The Years That End in One

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

The Psalmist reminds us that our days in these earthly bodies are numbered.  How exactly do we “number our days?” 

For me, seasonal changes are a time for reflection.  It’s the Fall of 2021, and here in the American South, the morning temperatures  have finally returned to the oh-so-comfortable 50-degree range.  Our sauna-like humidity has abated for the moment, and cloudless blue skies reign over the Southland.  It’s a welcome respite from the sweltering season with the innocently sounding name of Summer. What is it about anticipating cooler temps, changing leaf colors, and college football that triggers a walk down memory lane?  When I “number my days,” I first look back, reflecting on where I have been for the past eight years that end in one.

It’s the Fall of 1951.  I am still considered a newborn, having been born earlier that year at the Oakland, California Naval Base Hospital.  Dad was stationed there during the Korean Conflict, but will soon be discharged. He and my mom will be driving cross-country back home to Georgia. Driving across New Mexico, my mom recalls dad got a speeding ticket, and the fine cost almost all of their money.  They had to stop  in Baytown, Texas, to spend the night with his brother Bill and borrow some cash to make it home.

It’s the Fall of 1961.  I am ten years old and starting the fifth grade.  I loved my teacher, Mrs. Thelma Copeland, at Toney Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia.  She instilled a love of reading and history in me, in part, by playing the game of HISTO in her class.  Played like Bingo, she handed out a list of answers under columns labeled H-I-S-T-O.  Each student created bingo cards with selected answers under the appropriate column.  Then we played HISTO as she asked a question, and if the answer was on your card, you covered that spot until you filled a line and could yell out HISTO! The winner received a big sucker.  I won a lot of suckers that year, which may explain the increase in dental visits. We didn’t attend church very often — rarely would be a more apt description. But I did attend Sunday School at a local Baptist Church, partly out of curiosity and also because they gave out free snacks, like Cracker Jacks.

It’s the Fall of 1971.  I am a sophomore CO-OP student at Georgia Tech.  That Fall quarter found me enjoying college life as part of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, ushering the student section at Georgia Tech football games, and trying to survive yet another Calculus class.  My girlfriend, Tootie Smith, and I had been dating since our senior year in high school. We were already discussing marriage even as we struggled to resolve our differences in faith.  I had become a Christian the previous year. She was a Catholic.  I wasn’t. We both were in love — with each other and with Jesus.

It’s the Fall of 1981.  I am working with Southern Bell as the Supervising Engineer of the Athens (Georgia) Outside Plant Engineering District.  Tootie and I had just celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary and welcomed our fifth child the month before. Athens proved to be a great place to raise a family.  Having embraced the Catholic faith, we were active in our parish, St. Joseph.  Life was busy with two boys, ages 6 and 8, and three girls, ages 2, 4, and a newborn. What free time we had found us working in pro-life ministries, delivering over 200 pro-life presentations, in churches throughout the 1980s.

It’s the Fall of 1991.  Having been transferred back to Atlanta in 1988, I served as Staff Manager for the Vice President of Georgia Operations.  We lived in the suburb of  Conyers. Our oldest son was a freshman at the University of Georgia.  Our second son was playing high school football.  Our daughters were engaged in cheerleading, softball, and basketball.  Tootie had been re-certified as a Nurse and was working in Outpatient Services at Newton General Hospital. If I’m honest, our faith life hit a few dry spells during this time. But our hunger for spiritual growth would soon be recharged.

It’s the Fall of 2001.  I am now the Director of Engineering and Construction for BellSouth’s Atlanta South District.  Tootie and I are empty nesters. Four of our children are out of school and working. Our youngest graduated high school two years earlier and was in college.  Tootie recently became the Nurse Manager for Refuge Pregnancy Center.  While she took an 80% pay cut to do this work, it was a rewarding experience.  She will soon become certified as a Sonographer. We are enjoying this “alone” time. Sadly, we, along with the rest of the world, are still reeling from the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City.  Life will never be the same.

It’s the Fall of 2011.  I am a widower.  I lost Tootie to cancer the previous January, and I feel like I am walking in a fog.  After the merger of BellSouth and AT&T in 2008, my job finds me developing time standards for most of the operational jobs in AT&T.  This nationally focused assignment keeps my mind occupied as I struggle with living and moving forward.  I keep a grief journal as my personal therapy tool, little realizing that it would soon win a writing award and a publishing contract and become a helpful resource for grief ministries.  My faith is the only thing keeping me sane.  What else offers the hope and comfort I need?

It’s the Fall of 2021.  I have remarried and just celebrated my fourth anniversary with Patrice.  Relocated to Evans, Georgia, I continue to enjoy retirement (since 2015) by writing on my blog.  TheBuddyBlog.com now has over 224 personal reflections and readers in 97 countries.  I am also a contributing writer for CatholicMatch.com, and serve on the Leadership Team of the Colson Fellows Program.  My eight grandchildren and Patrice’s two grandsons keep us busy.  The COVID pandemic has us ever mindful of wearing masks and washing hands. Life, it seems, is constantly changing.  Retirement, I have discovered, is an even greater opportunity to serve and influence others for the hope that can only be found in Christ. 

This past week, I was invited to speak at a Client Appreciation Dinner for a Financial Planning Group.  I chose to talk about how to achieve contentment and joy in the final phase of our lives by waking up each day with a purpose.  The lessons learned over a lifetime served as a reminder that we need to focus on the things that matter.  I shared a quote from the late Dr. Armand Nicholi, former editor of The Harvard Guide to Psychiatry.  Dr. Nicholi, who also taught at Harvard, made the following observation: 

The people who feel the best about themselves after retirement are those who get involved in some kind of work or activity where they can make a contribution to others, such as volunteer work, mentoring, or teaching.  Sharing your wealth through charitable giving and philanthropy is important, but sharing your knowledge is every bit as important.  It’s the opposite of ‘fame and fortune,’ but it has lasting significance.  I’ve often said — The fruit of my work grows on other people’s trees.

Will I be here in the Fall of 2031?  2041? 2051?  How many years that end in one do I have left?  I am keenly aware that there are more days behind me than ahead of me.  For now, mindful of my mortality, I pursue Wisdom, Goodness, and Truth as a way of leaving a legacy for my grandchildren.  

So, no matter what year it is, no matter the days that are left, time seems to be flying by at an ever increasing pace.  All the more reason, for me to wake up each morning engaged in activities with meaning and purpose.

What better way to number my days (and find contentment and joy) than to see the fruit of my work grow on other people’s trees!

Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,…”. (Ephesians 5:15)

Thanks to Manasvita S on Unsplash.com for the use of the photo

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