The Second 50

Living the good life

Author: admin (page 3 of 3)

“Dress Right, Dress”

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated”; so said the 19th Century Irish playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde. While I will address the latter half of the renowned bard’s proclamation in a future post, I am in full agreement with him regarding the importance of one dressing for success. Now, this is not to say I have always embraced the certainty of this decree with the same level of enthusiasm I do today, but in the words of ancient Syrian-Latin writer, Publilius Syrus, “It is better to learn late than never.”

For most of my adult life – 31 years of it to be exact – attire was a fait accompli for me. Wearing a uniform to work had many advantages not the least of which, eliminating the burden of having to match colors, coordinate patterns and allowing me the freedom of turning a blind eye to cultus trends and style changes. All good things must end, however, and in 2010 when I retired from the U.S. Army and entered the private work force, I was struck by the harsh reality that my paucity of these insights had me at a real disadvantage.

When I left the Army I did not even own tie much less a suit. Wardrobe shopping proved to be a daunting task. One especially benumbing to a fashion tenderfoot like me; a neophyte totally lacking the moxie and finesse to identify trendy attire or build a functional, much less, swank wardrobe. That I could craft a sporty tie knot – a perk borne from eight years of Catholic school – and despite the aforesaid Mr. Wilde once proclaiming “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life”, I felt no less the failure. Truth known, my collection of mufti was quite pathetic.

 As anyone in my family can attest, for years I envisioned driving one of the park buses at Disney World as the ultimate retirement gig (seriously, I did.) Ironically, had I followed this calling, the acquisition of rakish toggery and genteel raiment would have not been a thought much less a priority. Alas, however, as American journalist, Allen Saunders noted, “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” and life, for me, did not include rocking a bus driver lid and humming “It’s a Small World After All” to my heart’s content.

Instead, fate, along with the retirement gods, conspired to send me into the corporate workforce.   While my Army career provided me with the acumen, experience and leadership qualities necessary to make the transition and act the part, I was woefully unprepared to dress the part. Enter my wife, Kate, who threw me a lifeline just as I was on the precipice of fashion abyss, and with some help from a timely sale at Jos. A. Bank (admittedly this is redundant as Bank is a synonym for “sale”) saved me the mental anguish of being out of vogue and utterly void of chic sophistication.

While I exited that initial foray into the world of business attire shopping in decent standing – five tailored suits, a handful of button downs, a bundle of colorful and stylish cravats, wing tips and loafers (one of each color than you very much) – it was by no means an easy slough. Stealing a phrase from psychologist, Barry Schwartz’s book, I had a real “Paradox of Choices” on my hands and was inundated and in some ways, immobilized, by a plethora of colors, hues, patterns, styles, fabrics and opinions.

Again, Kate answered my silent plea for help and I somehow navigated thru the complexities of selection. I emerged from the store in estimable standing but my respectability came at a very steep cost; $5,000 to be exact! Author, Charles Hix, wrote that “Looking good isn’t self-importance; it’s self-respect.” To that I would add it’s also damn expensive!

That was then, this is now. With seven years of style shopping now under my hat – thanks to my daughter, Jenna, a very bohemian fedora – I consider myself quite the natty dresser and accessorizer. Rolling Stone legend, Keith Richards, once noted “You don’t find a style. A style finds you.” Words I have taken to heart.

While true my mug will never appear on any “Best Dressed Lists” and my wardrobe would be considered eclectic, idiosyncratic or even ill-conceived by some, it is a style I have come to embrace as uniquely me. In this regard, I embrace the movie legend, Orson Welles, screed, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

Along the way I have discovered that in some strange way, paying attention to the way I dress and investing time in the way I look makes me feel younger; or at the least, more relevant. Embracing current trends and voguish genres has a cathartic effect on my mindset and in some quaint way, inspires me.

From that modest investment of five suits less than a decade ago, my ever expanding boudoir now claims among its inhabitants, over 100 ties – mostly silk – forty or so dress shirts – mostly French cuff to accommodate my vast collection of symbolic and fun cuff links, mind you – and a dozen pair of quality footwear (Cole Haan of course.) I have over 50 pair of socks in a multitude of colors and patterns and an assortment of hued shoe laces that would make a Vincent van Gogh’s pallet green with envy. That they are all on hand to match my shirt and the primary shades of my tie should go without saying.

