The Secret of Life

Most people raved about Inaugural performances by Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson, and I thought they both sang inspiring versions of the songs presented, even though some carped about Beyonce’s lip-syncing. The truth is that James Taylor’s performance resonated the most with me.
            I searched for his version of “America” on iTunes without success. Instead, I discovered a song. The title is “Secret of Life,” and it was recorded in 1977 as part of Taylor’s album JT. However, it’s new to me, even though I’m not sure how I missed it for nearly forty years. The jarring impact of the words has made me want to share it with others.
            “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” The lyrics go on to say that none knows how we got to the top of the hill. Most of us work ourselves into exhaustion in an effort to get ahead. Before we blink an eye, half of life has passed us by. It’s then that the realization that we’re at the midpoint comes crashing down.
            The next lines says, “since we’re on the way down, we might at well enjoy the ride.” Anyone who is at this point needs to take a breath and make the most of each day of the rest of life. Work is for survival, but at what point does work become one’s identity more than a means to an end?
            It’s difficult for folks to kick back and relax. The daily grind is part of a life for as much as fifty years for some. Lying in the bed and allowing the morning to spread across consciousness instead of having it banged in the ears by an alarm is difficult. Internal clocks wake us up at the same time after a while. Too often, a new day is met with a growl and a frown. The second half of life should be faced with joy and gratitude and excitement.
            Many of us spend the day chasing something to do. To be industrious and productive has been beaten into our psyches for so long that failure to be such leads to guilt. Lounging or playing or having fun isn’t allowed. Taylor tells us that as we slide down, not to try too hard to slide. Isn’t it true that most of us tackle fun as if it were a job? Vacations are planned, and each activity must be marked off the to-do list. Leave the list behind and just enjoy each moment.
            He adds that “time isn’t really time; it’s all in your point of view and how you feel about it.” I, for one, am glad to hear this. For a long time I’ve professed to be a 20 year-old trapped in a 60 year-old body. Oh, we all have the aches and pains that accompany aging bodies, but our attitudes should be the same as they’ve been for years. We need to keep active and young in mind and spirit. That old saying is “you’re only as old as you feel” can be a guiding principle as we age.
            “The secret of life is in opening of your heart.” Maybe this is the key. We love our families. Perhaps the time is here for loving others. The awareness that each of us possesses a piece of God and that each of us is a child, a creation, of that power might help us to love others. For sure, we won’t like every individual with whom we have contact, but realizing those common beginnings should help us to offer kindness or a smile to every single person in our worlds. Our existence on this planet could be much smoother and more enjoyable with a true sharing of love.
            I’m behind the curve on this old James Taylor song. Still, discovering it brings lots of happiness. I’ve bought the iTune version and have it loaded on my computer and iPhone. Listening to it and saying a prayer are good ways to begin each morning.
By the way, I’ll continue looking for that Inaugural song. That original search led to the discovery of some wonderful things.

