Barely Begun at Seventy – Part Two

BLOG #29, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part Two
July 16, 2014

Most Americans still act as though they inwardly believe they are living under the old template: productive vibrant goal-driven life ends at age 65. Most likely they don’t articulate this in mere words–indeed, they don’t have to: their actions confirm that they are living under the old template.

Some years ago, during a period when I directed an Adult Degree Program in Texas, I realized that there was little correlation between teaching college students and teaching adult students. Since our program included an incredibly wide age-span (students in their twenties all the way to students in their eighties), I was forced to reinvent my inner concept of what teaching was all about. Heretofore I had to relate only to students in their late teens and early twenties. Now, I had students who were older than I was! Those years forced me to deal with the aging process for the very first time in my life, for I was no longer concentrating on a small slice of life but rather all of life. My life has never been the same since.

One study really jolted me. It revealed that the average American tends to die within seven years after retirement. The only exceptions being those who, in effect, never retire at all, but merely shift gears, set new goals, new trajectories, and follow new dreams. Or, in the words of a dear friend of mine, Dr. Phil Burgess: “When your career comes to an end–Reboot!” if you fail to institute such a transition, a command goes out from the Commander in Chief of your inner armed forces (your white blood cells); in essence it reads: Demobilize your defending armies! There are no more dreams or goals left to protect! And you die.

There is no such thing as retirement in Scripture. But rather, it is clear that God expects us to live vigorous, creative, caring, helping, growing, becoming lives as long as we draw breath. We deviate from such divine expectations at our own peril.

Several years ago, I shared the results of another related study with you: The body essentially reinvents itself every hundred days. In other words: At the end of every hundred days–at any age!–, I am either measurably stronger or measurably weaker than I was a hundred days earlier. The difference? Daily exercise (vigorous exercise). Up until the time that study reached me, I had been steadily deteriorating physically due to a predominately sedentary lifestyle. Oh I knew full well I ought to exercise–I just kept postponing doing anything about it. But on that day, around fifteen years ago, when I fully assimilated the significance of that study, I made a vow to God that, starting that very day, I’d vigorously exercise every day! No exceptions. Reason being: I knew myself so well I was absolutely certain that if I missed but one day–I’d miss another . . . and another . . . , and all would be lost. Thus if it’s midnight and I haven’t yet exercised, I’ll not go to bed until I have. Result: When I had my last major operation, the hospitalist said, “You have the cardiovascular system of a much younger man! You’d be amazed at how many patients your age do not; in such cases, we don’t dare operate on them.”

My wife and I love to travel. And on cruise ships we can’t help but notice the difference between those who are physically fit and those who are not. Those who are not (sadly, the majority), are obese. They line up by elevators rather than take the stairs; they don’t take day-trips that involve much walking; they graze continuously; they avoid the walking/running tracks on the ship, they loll around for long stretches of most days by the pool, or on the top deck. They are ferried around, even on the ship, in wheelchairs. They, too, are just waiting to die. And everyone who sees them senses it won’t be long.

But it’s all so needless! It’s all so self-determining. I see the difference in every alumni weekend we attend. Former classmates who today can barely walk across the street without help. Who look at you vacantly when you ask them what they’re doing with their lives.

And it gets worse. Just look around you in the local supermarket or mall, as children, teens, and young adults who ought to be in the prime of their lives are already old. Remember the first part of that question?

“A life may be over at sixteen, or barely begun at seventy.”

Untold thousands of young lives today are over–not because they were killed by someone or were involved in accidents–but because they have ceased to grow or become, and have given up on vigorous daily exercise and healthful diets.

So what would it mean to be “barely begun” at seventy years of age? Tune in next week for the conclusion to this series. Its subtitle is “How to Never Get Old.”

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part One

BLOG #28, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part One
July 9, 2014

It was a glorious spring morning in California’s verdant Napa Valley. And the alumni were coming home from all across the nation to their alma mater, Pacific Union College, judged by the likes of Newsweek and U.S. News to feature the most beautiful college campus in America.

I was privileged to be one of six alumni to be honored that weekend. But for us it was a two-way street: we were expected to give as well as take. Each of us was given around eight minutes to share with the audience the most significant distilled wisdom life had brought us. If you don’t think that would be a tough challenge, just put yourself in our places: how would you have responded to such an assignment?