People have commented that my style of dress is hip and as such makes me look younger. While flattering, appearing less than my 58 years is not my ultimate objective. For me, feeling younger and better about myself is the essential goal and one that can only enhance my quality of life. My favorite poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once opined “Being perfectly well-dressed gives one a tranquility that no religion can bestow.” To that I can only add, amen Mr. Emerson and pass the Johnston & Murphy catalog.

 Dress the part, find your style and rock it with pride because “Life does not end at the Half Century mark. It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”

“Quotable Quotes”

If you have read any of the five weblog entries I have scribed to date or been around me for longer than a day, you can attest to my fondness for quotes. They have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember.

As a young boy in the 1960s, I recall being mesmerized by President Kennedy’s call “Ask not what you country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” many years before I really truly understood the significance of his challenge. Likewise, I found Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” proclamation stirring long before I could really fully grasp the totality of the injustices that inspired his call to action.

Since then, my appreciation for quotes has grown with the years. The older I get, the more my narratives – be they verbal or written – are sprinkled and peppered with sayings, maxims, adages, aphorisms and precepts; some wise, others whimsical; many astute, a few obtuse; both eloquent and conversely, dispassionate; profound and sublime; funny and sad. That’s the beauty of quotes; they exist for every occasion. Their diversity, in fact, is rivaled only by their versatility of application.

I have discovered there are quotes for virtually every occasion, activity, occurrence, mood or ambiance. Quotes are effective for underscoring a point, providing uplift to a sour mood, bolstering morale, instilling confidence, providing enlightenment, accentuating a crucial point. They can deliver sagacious insight or exist as statements of the blinding obvious. They celebrate happy events; emphasize somber circumstances.

Quotes observe love, death, happiness, sorrow; they inspire, motivate, challenge, embolden, stir and encourage. They cause one to ponder the unimaginable and conversely, appreciate that which we sometimes take for granted. Quotes motivate us to think outside the box and also realize those “ah ha!” moments that are the by-product of quiet introspection.

In the role of Dad, I have used quotes to amplify life lessons and to denote to my children those qualities and characteristics I feel crucial towards achieving success and guidance as a means of navigating life uncertainties. As a husband, I have at times exploited quotes to augment my prose when my imagination faltered and shamelessly leveraged choice passages to curry forgiveness.

In my professional career, first as an Army officer and now as a project manager of a program charged with training Department of Defense civilian professionals for deployment to Afghanistan and similar hot spots around the globe, quotes are a mechanism I have used to motivate, inspire, challenge and foment excitement. They rarely fail to hit the mark or deliver the intended effect.

Throughout my life I have uttered, written, or typed a thousand quotes. The number of luminaries I have plagiarized is equally stout in number. Included within the ranks of those whose thoughts or musings I have appropriated are poets, (Longfellow, Emerson are go-to guys) songwriters (Dylan, by far), philosophers (James, Thoreau, Descartes to name a few), Presidents (I have probably quoted each of them at least once but Theodore Roosevelt more than the other 44 combined) and other political dignitaries both foreign and domestic, novelists, essayists, pundits, sports figures, icons; the illustrious and the infamous. The list goes on.

Ok, by now I suspect you have gotten the point. I dig quotes! So, rather than have me ramble on, I will dispense from my usual exercise in verbosity of prose – after all, I believe it was Shakespeare who wrote “Brevity is the soul of wit” – and provide you instead, a sampling of some of my favorite quotes. Enjoy and feel free to inject into your daily discourse because Life does not end at the Half Century mark.  It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”   

This blog entry is dedicated to Bojana Andrejevic. At work, she is my deputy, executive officer, confidant and battle buddy; the cement that holds the operation together. Outside the office, a source of inspiration and the catalyst behind my foray into the world of blogging. Хвала ти мој прелеп пријатељ!

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize AND the Medal of Honor 

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American essayist and poet 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of the Civil Rights Movement and one of the Greatest Americans of the 20th Century 

“Keep your faces always towards the sunshine, and the shadows will fall behind you” – Walt Whitman, American poet 

“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better” – Senator Robert F. Kennedy 

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”   – Henry David Thoreau, American poet

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”  – Henry David Thoreau

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”   – French laureate and author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” – American journalist, Allen Saunders and also paraphrased by the late John Lennon in his song “Beautiful Boy.”

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Alexander Graham Bell, American inventor

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States

”Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt

“Teamwork is the secret that makes common people achieve an uncommon result.” – Nigerian author, Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha 

“Talent wins games but teamwork wins championships.”   – NBA Hall of Famer, Michael “Air” Jordan

Persuasion is often more effectual than force.” and “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Ancient Greek fabulist, Aesop

“For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” – African Proverb

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ­ – English poet, Alexander Pope

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom” – Bob Dylan, American Songwriter and The Voice of a Generation

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  – American iconic auto industrialist and inventor, Henry Ford

“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.”  -Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize AND the Medal of Honor

“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.”  – William James, 19th Century American psychologist

“Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.”  – William James

“Accomplishment will prove to be a journey not a destination.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, World War II

“There is nothing so far removed from us to be beyond our reach, or so far hidden that we cannot discover it.” – 17th Century French philosopher, René Descartes

“Don’t count the days, make the days count.”  – Muhammad Ali, iconic boxing legend and The Greatest of All Time

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”   – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th Century American essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  U.S. Army CSM (ret) Mack Vereen (My first Army mentor)

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” – Second First Lady of the United States, Abigail Adams

L’inspiration vient de travailler tous les jours” (“Inspiration comes of working every day”) – French poet and essayist, Charles Pierre Baudelaire

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” – The 18th Century German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” – Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

“Pets: The Perfect Companions”

The more mature I get, the more I realize the importance of companionship. Growing up, my immediate family met this need with my oldest sister being both best friend and closest companion. The transition to adulthood changed this dynamic. Marriage, children and the migration germane to an Army career put distance between me, my parents and siblings; a wife and kids became my new closet companions. Now that the offspring are, for the most part gone, the void that was once filled by their presence is now occupied by a trio of four-legged companions who have taken their place.  

The French novelist, Colette, remarked “Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet” and I could not agree more. I am not alone in my concurrence of the noted Parisian’s comment as statistically speaking a pet can be found in 85 million US households. In 72% of those domiciles, a cat or dog is the animal of choice; 78 million felines and canines in all. Stated another way, 85 million American families own at least one pet; 39% of which are dogs. (I promise no more math; no more statistics!)

 There are many hypotheses – scientific, anthropological, evolutionary, and otherwise – that attempt to explain the human affinity for pets. With deference to academia, however, I feel the reason for this unique fondness was best captured by 19th Century English novelist and poet, George Elliott, when she penned, “Animals are such agreeable friends. They ask no questions, they pass no criticism.”

One peek into the Reynolds home and you will find our companions of choice are a triad of pups: Two King Charles Spaniels and an American Bulldog to be exact. Each, bona fide family members, no less pampered, no less loved and no less enjoyed than the “siblings” whose place they’ve taken.

True to the poet Elliot’s words, these three have never passed a critique nor offered a criticism. No questions either. Instead, this trinity of canines seeks nothing but constant, yet winsome, demands for attention and an equally steady expectation of food, fun and frivolity. Oh yeah, and an endless supply of chew toys and snacks.

These expectations are but a small price to pay for what I gain in return. For me, the rewards reaped having them in my life are limitless. The older I get, the more I appreciate the critical role these companions play maintaining the harmony and balance in my life. They are the perfect pick-me-up for a bad day. They never cease to make me smile and are many times likely to make me laugh out loud at their ceaseless shenanigans and animated tomfoolery.

More than just source of mirth, merriment and joy, my three pups also provide me a sense of tranquility in the face of tumult, turn frowns into smiles, pick me up when I am down, give me comfort and solace when most in need. That my faithful companions are able to do this minus the ability to utter a single syllable reminds me of poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s passage, “He speaketh not; and yet there lies conversation in his eyes.”

Of course, all of these remarkable talents my canine companions exhibit with boundless frequency pale in comparison to their greatest characteristic, loyalty. None of the trio have ever lied to or misled me, left me in a lurch, failed to follow thru or promised something they could not deliver. Everywhere I go, they shadow me with relentless doggedness (pun, shamefully intended) never resting beyond my arm length’s reach (although I suspect maintaining proximity to the hand that typically holds a snack for them has much more to do with this than an obligation for closeness.)

The canine’s penchant for owner loyalty is a recognized and well documented truism. From my perspective, a characteristic that solidifies in my mind a dog’s standing as the ultimate companion. As I age, the steadfastness of this conviction anneals with the passage of time. At this epoch of my existence, my pups are, with a few human exceptions, the closest companions in my life.

I have been known to quip that I like dogs better than most people. Those who know me well keenly note this comment is more an oath than a wisecrack. Anatole France, a French man of letters and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921, beautifully observed “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” As I progress along the timeline of life, the more awakened I become.  

If you have never experienced Monsieur France’s epiphany, I encourage you to do so. It is never too late because “Life does not end at the Half Century mark.  It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”  

 This blog is dedicated to Paisley, Lacy Belle and Phoebe Nicks; a trio of four-legged companions whose ceaseless loyalty and unbridled affection add an immeasurable dose of serenity to my life.

“Good Luck or Good Work?”

Do we make our own good luck or does good luck make us? Though hardly the philosophical question of the ages, it is arguably a legitimate query and one that I suspect has been the basis of conversation many people have engaged in at least once in their lifetime. I am not ashamed to admit that on occasion, I have singled out bad luck as the culprit for the number of the setbacks encountered in my 58 years on this planet. And, I suspect I am not alone when it comes to associating disappointing results with a lack of good luck.

For me, the blame game started early. As a young boy, I can clearly recall being upset finding out that my best friend and his family were headed to the Pocono Mountains for a camping vacation. As usual, there was no summer vacation planned for the Reynolds family, to which I whined to my Mom with a noticeable degree of irritation, “How come we’re not that lucky?”

Fortunately for me, my luck did change the following year as my parents surprised us with a trip to Disneyland, California! In my mind, this fortunate turn of events had everything to do with good luck. Lost on me of course was the fact my Dad worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week to earn the money to take us. His work ethic alone scored us that trip. If luck was involved it was only as a byproduct of my Dad’s tireless and determined efforts.

American poet and leader of the Transcendentalist Movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson, opined with his trademark eloquence, “Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.” This quote personifies with great accuracy the example of the Reynolds Clan’s Disney retreat.   My Dad’s “tenacity of purpose” was the actual catalyst that caused our familial luck to change, not a sudden realignment of the stars and certainly not my shrill lament. Good luck was made, not bestowed.

William James, 19th Century psychologist, and leader of the philosophical movement of Pragmatism made an even more profound observation when he stated: “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.” This is a statement that speaks to the true crux of the question.

I have noticed over the years that a change of mindset is many times the only tonic necessary to usher in positivity into one’s life. Adversity can become good fortune with an adjustment of attitude; by removing peripheral blinders that cause tunnel-vision, one is capable of turning a negative into a positive.  Good luck is earned; it is not an entitlement.

One of America’s first great sages, co-author of the “Declaration of Independence” and 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, noted “I am a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” This has been guiding mantra for most of my adult life.

Far from being the brightest in any classroom during my youth (I was a tad intellectually lazy in my formative years), never rising above the Mendoza Line in any sports activity as a kid (though I did letter in wrestling); looking back, an underachiever whilst in the springtime of my adolescence.   Fortunately, for me though, I had an epiphany of sorts my senior year in high school, and began to apply myself.

Although too late to secure a GPA anywhere near what was required to get into college – not really much of a setback since I lacked the cash to foot the bill anyway – my awakening to the importance of applying oneself to academic endeavors did pay dividends and a few years after graduating from high school, as I was able to take, and pass with quite a respectable score, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.

A friend of mine at the time who did not score so well said I was lucky. Looking back now, through a 37 year old lens, I can admit with total assuredness, it was way more arduous work and effort than cracking fortune that set the conditions for my success. This has been the case for most of my life and if you are being honest with yourself, I suspect the same is true for most, if not, all of you.

Don’t short your accomplishments and life’s successes. Good luck did not pave the way for your accomplishment anymore that bad luck constrained your ability to secure great achievement. For the most part, you alone are the architect of your position in life.

While true, circumstances can conspire to undermine the best intentions, most any hurdle or setback is surmountable when the right amount of “tenacity of purpose” is applied. For in the esteemed words of one of America’s Greatest Founders, Benjamin Franklin, “Diligence is the mother of good luck.”

Remember, you alone possess the power to create your own good luck. In a statement that is as true today as when it was proclaimed 2,000 years ago by Roman philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca: “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.”

And, always remember, “Life does not end at the Half Century mark.  It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”  

This blog entry is dedicated to my Dad, George Reynolds, Jr., who instilled in me the qualities of tenacity of purpose and diligence of effort. The hardest working person I have ever known, his example paved the way for my life’s achievement. Regardless of the setback, I have never given up; only because I have never seen him give up.

 

 

“Keep Calm and Exercise”

My family and closest friends know all too well of my affinity for President Theodore Roosevelt. While there are a multitude of reasons driving my admiration for this tremendously amazing American, one of the most profound is by far, the unbridled and fathomless zest he demonstrated for the arduous task. His own words best capture the essence of this passion: ”I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life.”

It is hard to imagine a person living a more full and accomplished life than our 26th President. Like Roosevelt, I have grown to appreciate the importance of hard work towards the attainment of success in life’s endeavors. And, I am also keenly aware of the enormous benefits embracing the “strenuous life” can provide in terms of reducing personal stress and enhancing mental fitness and physical well being.

For me, working out is just as important as eating and sleeping in the pyramid of critical functions I need to do on a daily basis to facilitate the circle of life. In fact, as my wife and a smattering of my closest friends know, I will gladly forgo sleep in order to get my time in the gym.

By friends and family members alike, I have been called “obsessed” because of my passion for working out. Far from being aggrieved though, I have insulated myself from these well intended barbs by pledging allegiance to an anonymous quote I stumbled upon a few years back – “Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated” – and finding great comfort in the physique staring back at me during my daily appearances in front of my bathroom mirror (to shave of course, nothing more grandiloquent.)   As I noted in an earlier post, though I realize the futility of trying to reverse the hands of time, I do believe it is possible to slow down the trickle of sand rushing thru life’s hourglass.

So, working out is a very important part of my daily routine and has been a steadfast habit for much of my adult life. While it would be easy for me to blame the Army for this passion, truth be told, it is a self-inflicted “wound” borne of a strong need to stay active and an even more pervasive desire to retain a level of fitness adequate to enjoy my life to the absolute fullest.

For me, nothing can supplant two hours in the gym as the perfect tonic for getting right with the world. Whether it’s reducing my tension level, clearing my mind, providing me time to ponder life’s great mysteries or alleviating my guilt from finishing off a full bottle of syrah the night before, hitting the weights and elliptical is the ultimate curative.

Seven days a week is the rhythm that I have adopted and one that serves me well. Admittedly, some would deem this regime extreme and it certainly flies in the face of conventional workout wisdom which mandates: Take at least 1 full day off per week from all forms of exercise. Nonconformity aside, though, for me, every day I wake up presents a valid reason to hit the gym. For me, working out is a reward, not a punishment. Like the Arctic Circle to Superman, the gym is my “Fortress of Solitude.”

The 18th Century French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau claimed, “A feeble body weakens the mind.” I could not agree more. I so believe in the benefits of exercise that I encourage all of you who are not doing so to please give it a try. Make no mistake, I am not imploring any of you to stop what you are doing and rush out to your local YMCA – geez, I cannot even type those four letters without subconsciously starting to sing along in harmony like some sixth member of the Village People – or grab a lifetime membership to Anytime Fitness (my exercise sanctuary of choice.)

Instead, I am simply asking you seize hold of an activity, any athletic function that appeals to you, one that ideally you find enjoyable and fun to do and one that raises you heart rate and causes you to sweat. (After all, sweat is nothing more than fat crying or for the more sensitive; the more you sweat during a workout the less you will cry on the scale.)   Find something you enjoy and a balance you can maintain and embrace it. It is never too late to initiate a call to action.

If you take this challenge, I promise you will feel better, think better, function better and yes, live better.

Stealing a promo line from Nike, “Success isn’t given. It’s earned. On the track, on the field and in the gym; with blood, sweat and the occasional tear.”

And always remember, “Life does not end at the Half Century mark.  It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”  

This blog entry is dedicated to my Mom, Jeanette Reynolds, who at age 75, walks 90 minutes a day, every day, as she has for the last 30 years!

“To Read or Not to Read”

President Theodore Roosevelt, as the author of over 35 books and hundreds of thousands letters and articles, no stranger to the import of the written word, once opined “I am part of everything that I have read.”  If this assertion is true – and far be it from me to call into question the veracity of any statement uttered by one of the most accomplished American public figures of the last 150 years – then my literary DNA is an eclectic hodgepodge of biological elements spanning the entire spectrum of themes and substance but one surprisingly devoid of any snobbish merit.

Bitten by the reading bug early in life, by my own conservative estimate I have read over 9,500 books in my lifetime.  And, while I liked to say the majority of the titles I perused are of the pedigree one would expect to find in a grouping of “All-Time Must Read Titles”, sadly, such is not the case.  I have not read any Twain or Orwell; never picked up an Austen or Brontë; hell, I am not sure if I have ever read any classic from start to finish.  “Moby Dick”; could not get past the first two chapters.  “Homer”?  Sad to say, I opted for the Cliff Notes (even that was a very hard slough.)  “Of Mice and Men”? The movie was great; the book, could not tell you as I never finished the read.    The last Hemingway book I turned the pages of was the first and from my perspective, far from worth the effort.

This disclaimer established I do not want anyone to think I spent most of my entire adult life squandering away untold hours wastefully reading sophomoric drivel, the bunk of fools and the poppycock and twaddle of amateurish scribes.  Far from it!   While a large slice of the nearly 10,000 books I have read may never have sniffed a “NY Times Best Seller List” much less been on one, this is not to say that for me, the time spent reading was not an endeavor of benefit.

To the contrary, I will argue that with every book I have read – ok, perhaps with the exception of “The Executioner #15, “Panic in Philly” – I have grown, mentally and intellectually. Every second spent reading, regardless of the subject matter, author, narrative, tone or mastery of the five components of effective writing has developed me as a person; my imagination has been stimulated and my ability to see, grasp, and appreciate topics, themes, opinions, pejoratives and biases has developed and expanded exponentially.

In short, reading has been crucial to setting the conditions for any success I have achieved in life.  Much more than intellectual growth and the enlivenment and kindling of imagination reading has delivered to me during my decades spent as a bookworm, this catechism of learning pales in comparison to what I have gained from my fascination with books in terms stress relief and tension reduction.

This was no more important to me than during the nearly seven years I spent deployed to three wars during my Army and Department of Defense civilian career. Alone and away from family in a combat zone and prohibited to partake in two of the most basic stress relief outlets – sex and alcohol – by General Order #1, I was forced like so many others to find alternative outlets to mollify my stress levels.   For me, the panacea was two-fold: Working out (the topic of a future blog entry) and reading. Both served me very well as an effective tonic for controlling the maddening and exasperating apprehensions caused by operating and living in demanding environments and in the face of perennial danger.

Though those days are behind me now, I still find reading to be the perfect curative for keeping the specter of stress at bay. The 18th Century French philosopher, Montesquieu proclaimed, “I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve” and I could not agree more. When feeling overwhelmed or having a particularly bad day nothing allows me to gain a sense of balance, regain mental composure and afford my overtaxed emotions an opportunity to “chill out” quicker than breaking the spine of a book. If not a book, then a magazine or an essay; hell, even a blog will do! Whatever the forum of your choice, I implore you adopt this practice as part of your life wellness protocol. You will not regret the decision.

Controlling stress is a critical element of enhancing one’s mental fitness and wholeness of life. I have found that reading is a keen component of my stress relief remedy. I encourage you to try the same. It is never too late to discover the art of reading.   And remember, while reading the great classics should always be a goal, any prose that allows you to escape into your imagination or provide momentary relief from life’s trials and tribulations is always the perfect start point.

It is never too late to pick up a good habit like reading.  Because “Life does not end at the Half Century mark.  It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”  

 

The Second 50

Life is all about milestones.  By and large, humans are fixated on celebrating special dates, key events and important moments in their lives; conditioned to memorialize these episodes of being with unyielding diligence.  The annual birthday celebration is a fine example of this obsession.  In addition to taxes, birthdays are one of a select few annual occurrences each of us will experience with yearly regularity.  And, like taxes, many people view their birthday with the same degree of feckless indifference as the annual April 15th appointment with the tax man; a feeling that intensifies for many with age.

I was certainly among this cheerless coterie of birthday scoffers.  In fairness, as a young child, August 20th was THE most important date on the calendar for me.  It was my unique day and each year marked another step towards my next significant benchmark.  My birthday was “the most special day” and one I looked forward to with excitement and anticipation thru my childhood and as I passed those bellwether ages: First, 16, then a quick leap into 18, and finally, the most conspicuous of all,  21.  This passage of lines into legal adulthood, however, marked the beginning of the end of my affinity for my birthday; a sad phenomenon shared by many I have found.