Sunday Night Popcorn

            In another universe and another time, Sunday was a day of rest. It was a day that defined the end of a hard week of work and school. That Sabbath was filled with some of the most comfortable and reassuring things for every member of the family.
            My parents took us to Sunday school and church all our lives. No, the church didn’t offer a nursery or a children’s alternate worship service. Dal, Jim, and I sat in church between grown-ups and kept our mouths shut.
            When young twin boys are left to their devices long enough, trouble is on the way. We’d draw on bulletins as generations of young ‘uns have done. Paranoid feelings settled in at some point, and both of us felt sure that every choir member in the front of the sanctuary was staring at us. Then one of our “tickle boxes” would overturn, and we’d darn near choke to death on swallowed laughter. On a couple of occasions, Daddy promised to deliver sound thrashings unless we “straightened up.”
            Once home, we boys were sent to change out of our Sunday clothes. Mother would finish cooking dinner, usually featuring fried chicken or a beef roast. Many Sunday mornings she would rise early to cook things so that we could gather round the kitchen table soon after returning from church. We boys grew fat on meals that also offered a basket of hot biscuits, gravy, and jelly.
            After the meal we were sent packing. Sometimes we finished homework for Monday, but most of our time was spent playing outside. We stayed inside only during downpours. Mother and Daddy cleared the table and washed the dishes. In short order, the kitchen was spotless, and on the top of the stove were leftovers that would disappear by evening.
            It was only after Mother worked like a servant that she trudged to her favorite chair in the living room. She and Daddy claimed the area as theirs. He sometimes moved to the bedroom to catch a few winks before leaving in the late evening for his shift at work. Mother poured over every article in the paper. In those days stories took up more room than ads. Eventually, she’d give in to her tired body and would curl into a ball like a dog and take a nap that might last half an hour or half an afternoon.
            In the evenings we loaded up for church again since both parents served as MYF leaders. Then we’d drive that short couple of miles back home. We hurried to finish up any loose ends of homework and then squabbled about whose turn it was to take the first bath.
With all things completed, the five of us gathered in front of an old television with a screen no larger than fifteen inches. Before long Mother would disappear, but when that aroma traveled from the kitchen to the living room, we knew she was completing the last task of the day.
            Mother would come back with a giant bowl of popcorn that she’d popped in a pot on the stove. The only rule was that we boys had to eat one kernel at a time. It was a difficult order, but if one of us cheated, the other two “tattle-taled.”
            We sat as a family and watched “Bonanza.” On special September Sundays, Chevrolet previewed the newest models of their cars. When the show was over, it was time for bed. Regardless of how bright-eyed we were, our parents sent us to our rooms. We later learned they did so to steal just a few minutes of peace and quiet before another week began.
            Families now have too many televisions, computers, video games, and cell phones. They don’t gather in one room unless a parent demands it, and then kids sulk until they can retreat to their rooms and toys again. I miss those Sunday nights with my family. It’s for sure that popcorn never tasted as good as it did back then.


It’s that special day when people everywhere wake to a new beginning. The first day of a new year is a time when folks reassess their lives and make plans for improvement. I did it as well.
            For years I promised myself each January 1 to lose weight. All my life I’ve battled poundage that camps out around my middle. Even as a kid, I’d promise to shed pounds so that a new wardrobe would be required.
            I defeated the weight problem my last year in high school and managed to keep it off throughout college. Then Amy and I married, and slowly, but surely, the pounds began to return. The older I grow, the harder the task of losing weight becomes.
            These days, I eat healthier than at any other time in my life. We have no fried foods, eat plenty of chicken and fish, and eat out only once a week. I gave up candy bars about 4 months ago, a major concession in my life. Still, the weight hangs on stubbornly and only illness that shuts down my appetite seems to lead to any weight loss.
            I’ve vowed to become healthier through exercising on at least twenty New Year days. I joined a health center and rose at 5:00 a.m. to get a workout completed before going to work. Several years ago, I began running, and before long my addiction to it was as bad as a person looking for his daily fix of some drug. I called what I did a “fat man jog,” but at least my efforts produced results.
            Oh, but life is filled with surprises. One incorrect “butterfly” rep while lying flat on a bench blew out a disc in my neck and led to surgery. A blown disc in my back a couple of years later led to another surgery and an end to running.
            For years, I promised myself to quit smoking, only to wake up a light up on those first days of new years before my feet hit the floor. It took the passing of both parents and an older brother before I found enough backbone to conquer a smoking addiction.
            Making resolutions isn’t something I do any more. A resolution is a promise to reach a goal. Perhaps I’m not as committed as in earlier years; perhaps I realize that such acts are wastes of time and energy. These days, I make attempts to do better, not resolutions. With that in mind, here’s a list things folks might try to do this year.
 Being kinder is the first one. Most of us wrap ourselves so tightly in personal goals and trials that we seldom have time or energy for others. Kindness is simple. It includes speaking to those who aren’t necessarily easy to love. Allowing a driver to merge without cursing or having a conniption is another way. Maybe it comes by offering a hand to someone who is struggling with a project, a serious personal problem, or even financial difficulties.
Each person needs to dream more. Our lives are desperate only to the degree we choose to remain mired in the mud of boredom. Henry David Thoreau once said,
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Dreaming helped this country to become the leader in modern times. It is the thing that opens our lives to possibilities. Our work is to dream first and then work to make them come true. A life with a positive outlook includes an optimism that battles those times of doubts and fears that inevitably come.
Most of all, we all need to play more. Work is good; it pays the bills. However, our destinies have never been only to work and accumulate. I figure that the good lord expects us to enjoy each day we are given, and that means engaging in the things that bring the most joy. Stop working a little earlier each day and just play; be a kid again.
That’s a quick list of hopes for the next year. I won’t resolve accomplish them, but I’ll sure try my hardest to include them in my life. I hope your 2013 is a good one filled with happiness and fulfillment.


