A Banjo Player's Meditations, Medications, Reflections And Ruminations...Lakewood Life, In The Balance

"Gary, you have to make yourself be happy. If you wait around for someone else to do it for you, you'll be waiting a long time." -Gary's dear late mom, Betty Rice

"So Gary, why are you always so freakin' positive???"

Well...it does take a bit of practice, I'll admit.

(And now of course, my disclaimer: I'm no psychologist or philosopher, so what follows is only my personal opinion about how and why I try to stay positive in life.)

Sooner or later, if we're fortunate, we realize that we've been on this earth for more than a few years. Time has a way of passing, does it not? Of course, it seems (at least to me) that the longer we live, the faster our time goes through that hourglass, although of course, that's not really the case. This old world of ours gives us the four seasons, in more or less equal measures of about 90 days each, although it could be argued that (around here at least) weather and climate surprises are more or less the order of our days. Just about the time we get our yards the way we like them, it's time again to check the oil in the snowblower.

The Great Old Book tells us that we have an earthly allotment of three score and ten years, although as well all know, some of us don't quite make our allotment, while others sail well past that time-frame. Life is like that, of course, and the wise sages will always tell you that it's not the length, but the quality of life that counts. The old saying that caskets do not come with luggage racks, (much less, side pipes and fender skirts) can also help to remind us to keep our lives focused on higher-level priorities.

Ah, but what exactly should those priorities be? In our materialistic world, as my dear late mom also said, we spend half our lives getting stuff, and the other half getting rid of it. So very true.

As I've gotten older, and particularly in my retirement years, I find that I'm feeling much less pressure to drive the latest car, or dress in the latest fashions, and I have to admit that I tend to wait about purchasing shoes and other articles of clothing until my old stuff wears out. I'm no longer concerned (if I ever was) with impressing people, particularly with what I might happen to "own." Indeed, do we truly "own" anything in our all-too-transient lives?

Perhaps we do.

I would hope to own a positive relationship with my Creator, I would hope to own a spirit of loving and giving. I would hope to own a spirit of humility and compassion. I would hope to own a spirit of sharing, and to also own an acute understanding of my own failings and shortcomings (while at the same time developing the wisdom to forgive those things too.) I would also hope to own a desire for personal perfection, as well as owning the knowledge that (as with all other worthy objectives in life) perfection can be a very difficult goal to attain. I would hope to own memories that are rich with wonderful thoughts of friends, mentors, and family members who have gone before. I would equally hope that I own a feeling of responsibility that I need to provide some good memories and experiences for others, so that in some small way, their lives will have been enriched by something that I was able to do for them.

In like kind, there are some things that I would hope not to own, as I pass through this world, even though I have indeed owned some of them in the past. Grief, depression, anger, despair, guilt, and virtually all other negative thoughts all too often serve merely to waste precious moments of our already brief lifespans. Those emotions, (all too understandable at different moments in our lives) can serve us in positive ways only to the extent that we resolve to develop a resolution to correct them, learn from them, and then apply what we have learned for the betterment of our lives, and for the lives of others.

"But Gary", you might say, "my situation is different! I have so many REAL problems in my life that you never had!" True perhaps, but I've had a few of my own, as well. Truth is, we've all had problems, have we not? The smallest problem can also do the "acorn thing" if we let it. (That is, grow beyond all rational expectations in our minds.) If we could only grasp the theory (admittedly unproven) that our moods can be deliberate decisions on our parts, then that perception might sometimes help us to rise and change our attitudes regarding life's problems. Admittedly, some of us may need professional help in order to do so, but working towards facing down life's problems is so much better than ignoring them.

As more and more pill bottles line my shelves, and some of my doctors smile less and less when I go and visit them, I am reminded too of the sublime value of the smile. How seldom it is to see smiles these days. How wonderful it is to observe other people's reactions to our smiles! Negative attitudes so often seem to pervade much of humanity. All too often, people nowadays seem to want to retreat into "categorical lives," and put others into categories as well. If someone does not match one's political or religious categorical requirements, then they are all too often marginalized, ostracized, or demonized. We see this sort of thing many times in life, do we not? Again, thinking back to my dear late mom, I have found her teaching to be so true that you can find good and bad in all kinds of people, no matter what "category" they might claim affiliation with. To look at a person as an individual, rather than a category, can make a world of difference.

My 94 year-old dad, Robert Rice, who never seems to stop smiling, has a great saying of his own regarding some of these musings: "Learn from the past, but live for today!" Dad and I were both school teachers, and we taught young people from all sorts of different backgrounds, while at the same time realizing just how much people truly have in common, especially when they smile. Smiles are contagious too. Let's start an epidemic of smiles! Indeed, while the past may be an interesting place to visit from time to time, it's not a great place to live in.

So as I approach the time of life when it seems that the years of my life have begun to correlate with the amount of minutes that it takes me to get my joints moving as I begin the process of rolling out of bed, I have to smile at the times when my body's actions try valiantly to catch up with my mind's intentions. (Sometimes, admittedly, those smiles do take a little work to achieve, but like any other intentionally constructive activity, the results are worth the effort!)

The older I get, the more I seem to be able to grin and bear it, and that's not a bad thing at all. Practice makes perfect, or so the old saying goes.

Here in Lakewood, I think that we've always had this gentle tension between community interests, the neighborhoods, and the generations. We've always tried to strike a careful balance between being a child-friendly community, while also being welcoming to the 20-somethings, as well as to the young starter families. At the same time, we've also needed to take care of our older people. Going through each of those life experiences here in this city, I have to express my belief that Lakewood seems to have done reasonably well with each phase of our human timeline. It's a delicate balance, to be sure, and at times as a city, we may indeed have fallen short of perfection. That point made, Lakewood seems to me to foster that elusive can-do positive attitude that people have sometimes expressed about me personally...and that positive attitude has indeed made all the difference with the pulse of our city.

Back to the banjo...

Read More on Pulse of the City
Volume 10, Issue 16, Posted 3:05 PM, 08.05.2014