Life is loaned to us, not given

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There are many words of wisdom that have influenced millions of thoughtful people. Many of them have overtones of religion. I cannot think of one that has not enriched each of our lives.

For this article, I choose to avoid religious bits of inspiration, focusing on thoughts from the secular field of philosophers, authors, politicians, educational leaders and entertainers.

Of particular importance to me is a general thought that was written by professor Reinhold Niebuhr and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. “O, God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; and the courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.”

The vast majority of events that are beyond our ability to change, involves other people; often family members or friends. The things that we can change are usually personal habits or activities. We can decide what to do or where to go.

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Wisdom is not always based on self-awareness. Often, we are recipients of this advice by others.

Epictetus lived hundreds of years before the Roman Empire/Julius Caesar. He said, “We have no control over   the events that happen to us; accidents, illnesses. But we have absolute control how we react to life’s happenings.” It seems to be a corollary to the first adage.

In light of unsettling events in Washington, D.C. I was attracted to a statement attributed to John Quincy Adams, our second President. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

I now understand why there are so few leaders in our government.

The first time I read the following statement by James Baldwin I was startled mentally awake. He said, “The challenge of living is to be present in everything we do; from baking bread to making love.”

The challenge of it is in the first phrase; “to be present in everything.” Years ago, I heard the statement, “the world is made up of three groups of people. Those that watch things happen; those that make things happen; and those that have no idea what is happening.”

I would like to change Baldwin’s last phrase to, “from going asleep at night to getting up in the morning.”

I have been an enthusiast of Henry Thoreau for many years. I have quoted him often in my writings. However, I’ve never read his following statement until recently.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.”

I’ve heard and read often the word “shoes”, but never “eyes.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a famous Russian author and an active advocate of Democracy. He is recorded as saying, “Intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with an arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

This statement is an education in itself. Its truth is also viable because a truly educated person knows how much he or she doesn’t know.

There are a few people for whom learning is a “walk in the park:” it comes easy. For others, it is tough going. For either one, humility is not easy. Their attitude is, “I deserve it,” and they flaunt it. It all depends on their background.

The same can be said for those that have money. There are those that have inherited it, and those that have worked hard for it. Just like racial prejudice, arrogance is taught and is a learned trait. As the song in the musical “South Pacific,” “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

Dr. Norman Cousins was a leader in the 6o’s and 70’s in establishing Behavioral Medicine as a significant academic field. He was one of my Literary Mentors. In one of his memorable articles, he wrote an adage that I’ve never forgotten. “No one knows enough to be a pessimist.”

As I recall, this sentence was part of a research program that Dr. Cousins had conducted. Several patients that were diagnosed as terminal were put through a rigid program of his and they all became well. His conclusion was the statement about pessimism. Even medical doctors do not know enough to be pessimistic.

Frank Sinatra was not only a great singer, but he was also a person with great insights. I recently read a statement he made that proves what I mean.

He said, “Those who have talent must hug it, embrace it, nurture it, and share it, lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you.”

This was said by a man who, at the height of his career, said that Tony Bennett was the best singer he had ever heard. He also recognized the fragility of life and talent. Both are loaned to us.

I am reminded of a statement by Ann Fairbairn in her classic novel, Five Smooth Stones, “Life is loaned to us and not given.”

Amen. Selah. So be it.

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