For me, the question had profound implications, convicted as I am that all true wisdom comes from God. And since I’ve tweeted nuggets of wisdom every day now for almost three years, I had a lot of distilled wisdom to access. But the core of my response to this assignment was a no-brainer: There was for me only one possible quote that would satisfy. Especially, given the makeup of this particular audience. This is it:

A life may be over at sixteen
or barely begun at
seventy;
it is the aim
that determines its completeness.

That well-over-a-hundred-year-old-quotation came to me just when I needed it most: during the countdown decade leading up to the biblical “threescore and ten” that symbolizes a lifetime. At least that used to be true. In America, prior to the twentieth century, the norm was only forty-five years. Today, we’re back to the biblical seventy. I discovered that seminal quotation in a very old issue of that great magazine for young people: The Youth’s Instructor.

I needed it because as each of us approaches this time-period in life, one’s seventieth birthday can be almost terrifying: You mean my life is almost over? I don’t have any more time left? Will it be all downhill for me now? Will I be living on borrowed time? Is my productive lifetime over? Will it all be just a waiting game–waiting to die? All these questions swirled around in my head.

Also part of this ferment was a long-time metaphor for the perceived terminus of one’s productive lifetime: the proverbial Gold Watch. When or if one lived to be 65 years of age, one’s employer presented you with a gold watch. From that day forward, you were no longer a worker bee. You were now officially old. But not to worry: the benevolent government would now take care of you in the short time-frame you had left. Blessed be Social Security.

You see, when Social Security was born during the traumatic FDR era, no one expected Americans to live much longer than 65: many would die before they reached 65. This is why it seemed such a safe life raft for our government to offer its citizens. No one then even dreamed that more and more Americans would be living into their seventies, eighties, nineties, and, gasp! hundreds! Prime reason why the Social Security program is today threatening the fiscal stability of our nation.

The mind-set back then was this: You have exceeded expectations: You have reached 65. This gold watch means you’re done. We’re putting you out to pasture. We expect no more work out of you. Rock away on your front porch until you have the good sense to die. Always remember that Social Security is short-term: we can’t afford to pay you for living much longer. Most certainly we don’t expect you to live past seventy! Goodness! Do you think you’re immortal!

This was the mind-set of my grandparents’ generation.

But the problem today is this: We have never developed a template for vibrant productive living beyond the Gold Watch.

I see this reality at every alumni weekend I attend. Classmates who have given up on productive living now that they’ve entered the Gold Watch period. They don’t admit this in words, but they most certainly articulate it in their actions! They’ve traded their heretofore active lifestyle for a meaningless sedentary one. They’ve given up on goals. You ask them what they’re doing these days, and they sigh, “Not much…. Watch TV, putter around, play a few holes of golf, babysit the grandkids–you know: the usual.”

You can tell they’re telling you the truth because physically and mentally they are rapidly falling apart.

Each of them is indeed just waiting to die!

Next week, July 16, we shall continue on this topic: BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY.
Copyright© 2014

 

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY GOOD IDEA? OR BAD IDEA? – Part Two –

BLOG #15, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY

GOOD IDEA?  OR BAD IDEA?

– Part Two –

April 11, 2012

Yes, my life-long fascination with the most condensed sources of wisdom we know—quotations, resulted in my writing down my favorite ones at the back of my journals.  They’d accumulated to such an extent that I spent two years prioritizing them in the limited edition book (nine copies; one went to Ann Landers, one to Abby Van Buren, and one went to the White House): Thoughts and Quotations from My Reading Journal: 1988 – 1989.  I also have purchased a large number of quotation books over the years.  Altogether, we’re speaking of over a million quotations.

But I am deeply indebted to my students over the years to their honing my philosophy of quotations—for it is a philosophy.  Reason being that many of the quotation collections available in book stores—including the venerable Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations—don’t impress me much.  And more significantly, would not have impressed my students much.  Reason being, their failure to isolate the truly memorable powerful ones from the “same ol’ same ol’s.”  Consequently, a good share of these ostensibly “great quotes” would have put my students to sleep.

Many times over the years, the thought has occurred to me that I ought to put together a compendium of my favorite quotations, or a series of such collections.  But the very thought was so daunting that each time I regretfully moved on to other more pressing projects.  But when my agent and our daughter Michelle ganged up on me too, I acknowledged defeat and decided to see if we could develop an audience for my brand of quotations.

Let’s see, how can I define my philosophy of quotations?  Well, just as is true with the stories that make it into my story anthologies, I routinely reject 100 – 500 for every one that makes it in.  The few who make it in have to have intrinsic in them the qualities that would have made my students in years past, write them down.

I look for day-brighteners; changes of pace; profound thoughts—especially life-changing ones; proverbs from around the world; spiritual ones that could give the reader the courage to face another day; funny ones that make you laugh; if at all possible ones with the author’s name attached; ones that once read you can’t erase them from your mind; contemporary ones as well as those that have stood the test of time.

Permit me to be more specific:

HOLIDAY-RELATED

Columbus Day: “If Columbus had waited for decent ships, we’d all still be in Europe” – Robert Heinlein (Oct. 10, 2011)

Halloween: “Who shall say which is more horrible to see: empty skulls or dried-up hearts?” – Balzac (Oct. 31, 2011)

Election Day: “The higher you climb, the more rocks you have to dodge” – Western Proverb (Nov. 8, 2011)

Thanksgiving: “From David learn to give thanks for everything—every furrow in the book of Psalms is sown with the seeds of Thanksgiving.” – Jeremy Taylor (Nov. 24, 2011

Christmas: “When you have learned about love, you have learned about God.” – Fox Proverb (Dec. 25, 2011)

New Year’s Day: “Maximize the day: Each day contains 86,400 seconds—that’s 86,400 opportunities.” – Leonard Nimoy (Jan 1, 2012)

Lincoln’s Birthday: “I fear you don’t fully understand . . . the danger of abridging the liberties of the people.” – Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12, 2012)

St. Patrick’s Day: “Following the line of least resistance makes rivers and people crooked.” – Irish Proverb (March 17, 2012)

CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool to help me make the big choices in life.” – Steve Jobs (Nov. 12, 2011)

“A single journey can change the course of a life.” – Angelina Jolie (Dec. 15, 2011)

“Sometimes the greatest secrets lie in the middle of things you can’t quite explain.” – Stephen Spielberg (Jan 27, 2012)

“Those who believe they are in full possession of the truth can be dangerous.” – Madeleine Albright (Feb. 27, 2012)

FOR THE SPORTS BUFF

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” – Vince Lombardi (Oct. 9, 2011)

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” – Tim Tebow (Nov. 2, 2011)

“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there” – Yogi Berra (Jan. 25, 2012)

“Golf is a game in which you yell Fore, shoot six, and write down five.” – Paul Harvey (March 15, 2012)

HUMOROUS CHANGES OF PACE

“No food tastes as good as the food you eat when you are cheating on a diet.” – Al Batt (Oct. 7, 2011)

“To have the last word with a woman, apologize profusely, then run like the devil.” – Author Unknown) (Oct. 26, 2011)

“The difference between a farmer and a pigeon: the farmer can still make a deposit on a tractor.” – Author Unknown. (Nov. 6, 2011)

“Fanatic: One who sticks to his guns whether they’re loaded or not.” – Author Unknown (Jan 14, 2012)

“Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.” – Yogi Berra (Feb. 6, 2012)

TIMELESS

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer Oct. 3, 2011)

“Suffering can become a means to greater love and generosity.” – Mother Teresa (Oct. 8, 2011)

“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Stonewall Jackson (Oct. 25, 2011)

“Whatever you dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”  – Goethe (Nov. 30, 2011)

“Judge not your neighbor till you’ve been in his place.” – Rabbi Hillel (Dec. 21, 2011)

“The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” – Martin Luther (Dec. 23, 2011)

“Life is too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrong.” – Charlotte Bronte (Jan. 18, 2012)

“A letter is a joy of Earth – it is denied the Gods.” – Emily Dickinson (Feb. 15, 2012)

“Life – a little gleam of Time between two Eternities.” – Carlyle (March 31, 2012)

* * *

As you can well imagine, it takes a great deal of extra time and effort to marry a quote to a specific date (such as a holiday).  It takes even more time to choose the best quote among alternatives.  Most time-consuming of all is to stay current.  In my case, I keep up by reading books, THE DENVER POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, NEWSWEEK, SUCCESS, AARP, many different magazines, and listen to the media.  Were I not to do so many would write off all my other quotes, consigning them all to the dust heap of the past.  This means that I have to be recording quotes wherever I am, even if it be inconvenient.

What I try hardest to pull off is to reverse roles with myself: ask myself continually, If I were not me, would I take the time out of each day to check out these daily tweets?  I would hope these quotes would prove to be such day-brighteners that you’d feel any day to be incomplete where you had failed to check out that day’s quotation.

* * * * *

So here are my questions to you.  What do you think of the first six months’ worth of quotes?  Do they meet your needs?  Do you use them much in your daily life?  Do you share them with friends?  How can they be improved? Are they as helpful to you as other quotation collections you access?  If I were ever to print them in booklets, would you be interested in purchasing copies?

Look forward to hearing from you!

Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/joewheelerbooks

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY GOOD IDEA? OR BAD IDEA?

BLOG #14, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY

GOOD IDEA?  OR BAD IDEA?

– Part One –

April 4, 2012

On October 1, 2011, I sent up a trial balloon: Would the public be interested in trying out my daily quotation tweets.  Now that these tweets have been running for a half year, I figured it would be a good idea to have a referendum on them—hence this blog.

Now for the story behind these daily tweets:

I’ve always loved quotations, the most condensed and concise source of distilled wisdom we know, even more condensed than poetry.  Way back when I began my teaching career in California’s gold country, one day I decided to try something new: give my students something to look at besides me.  So I wrote a quotation in chalk on the blackboard.  It proved to be a hit: it was the first thing students looked at when they entered the classroom.  Over the years, as I moved from junior high to senior high to college English, there remained one constant: a quotation each day.  I soon learned that merely scribbling any ol’ quotation wouldn’t work; it takes hard work to keep young people interested in anything!  Too stodgy or philosophical, and they’d lose interest.  So I learned to mix in enough humor so they never knew from one day to the next what kind of quotation would set the day’s mood—for a teacher has that kind of power over the students who willingly or unwillingly stream in and out of his/her classroom.

In this vein, long ago in a convention, I wrote down a quotation I so internalized that it became part of who I am: There is only one unforgivable sin in teaching: and that is to bore your students.  Because of this awareness of how difficult it is to maintain students’ interest from day to day, I never permitted my classes to become predictable.  Consequently, they never knew from one day to the next what tangent they’d find me on next.  I’d even switch in mid-class: if I saw that deadly glazing of eyes, I’d leapfrog into a story, substitute something radically different, take them for a walk, go outside, sit on the lawn or in the shade of a tree—anything to regenerate interest.

* * *

Well, many years went by, and I made a life-changing decision: take early retirement from the formal classroom in order to write full-time.  In essence, to trade direct mentoring for indirect mentoring.  In truth, I really miss the daily one-on-one interaction with my students, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world for now I am blessed by letters and emails from all around the world from people (young and old) who through our books, stories, blogs, and tweets, feel they are vicariously sitting in a virtual classroom with me.

In the sixteen years since I left the formal classroom, a serendipity has to do with the large number of former students of mine who have re-entered our lives—an honor I do not take lightly.  For it is little honor to hold students captive in a given classroom, but it is a great honor to have even one voluntarily re-enter my world!

It is interesting to note what brings them back, and it violates most everything methodology teachers tell you in education classes.  They re-enter my life because each one felt I loved him or her.  That I always tried to be kind.  That though I made more than my fair share of mistakes, when I did so I could be counted on to apologize to them publicly.  That they remembered how hard I tried not to ever bore them.  That we laughed a lot. That my interest in them continued long after graduation. That I told or read lots of stories.  In fact, I’ve had a number of them write or phone me, saying, Dr. Wheeler, I wake up in the middle of the night and hear you reading to me!  For there is something in being read to that indelibly embeds itself in memory.

In fact, it was former students who helped propel this traditional dinosaur into the digital world of blogging.  They’d say or write, “Dr. Wheeler, I miss your classroom so much—if only I could re-enter it again.  Hear your voice.  See you cackle”.  Which brings me to a recent article on our books and stories penned by a former student of mine, Kimberly Luste Maran.  For it, she interviewed three of my former students about what they remembered about my classes—scary!  For one never knows what idiosyncrasy they’ll remember.  Let me quote from one of these:

Sadly, my favorite memory of Dr. Wheeler lacks all context now: I cannot for the life of me remember my good-natured but ‘snarktastic’ remark—possibly something about refusing to do my final paper on Zane Grey?  But I will always have that perfect mental snapshot of how the venerable white-haired elder of the English Department paused for a second behind his posh wooden desk, then stuck his tongue out at me like a schoolkid.

