Monday, August 27, 2012

The legacy for me

July 20, 1969.  Were were leaving on vacation late at night (to get a head start on driving) with a family friend, and we sat around Mrs. Grogan's black and white TV watching Neil Armstrong step down on the moon before we left.  Now tributes are pouring in on what an extraordinary man he was, how he could have had anything after his milestone journey, but he chose to stay out of the spotlight and shun publicity.  I even read where he didn't make a habit of signing autographs "to be sold to the highest bidder."

So don't offer me any money for this little gem above.  Maybe he took pity on me since I was in high school, maybe my letter was irresistibly eloquent (unfortunately, I didn't keep a copy), but for whatever reason, after I wrote him an admiring letter, Neil Armstrong mailed me this photograph which I have treasured ever since.

All the tributes in the media really made me think.  Society has the custom of heaping praise on people once they're dead.   Everywhere there are eulogies, documentaries, dignitaries weighing in on the important influence this or that deceased person has had on society.  All well and good.  Do we ever think to tell them while they're alive?  Sometimes not, at least not to this degree.

I remember on my mom's 70th birthday, we held a surprise party for her in the hall of her church.  Old friends came, relatives from near and far as well, and all the guests signed their names in the guest book.  I recall as I looked through the guest book, I had the vision for a moment that it was a memorial book - you know, the kind they have in funeral homes.   But it wasn't in memory of - it was in honor of - and I can tell you with a smile how much fun we all had that day.  My sister and her husband had made a video of Mom's life up to that point, with interviews from family and friends, which Mom just about cried through - and all were extolling Mom's generosity, her caring nature, her compassion, her faithfulness - in other words, everything one would say at a funeral except the honoree was very much alive and getting to hear all the wonderful comments.

I'm glad Neil Armstrong is being hailed as a humble hero, for he truly was.  I just hope he realized how much he meant to this country and to us as individuals before he left us.  I wish that for everyone.  This week, call someone up, write a letter, or go visit the people you care about, the people who have made your life better, the friends, role models or teachers who have influenced you in unforgettable ways, whether famous or not, and let them know how much they mean to you, while they are still around to hear it.

Farewell, Neil Armstrong.  Thanks for making a high schooler's day brighter.

Friday, August 10, 2012


What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “invest”?  Money?  For a long time, that too was my first reaction to this word.  Investment, investment accounts, investing in retirement - things like that.  In the last few years, though, my experience has led me to broaden my interpretation.
I am a medical transcriptionist by trade and I get paid by production, by how many lines I transcribe.  The more I transcribe, the more money I make.  So I pretty much type fast and furious for 8 hours a day.  As you can imagine, my hands would probably fall off if I didn’t have some powerful software (mine is Instant Text 7) to give me word-expanding capabilities.  (For those of you who are unfamiliar with word expansion software, I would type, for instance, the letters “caps” and that would expand to the word “capabilities” with the touch of a key.)  As I posted last year, I was fortunate to be a beta tester for the update of Instant Text and knew that I needed to spend a lot of my own personal time learning, working, creating, experimenting, and otherwise using this powerful software as a tool to enhance my production.  I was ready and anxious to invest my time to claim the rewards I would receive from my investment (more lines, more accuracy, less wear on my hands).  Besides, I always get excited learning something new.
It amazes me that not everybody feels this way when it comes to tools.  It seems simple, really.  You invest in the time to learn something that will later pay you back with interest.  Sure, it involves work, maybe time you’d rather spend doing something else with more immediate pleasure, but the time and energy invested will give a great return.  I’ve had interaction with transcriptionists who don’t feel it’s worth the effort to learn such time-saving techniques, for one reason or another.  Some consider it a waste of time, when I consider it an investment.
The Instant Text scenario led me to reexamine other areas of my life, and society’s life as a whole, with regard to investment.  So many of these investments aren’t quick payoffs, but we know the payoff will eventually come.  We make decisions to invest in our health, foregoing instant gratification for long-term goals.  We make investments in the upbringing of our children, in education, in job training, in relationships, in elections, in gardens, in the health prognosis of our planet, in the future of our community and our country and our world.  
Ask any of the Olympic athletes if their investment was worth it.  From what I heard, even without a medal, the opportunity to take part in the games was worth their years of training.  The key, some said, was not to think about the pain of training, but to keep in the front of their mind the glory of the goal.  They knew the payoff could be grand indeed.
Investment takes time, effort, energy, commitment, and sometimes (but not always) money.  Basically, an investment says, “I’m betting on this idea.  I’m betting that what will come out of this will be multiple times the amount I’m putting in it.”  We are betting that we (and its sometimes long-reaching effects) are worth it. 
I used to tell a story in one of my children’s sermons of an old man who was planting an apple tree.  A kid came by and said, “You old fool!  Don’t you know you’re so old you won’t live to eat a single one of those apples?”  The old man said, “Yes, I know.  But someone will.”
Some investments, like my beloved Instant Text, seem to be at first glance only for my personal achievement.  However, its effect of making me more accurate and productive benefits all the patients whose medical records are in my care.   My investment in my health will hopefully pay off in a higher quality of life, one that won’t involve so much dependence on my children or others to see me through.  I invest time in what books I read, what I watch on TV, the friends keep in touch with.  I invest in my marriage.  My years of investment in my kids - their ethical training, their education, their responsibilities as humans and children of God - have already paid off in abundance and will be multiplied as they pass on their own investment to their children and beyond.  
A lot of the time, investment involves risk, of course.  Some people spend their parenting years trying to invest as best as they can in their kids who in turn ruin their own lives by making bad choices.  Just like high-risk, high-yield funds and safer ones, in other part of life every bet is not a sure bet.   Then again, the payoff may be a long time coming.  We are all familiar with the great social reformers in our history who invested their whole being in trying to bring a sense of justice and grace to the world.  Some of them lived to see the payoff, some died before they had any idea how much of a difference their investment made.  
So my question continues to be:  Am I investing in what is worth investing in this life, are my priorities straight, are my “bets” ones worth making?  Am I cognizant of the fact that the payoff of my investment may not be realized in my lifetime?  Is it then still worth it? It’s ironic that we so often consider the financial definition as the primary meaning of investment - yet money comes and goes, houses are worth a lot one day and not much the next, gas prices and crop prices and stocks go up and down, and the value of everything is relative.  What do we all have, though, that is for sure and is worth the same always?  The limited (yet for most people, abundant) time and energy that we are allotted on this glorious earth.  They are ours to invest.  Let us invest wisely - with purpose, passion, wisdom, and integrity.  It’s not always about the money.