a piece encouraging young people to “interview” their grandparents. While gathering family history, this activity can enable understanding as well as greater  appreciation for life’s complicated journey. Talking in person to those who have gained wisdom from living long lives, well, that is something that is not learned in a book. Hearing stories of personal experiences adds to understanding plus first-hand knowledge of a life in a prior era, which if not shared, disappears with the deaths of those who lived it. 

I have loved opportunities “to interview” many of our grandchildren. The idea of their turning the tables and asking my husband and me to answer questions they have about our lives, our beliefs, our values, our marriage, well, hey! Terrific! It might reveal the reasons we react or think or believe as we do. It might explain why we are politically driven as we are, or why manners, values, religion, and learning are so important to us. Our youth was spent during a post Great Depression, WWII and Korean War time. Our young men were obligated to serve their country in one branch of the military. Most served willingly. Our life journeys exposed us to different challenges with limited opportunities to stay connected to far away family and friends. 

Traditionally, grandparents spend their time with grandchildren seeking better glimpses into their young lives. Attending sporting events, recitals, plays, etc., offering support and eagerness about what interests our youngsters is vital. We are eager to embrace their activities, their interests and their challenges and goals. Yet, we seldom share much of our own lives with them, unless illness intervenes, and they become concerned for our well-being. And frankly, most young people don’t bother to ask how we are, but are quick to tell us what is on their minds! Perhaps, offering an opportunity to sit with us, one on one, to think ahead, create a list of questions to ask is important. We might be surprised! Why not consider contacting those grandchildren or nieces and nephews you will see this summer, and ask how they like the idea of interviewing their older relatives. Such a reversed conversation could have wonderful ramifications. Who knows, this exercise could open their hearts wider and provide a few useful tools for their own lives…worth a thought or two.

A dear friend, diagnosed this month with a malignant tumor on her kidney, sent me a video made by a remarkable gentleman named Rick Rigsby. He is a large burly black man (whose size seems more suitable to a football tackle than a committed student) with an infectious smile and endlessly positive spirit. He earned a BA in Mass Communications followed by a Masters and PhD in Public Communications. Raised in San Francisco and inspired by the wise words of his father, a third-grade drop-out working as a cook, Rick Rigsby emulates his father’s simple but powerful beliefs.  He has served others as a minister, an author, a college professor, and is now a motivational speaker, and owner of his Dallas based business, Rick Rigsby Communications. In his memorable 2017 motivational speech (gone viral on YouTube) at California University Maritime Academy, Rick shares his father’s words of wisdom now contained in his five-star book: Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout: How The Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation. (I am ordering this for us and as Summer Surprises from Grammy for our grandchildren.)

Here is one quote from Rick’s book that might pique your interest:
“Hearing tells you the music is playing. Listening tells you what the song is saying!”

Thus, let’s be creative. Let’s take advantage of summer leisure time, be it enjoying the beach or high mountains or home. Let life flow as it will. We cannot change the inevitable. Instead, let’s let our heads lead our hearts. Let’s widen our worlds. Let’s open every door we can to a more meaningful life by taking pleasure in each new day, each new experience, and each new chance to enrich our lives and those whom we love. Lend a listening ear to those struggling with new challenges, new losses, new crossroads in life. Let’s be pro-active with our progeny…let’s flip the tables on them and let them know US better, while we continue to love THEM more wisely. 

Two quotes to ponder this summer as you reach out to loved ones:

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”  Nelson Mandela

“He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”   St. Francis of Assisi

Yes, wisdom matters. In the long run, isn’t it the ultimate answer to so many conundrums of life? Perchance.

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock