The start of the baseball season in the United States has me thinking about Memorial Day in 2011.
My mom and I visited a cemetery that weekend to decorate graves. During our visit, we went looking for the headstone of a couple of relatives – a husband and wife – we’ve never visited because we didn't know for sure where it was located. But I had a general idea of where it might be and we had some time, so we gave it a shot.
As we browsed the rows, I stumbled across a headstone that stopped me in my tracks.
Her name was Katherine. She was born in 1911 and died in 1999. I stopped because somebody had placed an old beat up baseball where flowers or flags would ordinarily go – at the top of the headstone.
Obviously, Katherine must have been a baseball fan. Growing up in the 1920s, she would have had the chance to gather around the radio with her family and listen to old timey (I love that phrase) broadcasters paint beautiful pictures of players such as Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig in action.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the story behind the baseball itself. Did it belong to Katherine? Was it autographed by her favorite player? Did she play catch with her grandkids with it? Did she catch it at a baseball game? Did one of her grandkids inherit it and decide that the time had come to return it to her?
Oh, if baseballs could talk!
Yes, I’m completely aware that a dog may have simply dropped the baseball off near her headstone but I’m going with my story. I like it better.
“Do you need a right-handed or a left-handed door?”
“Let’s go with right-handed.”
“Do you need shims?”
“To help secure the door frame.”
“Well, I have a guy who is hanging it for me.”
“He’ll probably need them. If he doesn’t get it aligned properly, ask for your money back and come back to the store to get some shims.”
“I’ll just take the shims right now.”
“How about door hangers?”
“They help align the door.”
At this point, the Menards employee knew he was dealing with a guy who had no earthly idea what he was doing. He placed the door hangers (which look like brackets) on the door frame and tried to explain how to use them. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I took the door hangers anyway.
“How about paint?”
“Isn’t the door already painted?”
“No paint. A primed door is good enough.”
On my way home, I couldn’t help but wonder how my grandfather, who lived through the Great Depression and could fix anything, would have reacted to my lack of hardware knowledge. Then I remembered a quote from the John Adams HBO miniseries.
When Adams (portrayed by Paul Giamatti) arrives in Paris to ask the French for naval support of the American cause, he finds a culture he’s unfamiliar with – one much slower and engaged in the arts. Over a meal, he is asked about music and his response is thought-provoking.
“I must study politics and war, you see, so that my sons will have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons must study navigation, commerce and agriculture so that their children will have the right to study painting and poetry and music.”
My grandfather was on the front end of this spectrum in my family. He studied finance and repair, so his sons would have the liberty to study sales and management. This allowed me the right to study literature and writing.
This is not lost on me.
When a generation stops thinking about, appreciating and building on the sacrifices of the previous generation, we become self-absorbed. But when we build on the sacrifices of previous generations, it gives us a chance to live beyond ourselves.
I have a feeling my grandfather wouldn’t be disappointed in my visit to Mendards. Instead, he would smile about the fact that his sacrifices allowed me to become a writer. But he would also want to make sure I’m not taking my liberty for granted. He’s been gone for over 35 years, but I can still hear the question he might ask me: What are you studying that will benefit the next generation?
I would tell him technology. I’m not crazy about learning new technology. In fact, sometimes I find it maddening. But in the same manner in which he was able to teach himself how to repair lawnmower and dryer engines so he could fix appliances in my family when they went out, I have a knack for learning technology and then passing that information along.
How about you? I would love to hear about the sacrifices the people made in your family which allowed you the freedom to pursue what you love. And then tell me what you are doing for the generation behind you.
The coffeeshop is dark, and the stage has a brick backdrop. Christmas lights shine from the rafters (as they do year-round). An artist is painting a portrait near the stage. And one after another, brave people approach the stage during an open mic night to bare their souls.
A little girl starts by singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." The place erupts and her face lights up.
A 30-year-old raps about the power of the one who saved his soul.
A 50-something year old woman limps toward the stage. She shares free verse, mostly talking about the way the world perceives her. She’s been in a car accident and has burns over a large percentage of her body. I think she said 94 percent. As she begins to share her art, she springs to life, feeling like she's beautiful, no matter what others say to the contrary.
A man who didn't know he'd be performing, runs out to his car, tunes his guitar while everyone waits, then sings two songs about his Christian faith.
A boy who is maybe twelve takes the stage next to a man wearing a pony tail and stocking cap. They begin to lay down a musical interlude that builds. The boy is on guitar and the man plays the bass. You can hear every note on the guitar. It has no distortion. The bass isn’t thumping. Instead, it meanders — leading and driving the song. Near the end of their second song, someone starts to clap in rhythm. Others begin to join in. Soon, the entire place is one giant clap.
