Life Is But a Dream

We may be landlocked here in Middle Tennessee, but I am in a nautical frame of mind, as Linda and I are planning our upcoming vacation to the New England coast, our very favorite place to visit. And while I was preparing this post I was reminded of the nursery school rhyme we all learned as children: “Row, row, row your boat, Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.”

Not all of life is dreamy, of course, but what I’d like to think this rhyme is about is adopting a merrier attitude as we row our boat called life. And one way to travel “gently down the stream,” as the song says, is to pack lightly. Paula Wallace, co-founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design, puts it this way: “The allure of travel lies in the freedom of a suitcase—taking only what one needs and leaving room for serendipity.”

And in her book Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter author Elaine St. James shares this fun quote attributed to the cleverly named Jerome Klapka Jerome: “Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink, for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

Personally, I could do without the cat and dog, or even the pipes, but I agree with the rest of Jerome’s pithy perspective. The lighter we travel through life, the less baggage we need to lug with us. By keeping it simple, we save ourselves the trouble of toting more than we need on our journey, which any veteran traveller will tell you is the key to enjoying the trip from here to there. Remember, hearses are the great equalizer between the haves and the have-nots. Living lightly on earth helps prepare us for the hereafter.

Unplugging to Reconnect

Author Alain de Botton said, “Journeys are the midwives of thought.” My wife and I recently returned from a roadtrip to Florida during which we saw our families and thawed out at the beach, and it got me thinking. I turned 50 earlier this year and, while I turned down an AARP membership, I am mindful of my stage in life and that none of us is getting any younger, no matter how hard we try to maintain our youth.

On our journey south, we had the pleasure of visiting not only with family but also with several friends that we hadn’t seen in the year since we last visited Florida. Most are our age or older and some had experienced health issues during that time, even severe ones. My dad turned 90 at the end of last year and has had his challenges, including surgery to remove a cancerous growth. All in all, our loved ones are fine, but this life is temporary.

The other day I saw a poster that captured this very sentiment: “All that we called our own, as it turns out, was borrowed.” Not only are our lives not our own yet gifts from our Maker, but all of our stuff is on loan also. Yes, all of the stuff that we strive so hard to obtain, maintain and retain…it is all temporary, people. The only thing that remains after this life is over is our spiritual being and our relationships with other people. That is it!

As I am writing this on the one-year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s passing, I can’t help reflecting on her godly heritage and the gracious gift she gave me in the guise of her daughter. I am grateful to God for her and glad that she is enjoying her eternal reward. As for me, I enjoyed a special time visiting with my mother the other day, a chat into the late evening as a result of my inadvertently unplugging a cable, wiping out the television.

To place this event in its proper perspective, it is important to understand that for talking to replace television in my parents’ household practically takes an act of God, so it was no minor miracle that my mother and I had the opportunity to catch up with one another and discuss things that would never have arisen if the television had been operating. Perhaps the moral of the story is that we must unplug in order to reconnect with what matters.

Living a Legacy

I am reading a book about the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and it appears that he qualifies for the billionaire bad boy club by sharing the unenviable trait of being both a genius and a jerk. I hesitate to use such strong language but I am fed up with reading the life stories of so called “successful” businessmen who bullied their way to the top while leaving a path of destroyed relationships in their wake.

Bezos didn’t kick a partner to the curb like Steve Jobs of Apple did with Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates of Microsoft did with Paul Allen but he has apparently alienated scores of others who helped get Amazon off the ground while making billions in the process of laughing [his infamous laugh] all the way to the bank. But what he and his ilk don’t realize is theirs is not the last laugh. The lives we leave behind determine our legacy so how we live is what matters. It is the foolish that think it better to be feared than loved.

In full disclosure, I am a big fan of Apple products and actually cried the day Steve Jobs died, but it grieved me more to read in his official biography how poorly he treated people. And the first software I got for my Apple computer was Microsoft’s Office for Mac but I find it profoundly ironic that Bill Gates is now globetrotting as a philanthropist after helping himself to Apple technology that he later used to monopolize the software industry. I also happen to be a fan of Amazon and hope Jeff Bezos learns to live a legacy worth leaving before it is too late.

The Meaning of Home

With the holidays around the corner it is natural that our thoughts turn to hearth and home. But exactly what is the meaning of home? Many of us think of some idealized version of a house, perhaps situated down a lane or upon a hill, surrounded by a bucolic landscape, maybe in New England or some other picturesque setting.

However, as the saying goes, “a house does not make a home.” What most of us mean when we conjure visions of home is the sense of togetherness we experience with the people we love. It is our relationships with loved ones that constitute a home, not real estate, no matter how beautifully situated.

