To be told before I'm too old
John Piper, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, says reading C. S. Lewis taught him “newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice. Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist. Nothing is inferior for being old and nothing is valuable for being modern.”
I think a lot about the past these days. Living seven decades causes one to do that. But surprisingly, I think almost as much about the future. I wonder a lot about what I learned, what I accomplished, how much time I wasted, and how much I used wisely. I practice and have almost mastered the ability to spend less time thinking about mistakes I made so I can be more aware of the short amount of time I have left and try to make the best use of that time. I constantly seek but only occasionally seem to find my real purpose in life, my reason for being.
I have included many of my favorite stories in this book. Most of them were written to stand alone as articles, posts or part of an anthology. A few have not been seen before. They are in no particular chronological order, but I did my best to categorize them in the table of contents. I hope you will forgive when you see some portion of one story appear in a second or even third story. I can only say that this affirms my belief that stories are the threads that sew our lives together. Important events (stories) usually thread their way into other important events many years later.
Writing enables me to appreciate these incredible connections. In an article for In Touch Magazine, Jamie Hughes asks, “Why can we experience the same story a thousand different ways and never get tired of it?” Perhaps it’s because the storyline appeals to a deep-seated need we all share: a desire to be rescued from the world we know is deeply flawed . . . something elusive and ineffable that dances just beyond our grasp . . . and we get to experience it vicariously through a story.”
I often wonder why I and so many others fail to notice when we are happy, and why it takes a catastrophe or misfortune in our lives or the life of someone we know to make us appreciate our own blessings. Reading and writing stories has helped to instill in me a deep sense of gratitude. And writing has helped me to look back, review and even discover the best lessons I have learned and how I learned them. I discovered that growing up poor was an advantage, not a disadvantage. Those experiences instilled in me a deep acceptance of personal responsibility. I also have a much deeper understanding of the people, family, friends, and others who have exerted strong influence on my life.
We learn, of course, by doing, and I learned a lot through hard knocks and making mistakes, but I also learned a lot by listening to great mentors and reading their works. Through writing, I discovered almost every-thing I learned came from a story or involved a story. Life . . . is a series of stories. Life is a gift to us, and the way we live our lives is our gift to those who come after. I still often have doubts about why anyone would be interested in my stories, but I have learned readers find their own stories in mine. I have been a recipient of many such story-gifts and I want to pass those gifts on to others. Stories heal us and bind us together.
The first story involves many gifts I received from one person. I hope you will see not just the man I describe here, but that special man you knew that was like the one I describe. And I know there were many others like him. I also hope you forgive my putting this tribute first, because this book is not about death, it’s about life and living; about how stories heal; about how life is lived forward, but understood backward; about how stories allow us to reflect, to understand, to give meaning. This never-delivered eulogy explains better than anything I could say how stories influence our lives and why we should all embrace our own stories and the stories of others.