“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start in order to be great!” —Zig Ziglar
So many of us want to take better care of ourselves. We want to eat right, sleep right, get more exercise, make all-around better decisions regarding our health and vitality…it’s just not easy to break free of our unhealthy lifestyles. We can make a break for it and get out of the ruts we are in, but we need to be inspired. It helps to see evidence of others who have successfully reformed from hurtful habits, confirming for us that what we want is possible.
Last weekend, I was visiting a parish north of the city for mass and noticed a man whom I thought was my father’s high school classmate. I stayed after mass and approached him to say hello. Sure enough, it was dad’s old friend, Charlie. I could hardly believe my eyes. He is ninety years old and still looks AWESOME. He continues to play competitive tennis and peels off 250 push-ups and 250 sit-ups every day. From the looks of it, he also has membership in the same swimming pool as is featured in the movie Cocoon.
To think that he and my father were born in the same year blows my mind. Reconnecting with Charlie for just a brief time, he told me how he has adhered to the same strict regimen of personal rigor that he established before high school. He has done so, not for the sake of vanity or so that he could meet death safely, but so that he could participate more fully in the activities that he and his family love. Our chance meeting got me to thinking again more seriously about my own rigor and lifestyle.
Some of you might remember that my first job out of college was the alumni director for my high school alma mater. I recall one of the first reunion parties that I hosted in my new role. It was the twenty-fifth reunion for the class of 1965. In all honesty, that night I distinctly recall thinking that I would never be as old as those with whom I was celebrating. In my opinion, most of those guys and their wives seemed ancient. I joked that several of them could have been waiters at The Last Supper.
It is funny to think back to that evening, since now I have been out of high school for more than thirty years myself. I have blown right past the age which I thought was a forever away. No doubt that this means that some guy at my next reunion will describe me or my classmates as ancient and then some.
I missed my twenty-five-year high school reunion, but I was at the twentieth and I could not help feeling, in all humility, as if I was in the wrong gymnasium. I was shocked by how old everyone looked to me. I would have left with the sense that my average classmate was overweight by forty pounds and mostly unhappy in his job. Many complained about the pressures of being a husband or father, or else they were divorced and singing the blues about their “old old lady,” or their “new old lady!” No judgement really, but I felt sad for my peers. I picked up on the heavy emotional weights that were burying them.
I was surprised as well that the same posing and posturing from our high school days together were intact, only much more offensive. I would have guessed that with all the miles collectively traveled, we might have broken the shackles that bound us to the tyranny of material comparison. Considering everyone’s obvious physical weight gain, I was hoping that the density of our characters would have doubled too in order to compensate. That was not the case.
To be honest, I am uncertain about attending the next reunion. It took me about a week to shake off the flat-lines that the event produced in my psyche and my soul. It knocked me off balance and I don’t mind admitting that it set me back. I was thankful for the wake-up call and it was a sobering reminder that I am closer to my end than I am to my beginning.
A happy death is assured to no man, but I intend to work to stay strong and resolved until the time at which I break the tape into eternity. I intend to pursue being balanced and focused right up until the time at which I breathe my last breath. True, that a lot of what will happen is completely out of my control, but I can certainly influence the quality of my life during the time that I have left.
Increasingly, I believe that the outside of me is just a reflection of what is going on inside of me. It is a good gauge of what gets my time and attention. It is proof of the choices that I am making each day. I don’t mind getting old. If we make the right decisions, we can be a much better person at age fifty than we were at age twenty.
My approach is not to rust out but to burn out. Each of us can raise the level of our game. Seek out someone who is living a life uncommon and ask them how they do it. The secrets of their success are largely only secrets because we fail to ask them good questions. Ask them about their habits, take some notes and then do what they do daily to get yourself started.
I can promise you that whatever you are thinking is impossible, isn’t!
Thomas “TD” Dierker
Live like you’re dying…. cause you are!