We occasionally find ourselves at different times in our lives that seem somewhat like crossroads, but they are more like boundaries. There is the time behind us and the time ahead of us. Thoughts of the past and the future fill our minds at the same time.
Some of these times are obvious. We graduate from high school or college and then have to face the world as an adult. We remember our childhood of yesterday while we look anxiously forward to the life of tomorrow as a grown-up.
We have pre-marriage and post-marriage memories. We have life before children and after children. We raise our families only to face a future with an empty nest.
Sometimes the crossing of these bars is truly the way we define our life. Retired people can become lost because they were so defined by their work. Athletes occasionally don’t know how to face life without the cheering crowds or the intense competitions.
I have found myself at several of these defining moments. I had my life growing up in the small town of Cottonwood, Alabama. I have now lived more than twice as long in Donalsonville, Georgia. The only break between those two communities was my time at Auburn University which, like these two towns, still has part of my heart.
I left the only job I had ever known working at a peanut mill to another life of operating restaurants. They could not be more different, yet perhaps they were much the same. The key to success in both were good customers, loyal employees, and a hard work ethic. Maybe those are the guides to success in most jobs.
I find myself approaching another juncture in my life: retirement. Will I be remembered by what I have already done in my life or will life give me new opportunities to define myself? Is the best already over or is it still yet to come?
Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best in one of many famous quotes. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”.
The common traits of those I have admired most in life had nothing to do with where we lived, what work we did, what school we attended, or even what common goals we shared. I realize now that I was attracted to what was within those great people.
It is true of those I love, including my wife of 40 years. We could have been happy anywhere we lived no matter what we were doing for a living. We would have been happy with any combination of boys and girls as children, though we were blessed with two beautiful daughters, beautiful inside and out.
I believe the same of my close friends in my life. They stand tall in my memory because of who they were inside, not where we met. I believe that of the truly great political leaders that I have had the opportunity to know. They had something inside them that transcended all our other common interactions.
Yet, I am comforted and even encouraged in knowing that there are others in my future that will bring this feeling of belonging to my life, no matter where I am.
The greatest benefit of growing old is gaining a sense of one’s self. It allows the world to become smaller and your dreams to become bigger. It allows you to celebrate the past and anticipate the future.
At this point in my life I treasure that which lies behind me. I anxiously await that which lies before me. Best of all, I know they are just tiny matters compared to that which lies within me . . . and within you.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]