So to quote another popular saying, “home is where the heart is.” If there is anything that Linda and I have learned over the course of the last couple years is that “home” has become a moving target for us. Home is wherever we are with each other. And as Christians, we’ve adopted the truism that “In Christ” is our permanent address.

In her groundbreaking book The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, Sarah Susanka writes, “Although we normally associate the word “home” with a place that’s built out of bricks and mortar, in fact home is much more than that. It is a feeling and a way of being in one’s life rather than any specific place.”

“We are all looking for home, but we’re looking with the wrong tool,” adds Susanka. “We are trying to find home through more square footage, when in fact the quality of home has almost nothing to do with size. Instead, it’s to be found in the qualities of space rather than the quantities…” This holiday season, here’s to sweet fellowship, regardless of the square footage.

Time: The Priceless Possession

I finished reading Timelock: How Life Got So Hectic and What You Can Do About It by Ralph Keyes and thought I’d share some of its insights here. As Keyes writes: “One of the most basic questions one can ask in getting out from under timelock is, ‘What would you be doing if you only had six months to live?’ Those who filled out questionnaires did so.

Their answers were revealing. With half a year remaining, the most common preference was to spend time with family, look up old friends, travel, read, and write.” That is exactly what my wife and I have been doing since selling our house and stuff a couple of years ago. Living by design with an eye on eternity means treating time as the priceless possession it is.

Here is a “butcher’s dozen” [one less than a dozen] tips from The Timelock Antidote Handbook chapter of Timelock:

Develop a new sense of time…realize it is a relative concept.
Plan life, not time…get a bigger picture perspective.
Manage time organically…remember the journey is the destination.
Decelerate…slow down the pace of your race to succeed.
Modulate…moderate your lifestyle with regular breaks from action.
Reduce awareness of time…quit clock watching in favor of living.
Seek sanctuary from time…celebrate sabbatical periods of inactivity.
Limit purchases…create stuff instead of consuming goods.
Pay attention to yourself and others…prioritize time with people.
Upgrade family time…go for quantity as well as quality.
Achieve more by doing less…accept that you cannot have it all.

Living With Less

My mother-in-law died the other day and so we just returned from another round trip to Florida for her funeral and here to Tennessee for her burial. All of which has served to remind me of the relative brevity of life and our relationship with stuff during our lives. One poignant reminder came with my wife’s request for, and receipt of, her mother’s wedding ring. It was the only thing she asked for and her father and older sister graciously agreed to it.

While in Florida, my wife and I offered to help her father start the process of going through his wife’s belongings but he was not yet prepared to deal with it and we understood. The good news is that once the time comes there won’t be that much to process since my mother-in-law was not one for owning lots of stuff. For as long as I knew her [more than 27 years] she never cared much for accumulating the things of this world. Her focus was rather on the spiritual side of life and I admired that about her.

On the very day of my mother-in-law’s burial there appeared in The New York Times an op-ed by Graham Hill titled “Living With Less. A Lot Less.” and it really resonated with me, especially in light of recent events. As Hill stated, “Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.” Hill, a successful entrepreneur who happens to live in a 420-square-foot studio in New York, summarized: “My space is small. My life is big.”

I’ve never seen a trailer behind a hearse and life is brought into stark relief when you stare into a pit dug about six feet deep and truly realize that “you can’t take it with you.” During the funeral for my mother-in-law, my wife reminded us all to keep life in its proper perspective: “Live like today is your last; love like there is no tomorrow; and laugh like you have no sorrow.” Amen to that.

Strangers and Sojourners

It’s that time again…my wife and I are preparing for the next move on our grand adventure…and this time it’s off to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Dating to 1623, the city of about 25,000 is the third oldest English settlement in the nation behind Jamestown, Virginia [1607] and Plymouth, Massachusetts [1620] and we are headed there this weekend to check out the area before planning to move there within the month.

Speaking of Plymouth, while pilgrims are most often associated with that place, the word pilgrim literally refers to people who embark on journeys of faith and that includes us. A similar word to pilgrim is the lesser-used term of sojourner, which can be defined as “a person who resides temporarily in a place,” and that also describes us.

Even my blog profile states: “I am a creative sojourner who enjoys simple living, thoughtful conversation and good coffee.” And during my devotional reading the other day I came across a biblical passage from the Old Testament that quoted God as saying, “For you are strangers and sojourners with Me.” I can’t speak for others but I like the thought of God being my traveling companion.

As we anticipated from the get-go, Nantucket has been a way station instead of a destination for my wife and me. Between moves from our cottage on Main Street here in Nantucket and the upcoming one to Portsmouth we are staying with friends at another property located on, of all places, Pilgrim Road, which sums up our journey.