Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Fri 5/26/2006 3:57 AM
Random Thought: The Race

My cancer was and still is like a pencil sharpener. It has honed my awareness of myself, this moment, others, and things around me. It has made me realize more than ever that the sin of everything I do in my personal and professional life is that of inadvertence, not being alert, not quite awake. It is the sin of missing each moment of life. It is the sin of not unwrapping the present that the present offers: to live with unremitting awareness and intense gratitude. It's the commission of that omission--not to do something empowering, something joyful, something positive, something meaningful, something creative and imaginative, and something valuable each moment--that causes anyone to grow old, atrophy, and diminish the passionate fires. It's an awareness so acute that I have little or no time for fear, agony, resentment, and resignation. Awareness is my best friend. It permits me to go anywhere I chose. It transforms every challenge from forboding and forbidding into welcoming and allowing. It allows me to speak with my own voice, think with my own mind, create with my own imagination, and act according to my own vision. It shows me that I am the solution to any problems I face and the answer to any questions I pose. It keeps me young, alert, adroit, and vibrant. It sets me in motion and does allow me merely to go through the motions. It insists I live my words rather than merely be satisfied with uttering them. It inspires me to keep on making changes in my life, do more for myself, be truer to myself, and do more for others. My cancer always reminds me of my need for a "just to...." place, an introspective personal time and secluded place for quiet refueling of my inner fires, for reviewing and renewing my personal and professional values, needs, and priorities. In fact, we each need to learn that we would all do well to take personal quiet time and make use of life review. I assure you that such a time and place improves your mood and vigor, increases your energy, heightens your desire to take care of yourself, as well as better stacks the deck in favor of better physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. In other words, it is my private and public litany that I will not, I simply swear I will not, go quietly into the still night. That is what keeps me in the race during the entire race.

Talking about races, as I enter my 40th year here at Valdosta State people incessantly have been asking when I plan to retire or why haven't I already retired. It's almost the opening sentence of every conversation. I don't get annoyed. No, I chuckle. My universal answers are either "Retire to what?" or "Why retire when I'm enjoying myself" or "Because I'm having so much fun!" I sometimes think people ask me this question because they unfairly believe everything exciting happens between the ages of 18 and 40. After that, it's all about thinking about stopping work and retiring. Well, those who have not particularly liked the classroom or see it as holding them back look forward to the day they can leave it all behind. They're staid before their physical years and middle-aged in their youth. Retirement, for them, has already been decided on. Me? I'm not a dawdler of either the past or the future. As an historian, I can assure you we do with the past what we like. We each handcraft the world ago. "In my day" were the "good ole days" only because we have chosen to forget the bad days; we have decided in self-protection not to weave in the tears, hurts, deprivations, missed chances, missteps, and lost loves into the fabric of our memories. As for the future, it makes for good musing. And I'll be damned if I'm going to dwell on the ignominies that have crept up on me and the possible physical assaults that might appear. I think we dwell on them too much. Maybe it's fear. Maybe it's denial. Whatever it is, my cancer has brought to home that truth that I don't know which will be the spring when I won't be here to walk the pre-dawn streets or stroll through my garden or meditate by my koi pond. So, while my body may not be as capable, my spirit is as cocky and youthful as ever. It's a sagging spirit, not a sagging body, that's the critical determinant of where each of us is and will be. To be sure, the flesh may be announcing its limits and I take it almost as a personal affront, but the spirit is not. I have no choice about getting older, but I can refuse to get old. I have observed in my sixty-five years on this Earth that being old and spiritually decrepit is a decision. I have observed that some people become old long before their time and simply decide to take to their beds and retire long before they start collecting their retirement. It all has to do with temperament, the nature of the individual. So, each day I give myself the spiritual equivalent of Botox and the plastic surgeon's knife. I put myself in an empowering place. I savor each moment; I experience and enjoy and live it out each day. For me, teaching is more playing than paying. It lines my soul more than my pockets. It does my spirit more good than does retiring. It's true my future is shrinking and my past is expanding. When that inevitable day comes, and it's far closer than I want to admit, it will be as if a large piece of me fell crashing away like a huge chunk of a glacier's edge.

And so, I'm beginning to see this state of my career, as it inevitably approaches the finish line, as something of a race. No, I'm not talking about the proverbial dehumanizing and enslaving rat race. Just a race at a track meet. It was easy to start out my career strong. Everyone begins a career at the crack of the starting gun with a youthful vibrancy filled an energetic and starry-eyed enthusiasm. But, I think the real achievement of any career comes to those who can also finish strong. It's not the runner who leads at the starting line who wins; it's the runner who, on the final turn, stays determined, digs deep, finds that something extra, picks up the pace, and sprints home.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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