November 20, 2015, is the ninth anniversary of my liver transplant. Almost a decade into Act 2. That’s almost as long as my first career in public education on Long Island, half as many years as I worked in corporate settings, and longer than my tenure in economic development at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s twice as long, plus some, as my time participating in caregiving for my elderly mother. I’m very blessed by having the opportunity to move along this winding journey, beyond the middle and forward into old age.
Time and again my life’s milestones have been accompanied by changes in direction. Some were voluntary (as in the move to Asheville) others were involuntary and therefore more challenging (such as losing my mother or being downsized out of a job). But at every turning point, before taking one additional step, I had to stop, look, and listen – inward. I had to probe my heart and mind to find clues to the question, “What now?” The same question that kept me moving forward day by day, month by month, to a successful liver transplant in 2006. Some questions can be researched, but many of the most critical have to be answered from the inside out.
Neither TripAdvisor nor AAA can help you decide how to choose or how to stay on “the path with heart.” The path with heart is the direction in life that pulls you, rather than the road you have to force yourself to take. In public school there are lessons in reading and writing, but seldom are we given formal instruction on how to become good listeners. Likewise, I would venture to say that even if we had parents who encouraged us to express our ideas and feelings with confidence, it was unlikely they taught us how to listen to our own hearts. Luckily, the crossroads I’ve faced gave me on-the-job training in this important skill.
Today I don’t face the pressures I was used to in my “past life” – how to advance around the game board of life by winning favor with parents, friends, colleagues, and superiors. I’m not in that game anymore. Nor do I have to face the enormous challenges of staying alive while getting sufficiently sick enough to get on and move to the top of a transplant patient waiting list, and then survive both the surgery and the recovery. I’ve made it across the finish line of middle age and, as Frank Sinatra said so well, “I did it my way” – relying the effectiveness formula encapsulated in the book I wrote a long time ago, “How to Get From Where You Are, to Where You Want To Be.” Now healthy and happy, still watching 70 through the front windshield rather than the rear view mirror, I’m free to re-apply this formula to shape the map I’ll use for my future decisions.
Step One is to look inward, not outward.
“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” – Saint Francis de Sales
In my journals, I’m mind-mapping my desires, interests, preferences and taking inventory of what I already have that will help me as I progress through old age. Skills, talents, useful habits, friends and family, positive attitudes, etc.
Anticipating that we will be downsizing (again), Michael and I have been getting rid of clutter from our current home, separating what we want to keep from what gets donated or sold. I’m looking for clues in these decisions
that tell me what’s essential for my heart to feel at home, wherever that may be in the future. In my meditation I’m asking for wisdom on what about a community of neighbors helps me connect easily and deeply, and what is the essence of “me” that I bring to a group.
November 20 is my re-birthday; another year granted to me by the generosity of a stranger, the support of my beloved, family, and close friends, the prayers of many, and the gifted hands of my surgeon, Dr. James Guarerra. I am so very grateful and looking forward to many more adventures on the journey through elder hood.
I really do hope to see you along the path.