2017, the best of times?

2017

I am writing this on the eve of another new year… 2018. But, before I go on to the next 12-month chapter, I pause to think back. How will I remember 2017? We all know that some years are more memorable than others. Some years are more vivid and clear than others because they brought exciting, challenging, or happy times, but there are some that, sadly, bring back too few memories.

In 2017, I walked beautiful, white beaches washed by clear, turquoise waters. I explored the charm and history of the US Southeast. I “hiked” (for me, hiking is walking slowly on flat, hard-packed level trails) three national parks with my grandchildren. I spent a month in a beautiful cabin on a cool, clear glacial lake. I watched college basketball games and a stock car race in person. My wife and I experienced our 42nd anniversary together. We had all seven of our grandchildren in one place for a holiday weekend. I made new friends and nurtured relationships with old friends. My wife and I spent many afternoons at a pool with grandchildren. I played golf several times and was even on a tournament-winning team. I experienced the challenge of a knee replacement and its recovery. I have witnessed my grandchildren playing baseball, swimming, basketball, soccer and football (via video). I made memories fishing with my 3-year old grandson. I fell more deeply in love with my wife than I ever thought possible. I laughed. I cried. I attended more funerals than I wanted or expected. I enjoyed my first year of retirement and all that comes with it (especially not missing that lousy commute). Yes, 2017 was a terrific and memorable year!

I don’t think I can forget 2017 and all that I was blessed to experience. However, this was also a year of learning for me. A day (or month or year) is never wasted if we learn and grow from the experience. So, let me share a few things, as I reminisce on the year that helped me learn and grow:

  1. Life is not a checklist… enjoy the journey — Throughout my early life and work career, I have been a list maker. I would frequently create a “to do” list for the day or week and took great pleasure in scratching the items off the list. I would even create a mental checklist for family events, such as vacations. Get to the airport gate on time… check. Get to our destination… check. Find the car rental desk… check. You get the idea. However, I have found during this year that life is not a series of checklists that you have to accomplish in the right order and on time. Life can be full of wonderful experiences that sometimes occur random. When I think back on 2017, many of my “best memories” were not necessarily planned events. Many of these great times were spontaneous. How often does someone say to you, “Let’s go do ______?”, but you find an excuse or suggest another time? Why not sometimes throw out your calendar planner and just go with the flow more. You might be surprised at what you’ll remember most of 2018, if you do this more.
  2. Surprise yourself… occasionally do the unexpected –— I mentioned above that my wife and I spent a month in a lake cabin this year. Well, we plan to spend at least three months in the cabin this year. We didn’t have that on our retirement planner a year ago. But, when the opportunity came up, we just decided to “go for it.” Now, we are spending this cold and long winter making plans for our upcoming summer on the lake. Sometimes, you need to color outside the lines. Had we thought, “No, we can’t even consider a lake cabin because we didn’t plan for it,”, we would have missed out on the joy and fun we expect to have for years to come. You need to take a chance once in awhile because we never know how much time we’ll have to enjoy the experiences of life.
  3. You are creating memories for others… are they good ones? — Many of the very best memories of my life involve other people. In my childhood, I recall coaches, teachers, and family members that, in the process of pouring their lives into others, made good memories for me. Whether we want it or not… whether we are trying or not… we are making memories for our children, grandchildren, coworkers, neighbors, and others in our lives. The question is, “What kind of memories am I making? Are they positive memories? Or, are they memories that make me shudder?” There are things we can do, intentionally, to make a difference for others. I hope and pray that some of the good memories I carry from 2017 are also good memories that others will recollect in the years to come.
  4. Don’t take today for granted… things could change tomorrow— As I look back on 2017, I recall attending three funerals of individuals that died much too young and much too unexpectedly. We are only promised today, so we need to always be mindful that tomorrow may never come. Those things you are waiting to do… those activities you plan to do someday… those things that don’t fit in to your plans today… the time to do those things may never come. For my first 60 years, I took walking for granted. I didn’t even think about it. But, since experiencing back and knee problems, walking has become more of a chore that I ever expected. I no longer take this simple act for granted because I realize that someday it may not be as easy as it is today. Enjoy what you have in front of you this moment!

I do realize that for many, the memories of 2017 are not positive ones. Experiencing loss changes us forever. Suffering through challenging financial, work, family, or health issues makes us want to kick 2017 into ancient history. For those that are feeling these hurts today, all I can say is that I’m sorry and hopeful that the new year will be one filled with joy, hope, and happiness.

Charles Dickens began his book The Tale of Two Cities like this, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” As we look back on the year 2017, we may find it similar to the times Dickens wrote about over 150 years ago… it may have been both our best and worst of times. For me, I choose to look back with fondness and to anticipate that, in another 365 days, I will say the same thing about the year 2018.

Happy New Year!

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