Thriving Long After The Thrill Of Living Is Gone

“Hold on to sixteen as long as you can, change is coming ’round real soon, make us woman and man.”

“Saying oh yeah, life goes on…long after the thrill of living is gone!”       

                                                                                    — lyrics from John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane

These days, my teenagers are starting to hear some of the songs I grew up listening to and I am a little embarrassed by some of the lyrics. As an engaged dad, I am shocked on two fronts: 1) that my parents tolerated some of the music I listened to and 2) that the oldies stations are playing songs from my era. Life does come at you fast.

While on a long drive out of town recently, the song Jack & Diane came over the radio. There is nothing virtuous in the song, it is mostly a snapshot of youth in Americana, the hastened end of innocence and the perceived invincibility of youth.

If you are reading this and you are older than thirty, then you already know there are many seasons to adjust to in life. If we are fortunate, there is a time for all things. A friend of mine was an advocate of looking at life as playing out in a series of three seasons. Recently, I have seen this approach resurface in several books and at a high level, the seasons are:

  1. The time to LEARN
  2. The time to EARN
  3. The time to RETURN

In my own experience, I am not finding the seasons of life to be as sequential as is suggested above.

  • For instance, I am being invited to learn more these days than I ever was in high school or college. Some lessons feel as if they are being repeated to me for emphasis. Some of life’s curriculum makes more sense to me now and I am better aware of why the Teacher keeps challenging the student.
  • It can be difficult, but I’m trying to recognize that earning comes in many different forms and not just a paycheck. Money can be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of earning. We might forget about the opportunity to earn our spouse’s respect…our children’s trust…the confidence of a co-worker. When I focus too much on what I am earning monetarily, I might play it too safe and risk trying to solve a one-sided equation. I risk losing my truest purpose and consequently my life’s unique plot.
  • I’m trying to return what I have been given in the now as opposed to waiting until some day when I may or may not have “enough” in surplus to give back. NOW always seems to be the right time to give all we can to those who need it. Our stewardship involves a healthy tension between our needs and others’. Unlike in a traditional tug-of-war, I believe that I can pull from both sides alternately.

I look around me and more than ever before, I notice the suffering and the gravity of life issues going on around us. I am certain that people were suffering when I was sixteen years old but I was so focused on me that I failed to recognize it. As I recollect from my fifty-year-old vantage point, it appears as if I was wearing mirrored sunglasses at the time and the mirrors were facing inward…all I could see was myself!

Now I marvel at the indomitability of the human spirit. There are giants among us who maintain their heroic resistance to the fun extinguishers and kill-joys in life. I would likely be crushed under the pressure shouldered by some of today’s single moms, widows and widowers, terminally-ill friends and their caregivers. They navigate a turbulent course with persistent grace and fortitude.

With age comes a loss of some of my natural inclination to dream and reach beyond my current human experience. Some days, like the lyrics of Jack and Diane suggest, I’m tempted to think that my best days are behind me. I find that this mindset is kill-joys’ factory floor. It maintains a limitless capacity for manufacturing irrational fears about the future…the kind that squeeze the living out of life!

I DO NOT want to be sixteen again. I was happy to let it go. Admittedly, the experience was an important part of my maturation and development but I would not want to relive it. I view that life square more like how an inventor might look back upon his failed experiments; each trial important because it lead to a more important and sustainable discovery. My “16” was about me discovering 1,000 ways not to live my life.

I maintain a core belief that regardless of our age, the thrill of living needn’t perish within us. Finding and holding on to the thrill in life is an important virtue and critical to our being able to maintain enduring passion and purpose. I continue to be a work in progress in this regard. I am learning and earning my way through important resets and shifts to my thinking, all the while trusting that the entire journey is designed to save our souls.

With apologies to John Mellencamp, the thrills aren’t gone. They are maturing and transforming to things that last!

Thomas “TD” Dierker
Live like you’re dying…. cause you are!


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