                                    —Camille Lofters, English/pre-law, and journalism major,

                                       1995 graduate (Adventist Review, Dec. 16, 2010)

When one considers how incredibly difficult it is to snag even a millisecond of another person’s time in this hectic world we live in, it is a near miracle if even one person takes time to listen to what we say.  That’s why I never take for granted the undeserved honor so many pay me by reading our books or stories, or tuning in to these weekly blogs.

Or daily tweets.  One of the key factors in getting me to take the inertia-breaking decision to sire a series of daily quotation tweets had to do with the number of former students who admitted that they wrote down in their notebooks their favorite quotations—but what really boggled my mind was their adding, “And I’ve kept them all these years!”

* * * * *

Next week, I’ll get into a discussion of why I feel our daily quotation tweets are different from anything else out there in cyberspace.  Also what kind of rhythm there is to these daily choices.  And finally, why I’d love to hear back from you about your reactions to these tweets.

Please stay tuned.  I’ll see you next week!

Follow me on twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/joewheelerbooks

A TREMBLING WORLD – Part Three

A TREMBLING WORLD

Part Three

Wednesdays with Dr. Joe

About twelve years ago, a high-ranking Colorado state representative spoke to our local Kiwanis Club.  He was uncharacteristically somber, as he put on his prophetic hat.  In so many words, he predicted that within about ten years—even if relatively flush times continued—Colorado would begin running out of money: “We are coming to the end of an era, Friends.  Social Security, born in the depths of the Great Depression when life expectancy was around 45 to 50, was feasible and possible for our nation to continue; but FDR had no way of knowing that life-expectancy would move up and up and up until today it is nearing 80, with many Americans living on retirement for a longer period of time than their career years (many into their 90s, and even 100s), placing an insupportable burden on a retirement system based on 65.”

He continued, “Mark my words, we are fast reaching the time when Social Security and guaranteed medical assistance will have to be curtailed.  You will no longer be able to assume the state will cover Mom’s late life medical expenses; we will once again, as Americans did up until the Great Depression, face a world where families took care of their own, where all three generations lived in proximity to each other—they had to.”

So it is likely that Obama’s dream that all Americans will henceforth be guaranteed cradle-to-the-grave healthcare may very well be the swan song of Social Security as we once knew it; now we are discovering that the money just isn’t there for such a utopian concept.  Exacerbating our fiscal plight no little is the double whammy of America’s continued substance abuse  (drugs/tobacco, alcohol) and out-of-control eating, together, through diseases such as lung cancer and diabetes, killing close to a million of us a year..

Metaphorically, it’s like America is waking up after a sixty-year binge (made possible by credit cards and houses used as glorified ATMs).  In Christmas in My Heart 13, my wife Connie tells of a Christmas during the early 1950s when en route from California’s Monterey Peninsula to her home in Fortuna (near Eureka), a major storm blew in, the Eel River flooded and washed out Highway 101 in places; so Connie and others were stranded in Garberville.  The lady who was driving them home hadn’t banked on a flood, having just enough money to cover the gas costs to get them home.  Not for motels and extra food.  So what did they do?  They agreed to do the motel’s laundry, make up the bedrooms, etc., in return for having a room to sleep in.  For since the motel manager didn’t take checks and credit cards didn’t exist yet, you either had money or you didn’t.

As our son Greg said recently, “Dad, for 50 years we’ve been spending money we didn’t have.’  Up until three years ago, at least twice a month we’d get calls asking us if we didn’t want to take out another loan on our house.  Those days will most likely never come back, at least in our lifetimes.

More and more of us today are either using only debit cards or charging only what we can pay off at the end of the month.  We do this because many of us live in perpetual fear that we will join those who owe more than their homes are worth, so that, if we lose our jobs, we too will be forced to declare bankruptcy and be evicted from our own homes.

Across the nation today, our grown children, unable to even get a job, are forced to remain at home with Mom and Dad.  Those who predict the economy has rounded the corner and heading up are proven wrong again and again. The world’s leading economists are grave, warning that it might be years—even decades—before we regain what we had three years ago.

Just as was true with the Great Depression of the 1930s, this one is global too, so there is nowhere to escape to.  Also, just as was true when Teddy Roosevelt became President close to 110 years ago, never has the gap between the rich and the poor been as great.  Even while the banks and corporations are failing, unbelievably they continue to pay their CEOs millions a year.  Same for sports stars, landing contracts in the hundreds of millions while schools, libraries, parks, post offices, etc., are being forced to lay off employees or close.  Misplaced priorities are all around us.

However, if a crash does come—it won’t be all bad.

More on that next Wednesday