Come Alive to Be Alive and Stay Alive

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“Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

 ~ Civil rights leader Howard Thurman,  quoted in

I want to thank Mark Wernick for sending me that quote from Howard Thurman last night because it completely summarizes what writing this simple daily column especially has meant to me as I enter the fourth week of what I’m now hoping will be the downhill side of my visit by a guest who doesn’t seem to want to leave.

Writing here is the only thing that takes me completely into the here and now of my passion-fire for communication under extraordinary circumstances. It has nothing to do with pleasing people, writing perfectly, never making inadvertent factual mistakes, or even hitting the mark of hot news or whatever else may be of interest to my readership. – Of course, these were the perks of writing from a voluntary blog site for free, even before I got sick.

Now that freedom is my certified paycheck.

The only other places I get to feel this empowering state of freedom to be me in passionate peace, in transcendent disconnection from physical pain or anxiety about anything, are in quiet moments with family and friends and the people I see in my office.

As an Astros fan, of course, I am also swept up from the mire of aging and life’s physical adversities by no-hitters, walk-off homers and other such hits, and an Astros club that is roaring into New York tonight with a four-game bulge as the American League West division leader.

The larger point for all of us to me, regardless of age, but even greater, if you can get it early, is the point expressed so lucidly by Howard Thurman. Find your passion for life and go there. Live there. Be there. Be who that presence in the moment of creative ignition allows you to be.

As one who grew up in the practical-minded working-class Pecan Park neighborhood of southeast Houston, and as one coming of age in the 1957 new era of Sputnik and the blossoming concern about the space race, I could never forget the national challenge we all heard about the need for more scientists and engineers. – “That’s where the jobs are going to be” was the message then – and not “what are your aptitudes and interests – what do you feel passionate about?”

I was sort of spared. My interests were communications (journalism and broadcasting) and psychology. I only lost 50% of my passion, the parts that had to do with public communications. I couldn’t justify simply writing or talking about something as important in a world in which America needed us to do something about the Russians and the race for space. I guess I saw myself as moving into the mental health field as an attempt to do something about helping the casualties these changes in our culture were bound to produce.

Whatever it was, it was way, way too theoretical and grandiose. Fortunately, I felt a passion for my work and an ego that was adjustable over time to the realities of my much more modest place in the grand scheme of things as a mental health care professional.

It was my free ranging passion for fiction, poetry, lyrical composition, parody, and history, particularly baseball history and biography, that I had put on the shelf for so many decades. But these channels were fully returned to me with the coming of the Internet and all of the continuing evolution of communication media that are, so far, a major signature on change in the early 21st century.

I was lucky. New technology took me fairly straight to a place in which my passion for written communication could find its own niche.

My loss was time. And my unanswerable questions are all those that pertain to how my writing life might have changed my personal decision-making, had I been active with it in the forty years it slept in writing hunger. But that’s OK. No one’s life rolls forward on Teflon. Those who think theirs did simply missed some insight opportunities along the way.

If I were giving a commencement address to college or high school graduates today, these are the points I would stress:

(1) They would get to hear my take on the importance of Thurman’s quote about coming alive.

(2) Do something that you feel passionate about – not what you think your parents or the world needs to see about you.

(3) Self esteem comes only from what you think about you – not what others think of you.

(4) Watch out for the creation of early debt. Debt traps people into work that pays enough to meet the bills, whether they like it or not.

(5) If you are a high school graduate, be careful about floating a federal loan for your college education on a degree plan, if you already sense no passion for what your training to become – and only see it as a way to make “good money”.

(6) Watch out for greed. Greed is not a passion. It is an ego driven compulsion to control life with cash, based upon the underlying fear that “more control through more cash is never enough of either”.

(7) The quickest route to the discovery of your passion is to give of yourself to others in life in honest ways that never violate your integrity. Make that a part of your life – and your passion will find you.

(8) Education is not about graduating and then never having to go to school again. Education is about learning that our need to continue learning is forever – and about finding that sweet spot of personal passion that allows us to come alive, be alive, and stay alive.




One Response to “Come Alive to Be Alive and Stay Alive”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    Your “homily” this morning, especially about debt, reminded me that when I enrolled at UH in the fall of 1965, tuition was around $50 per semester with books and fees bringing the total to just over $100. I lived in the dorms, so that made it more expensive, but nothing like the cost of attending college today.

    Your warning about Greed reminded me of an essay by George Will which made the point that of all the Seven Deadly Sins–only Envy brings no enjoyment.

    I hope your writing in The Pecan Park Eagle brings some respite from your physical ailment. I know it’s something I look froward to each day.

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