Lessons From a Life Well-Lived

Dad, U. S. Army Air Corps, Papua New Guinea, 1944

“There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen

My brother sent me this pic today. It’s a photo of my dad in New Guinea at the American airbase. The year was 1944. My dad was just twenty years old and this was approximately twenty years before I came into the world. It made me think about how my dad used to always tell me that he was living on “borrowed time” because of all of the near-misses he experienced during The War.

When he turned 79, Dad had his first stroke. They called it minor, but he was paralyzed on his left side for a couple of weeks. I flew to Florida, where my parents had been staying for the winter, and visited him in rehab. My dad, who was one of the first joggers around the neighborhood in 1967, who had climbed mountains with me in his fifties, who had run alongside my bicycle when I was learning to ride, who ran with me three-plus miles in the rain when I was twenty and he was sixty, and just weeks before this moment, was walking with me on the five-mile loop of the Florida community my parents were living in, walking so fast that I couldn’t catch my breath to answer all of the questions he was asking me about my life, that superman, was now in a wheelchair and unable to use his left hand or his left leg. It was a nightmare to me. Amazingly, he quickly recovered most of his physical ability.

When my parents had returned to Brooklyn, soon after, I visited them in their apartment. My dad was all smiles as he ate at the kitchen table, only needing a cane by that time (and he didn’t even need that for several years afterward). “Dad,” I asked. “How can you be so cheerful after what you’ve just been through?” He looked at me with his twinkling eyes and answered, “I’m still here, aren’t I? I’ve been living on borrowed time for a long time.” My dad went on to live to the age of ninety-three. He always talked about how he looked forward to his 100th birthday party, since he enjoyed his 90th so much. But, a fall took that away. I guess there was just so much time he could borrow.

In reality, I never believed that he was actually living on borrowed time at all. It just wasn’t time for him to go at each of those near-misses. He had a purpose and Dad was never afraid to live that purpose out loud. Those who knew him can certainly attest to that. Of course, just a small few of his purposes were to be part of giving life to my brothers and I, to have a loving partnership with my mom, and to teach my brothers and I some quite profound truths.

We all have a story, don’t we? And I was thinking about my life and how I surprised everyone with my existence, long after my parents were done having children….how, given that miracle, there must be a reason for me to be here. In fact, there’s surely a reason for every one of us to exist, given that every life that comes to be has come here in spite of all of the odds working against it. At times like this, we’re challenged to remember that. Sometimes, it seems that we’re just sitting here, spinning our wheels, with some pretty darn dramatic things happening out there in the world, affecting every one of us in very deep ways, touching our lives in such personal and unexpected ways, things that we have little control over.

But, we’re here. The reality is that, right now, at this challenging time on this Earth, we are all here. And if there’s no deeper reason for us to be here, we have the ability to make a reason, to choose to create value right here, right now. I’m feeling that I’m at a crossroads. I, like many, feel unsure of what it is that I’m supposed to do next, not merely to make a living, but to create value to bring joy into a struggling world. This time that we find ourselves caught in really feels that it’s about courage. It takes courage to accept this messy reality and to remain true to who we are deep down in spite of the mess around us, to believe that we have something important to contribute to this world, even if we don’t what or how. It might seem impossible to bring light into such darkness right now, but “it just takes one candle to light the darkness” — or something like that.

I’m going to keep listening to the whispers of my heart, while tuning out the noise that’s been created around in a way that distracts us from our own true self. Hush…listen. What’s your heart saying to you?

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  • Dr. Mara Karpel

    Psychologist, Host of Radio show, “Dr. Mara Karpel & Your Golden Years,” Author, "The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age." www.DrMaraKarpel.com

    Dr. Mara Karpel has been a practicing Clinical Psychologist for over 27 years and is the author of the International Bestseller, "The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age," a guide for all who want to live a more vital, joyful life! Dr. Mara also hosts the Blog Talk Radio show, “Dr. Mara Karpel & Your Golden Years,” which can be heard at BlogTalkRadio.com/YourGoldenYears and on DrMaraKarpel.com. Most recently, she has been named the Passionate Living Motivator for CompassionateAustin.org.