A woman reads from her book about her 19 heavenly babies and one earthly one. And we all felt like we'd been gutted.
A man who calls himself Jesus’ little brother (in the spiritual sense, based in Hebrews 3:1-2), raps about Christ.
A bashful young woman gets up, saying she read poetry last year and almost cried because it’s really scary. She reads a poem based on movie characters that she likes. As she does, we're all silently pulling for her.
On and on it goes. On this particular night, people who feel marginalized, defeated, wounded, frightened, broken, and probably a dozen other adjectives, take a chance by sharing their art with anyone who will listen. And you can see subtle changes take place in them right before your eyes. They feel less marginalized, wounded, and broken; healed by the balm of an attentive and loving audience.
It's a good lesson in the way we should all treat one another.
In Alan Fadling's book An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus' Rhythms of Work and Rest, he talks about something he calls the spiritual discipline of slowing.
For example, sometimes, he chooses the slow lane on the freeway so he can be present in the moment. On those days, it’s not about the destination but the journey. He tries to pay attention to how he feels, then explores possible negative outcomes. In other words, he doesn't run from his thoughts. He mines them.
"When I'm walking, I sometimes choose to walk a bit more slowly," he added. "I try to rediscover the ancient art of strolling. Or when I'm writing an email, I may take a moment to thank the Lord for the person to whom I am writing, or I may ask him to guide my communication."
He also sets aside low- or no-tech times in his schedule. Technology has a way of accelerating his inner life and it makes him too available. He goes on to quote Elton Trueblood: "A person who is always available is not worth enough when he is available."
I've been thinking about that quote. It's so accurate.
I don't answer every phone call or respond to every text or email right away. My slow response isn't rooted in a lack of concern for others. I'm just not capable of being available at all times. Nobody is.
Luke 5:15-16 records a time when Jesus healed a man who had leprosy. As word began to spread about Jesus' ministry, large crowds gathered around him to hear him teach or to seek healing. Verse 16 says, "But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray." He didn't necessarily try to meet every need or heal every sickness. Instead, he prioritized communion with the Father.
Slipping away often seems like a pretty good model.
"My philosophy on retiring is ... don’t," a friend said in a text recently. "Because our days should be spent doing what we think is important. If what we are doing is important, then we should keep doing it. If it wasn’t important, then why did we do it every day from 20 to 66.5 years? That seems silly to me."
Tom, a friend of mine, sent me these words after I asked him about his philosophy on retirement. I'd heard him speak about it in the past and wanted to hear it again.
When he was a young Christian, he wrote a daily schedule of what he thought a good day in retirement would look like and then he tried to live that way every day while he was still working, rather than waiting until he'd reached the age of retirement to start living.
I asked him to send me that schedule. It included:
- Breakfast with family or friends
- Working out
- Time for walks, wine, ice cream, board games, etc.
- Reading in bed
This isn't his entire list. He included time for work and other obligations. But the point is, even though he was working, he incorporated elements of a good retirement day into his schedule long before he ever reached retirement age. That way, he could keep on working (and seeking opportunities for spiritual influence), while still living out his dream day.
I asked him to expand on this. And here's what he shared with me:
"Why would I take time when two sons are mere toddlers to think about life in retirement ... to plan what retirement would look like? I suppose, in a word, perspective. I wanted to live my life with a long-term perspective. By 'long-term,' I think I mean, what will my life have looked like after I'm gone?
"I want the things that matter to be important, so that I will live in such a way that those things are important. And, those things that seem important in the moment, but are not, will be treated as if they are not.
"So, what is important? For one, people are more important than things. Spend time with family and friends and those people who need someone. As much as you can, stay healthy because the days are long if your health is no good. Work, because it is good for a man to do meaningful work. It's not good to be leisurely all day. Read and keep learning new things. Remain 'green and growing.'
"Enjoy some favorite foods and spirits in moderation. These are gifts from God. Worship the Creator, so that you get outside yourself – to see yourself as you really are – a creature, loved by the Creator."
The schedule he envisioned didn't include time for television (watching other people live their lives), but he often invites others over to watch TV with them – usually those who would otherwise be sitting at home alone.
I'm much older right now than Tom was when he determined what his best days in retirement might look like, then began to live that way, but his intentional way of living is inspiring. He intentionally jumped off the hamster wheel and made his family and others around him a priority. He even left a lucrative career many years ago because it was taking up too much of his time, energy, and focus, in favor of a job that would allow him to live good "retirement" days.
I appreciate his perspective and find it challenging. And maybe it'll prompt you to ask the same questions I'm asking myself: What would a good day in retirement look like? And how can you start living it right now?