In honesty, I didn’t stop celebrating the birthdays that followed my 21st, nor did I scorn the cards, gifts and well wishes or shy away  from the occasional party, surprise or otherwise, that came my way each August (I am a birthday cake fanatic after all.)  Truth be known, the luster of this event, for me, was worn dull with each passing year and the significance of the happening became more a foreboding reminder of mortality than a celebration of life and an ephemeris collection of accomplishments. 

The transition from 29 to 30, was for me, a difficult hurdle to clear.  Made more onerous given it was around the same time I heard the sentence that has struck fear in the hearts of men for millennia:  “It looks like your hair is thinning.”  But, tenacious soul that I am, I survived my 30th birthday – discovering Rogaine along way – and spent the remainder of the next decade avoiding at all costs, any thoughts of turning 40.  Along the way, I ditched the Rogaine – my quickly receding hairline proved too much the match for the wonder drugs avouched powers – and embraced the inevitable.  Pragmatically, I assuaged my bruised ego telling myself if Mr. Clean could rock the bald pate then so could I. 

I will not lie, for most of my 30s, the specter of hitting 40 hung over my head like the Sword of Damocles.  To say I was intimidated by the prospects of turning 40 would be the understatement of the century; akin to saying the University of Alabama has a mediocre football program (Roll Tide, Roll!)  As a young Army captain, I attended the 40th birthday party of a friend of mine and can vividly recall thinking aghast, “his life is over, he probably can’t even have sex anymore” (this was years before the other wonder drug, Viagra, hit the shelves) so that was my point of reference.  But, 40 came for me and somehow I survived the ordeal.  Truth be known, I hated the black balloons,  the black cake icing and the well intended but woefully tiresome “over the hill jokes” but I prevailed.    

My perseverance, however, bought me nothing but the start of an inevitable decade sojourn down the pernicious path to The Big Five Oh!!!!!  The point of no return; the beginning of the end (the Bob Dylan classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” eerily comes to mind here); 50 is the new 20.  Pick your idiom or euphemism, they all suck was my derisive epigram!  Like a young George Washington, I cannot tell a lie.  I hated the prospect of turning 50 and I feared the finality of crossing the threshold of my life’s journey.  That I faced this touchstone event in my life alone, deployed to Afghanistan as a colonel in the US Army, in combat and away from the most important people in my life, exacerbated my alarm and foreboding.  For me, it served to portend bad things to come.    

This ominous preface established, my passage into my fifth decade of life was far from apocalyptic.  In fact, it was an epiphany of understanding, a lightning bolt of awareness.  It was as if the Oracle of Delphi reached out, grabbed me by the collar of my Advanced Combat Uniform jacket and delivered the ultimate B-Slap.  Alone, smoking a $50 cigar – no, it was not worth the $$$$ but hey, I was alone in a combat zone and people were trying to kill me – under the stars I pledged to myself that 50 was NOT going to be the beginning of the end.  It was going to be the start of a new beginning.

Mark Twain once wrote:  “Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”  That became my mantra; my raison d’être (ok, I am a rabid Napoleon devotee) and served as the impetus for a dramatic change in my life and ultimately, the inspiration for this blog.  I decided that night, under the Afghanistan stars, 8,000 miles away from home and the people I most cherished, that I was going to start my life anew.

I made the commitment to stop focusing on my birthday as a sort of doomsday advent calendar ticking away at my reservoir of remaining years.  I vowed to embrace R&B artist, Aaliyah’s, 1994 proclamation, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number.”  I pledged to myself  a new beginning; a change in mindset and lifestyle that although would not stop the hands of time from turning, would help me develop a quality of life, a freedom of mind, a spirit of being and a drive to endure necessary to enjoy my remaining time on Earth to the fullest. 

Though I realize the futility of trying to defeat the unconquerable “Father Time” I believe wholeheartedly it is possible to make the intractable codger take a knee from time to time.  My goal with this blog is to share those things I have done, changes I have embraced and decisions I have made that have resulted in me today, feeling more alive and useful at 58 than I ever felt at 30.  Because, “Life does not end at the Half Century mark.  It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”  

I invite you to take this journey with me.  My hope is that it will be fun, entertaining and informing.  A joy for me to write and a pleasure for you to read.

 

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