Strange, isn’t it, how a convergence of events can give us pause to consider that age old question, “What am I living for?” This past week has been one of those times for me.
My own impending birthday was the first trigger – not a doomsday sort of countdown but an annual reminder that time stands still for no man, including me. While talking with a friend of mutual age this past week I mentioned that I increasingly find myself counting the shrinking number of years I still hope to live rather than counting and celebrating the abundance of years I have already lived. Of course I’m happy to celebrate another birthday, but the snowballing reality of longevity does cause one to ponder that legacy question.
If my impending birthday wasn’t enough to trigger a “contemplation of life” moment, several other events of the past week did provide ample reason to do so. One of these was taking note of Jiroemon Kimura’s birthday.
Last Friday Mr. Kimura, a resident of Kyotang, Japan, turned 116. He now holds the Guinness longevity record and the honor of being the world’s oldest person (who said women outlive men?) Mr. Kimura is blessed to still be of sound mind. I can’t help but wonder if he sometimes asks himself, “What am I living for?”
Another of my contemplation of life triggers was the passing of two modern day patriarchs, George Beverly Shea and Ed Knoechel. Early in life both of these humble men discovered a meaningful answer to the question I have posed. I will provide a comment about their answer in a moment.
George Beverly Shea died on April 16 at the age of 104. The impact and blessings of his life are well known. Lesser known but of no less importance was the impact Ed Knoechel had on the lives of those who knew him. Ed, a resident of Laurel, died on April 12 at the age of 92, one year and one day after the death of his wife Wesa, better known as Dale by family and friends. My friendship with Ed and Dale dates back to my high school days at Mount Vernon Academy with their son and lifelong friend, Ken.
It was Ed and Dale who opened their home to Yvonne, me, and our children for the entire month of July, 1991 when we were in the process of moving from Indiana to Clermont County for me to begin serving as CEO of Clermont Senior Services. This act of kindness characterized Ed and Dale’s lives and revealed their answer to the question, “What am I living for?”
And as if these triggers weren’t enough, the tragic and untimely deaths and injuries that resulted from the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, and the less reported but equally tragic explosion that devastated the small town of West, Texas on April 17, should be sufficient for all of us to pause and ask ourselves what we are living for.
So you can understand why this past week my usual inclination to jovial humor was overshadowed by a desire – a need – to pause ask myself what I am living for.
As readers of this column know, I enjoy leisure activities like writing, working in the yard, camping, and hiking at our local and National Parks; and that I am immensely enjoying my new retirement avocation of auctioneering. You might say I’m living my retirement dreams. But are these the things I’m living for? I confess, at times, if I lose my focus, they are.
As I took laptop in hand on Sunday morning to write this column, thinking about how best to share with you my answer to this simple yet monumental question, the words of an old gospel song came to mind, “If I can help somebody as I travel along…then my living shall not be in vein.”
I believe this is the answer George Beverly Shea and Ed and Dale Knoechel discovered early in life. It is also the answer that lies deep within the hearts of every First Responder, motivating them to serve even though in doing so they daily face the risk of unexpected injury or even death.
“What am I living for?” I can think of no better answer than “to help somebody as I travel along, that my living may not be in.” The how of this is a column for another time but, briefly, the lyrics of another song capture it for me. “Reach out and touch somebody” – anybody, everybody – through little acts of kindness, whether by word or deed. And when I do my living is not in vein.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.