I sometimes remember when a bad dream would pull me from sleep and leave me scared witless in the dark. The urge to run to my parents’ bedroom and crawl in with them was strong, but not as strong as the fear that something would get me if I put one foot out from under the covers. So, I lay frozen with fear until sleep would again overtake me.
            Sometimes as kids, we’d sit on hay bales in a field near the house and tell stories. The scary ones always did me in, especially when dark had fallen. To make matters worse, the older boys would walk to the edge of the woods and then tell us about snipe hunting. Yes, I fell for it, but after standing around for a while to capture some unknown varmint, I’d begin the walk back home. The only light available came from the moon, and the ghosts and goblins and “boogers” came to mind. That hurried my pace until I was running through the fields to get home. Not until I slammed the door behind me at the front entrance did I feel safe.
            One Halloween, a gang of us boys no older than twelve walked the roads to trick or treat. We saw a car pull into a field and wondered why it was there. We sneaked up as quietly as a bunch of young boys could, but before we reached the car, the window rolled down and a shot rang out. We all skedaddled and ran to a safe point far from the vehicle. Then we checked to make sure no one was missing or injured. The night was ruined, and a group of scared little boys returned home with only a handful of treats.
            I once had a car wreck as a teenager. I pulled out into the path of a Knox County Sherriff’s cruiser that was chasing another car. The vehicle had no lights or siren on, and it plowed into the front fender of the car I was driving. I saw the eyes of the deputy as his car slid sideways and ran off the road backend first. The taste of fear was metallic, the result of an overload of adrenaline as I saw the approaching vehicle. I shook for an hour afterwards.
            I’m scared again. The senseless butchering of 20 children and seven adults has shaken most all of us to our cores. We are never supposed to bury our children, and it’s even worse when those little ones are 6-7 years of age. Every parent wanted to run home to find his or her children or grandchildren and wrap protective arms around them. However, in this case, no arms would have prevented the outcome.
            The maniac that killed these babies used an assault rifle to cut down his targets. Each victim had been shot several times. Only the killer managed to take one bullet. The fact is that no one, child or adult, stood a chance against the weapon.
            The shock to all in the nation has led to a call for action. Even the most strident NRA supporters in our federal government are calling for a change. They agree that no assault weapon should be available to anyone other than military forces. It’s not an attack on the Second Amendment because citizens can still own weapons for hunting and personal protection. It’s just that the overkill weapons need to go.
            At the same time, the call goes out to stop the violent video games and movies that desensitize folks who play or watch them. Major cuts in mental health funding are being reviewed also.
            I say it’s about time. However, I’m still scared. What frightens me is the forgetfulness of the American public. I’m concerned that in a short time this tragedy will fade in our memories and the urgency to make sweeping changes in assault weapon ownership will weaken. A fickle public might lose its anger over these senseless killings and let its demand for banning those weapons weaken.
            We can’t let it happen. We must demand that weapons that shoot 30 rounds in seconds be forever banned. If it doesn’t happen, before long the fear will return when another round of senseless violence occurs.