By the time one has lived nearly 8 decades, I think we have developed unique views of life and personal strategies for dealing with its vagaries. For me it has been my constant habit of embracing my current chapter and “leaning forward” into my next.
I don’t know if that is just a natural part of my psychological makeup or a learned technique, but it certainly has been an effective tool for navigating through the years. So much of life is unplanned and it is how we react to it that makes all the difference between despair and joy.
Over the years I have adjusted my life – from journalist to wife and mother to business executive to novelist to family caretaker and back to writer and teacher, and with each change and each new location, I have thrown myself into discovery mode, taking in all that was good, open to the richness and opportunities of my new surroundings.
I can remember my assimilation to life in Michigan after 40+ years as a native Texan. I was a business executive in Detroit, lived in Ann Arbor an hour away, and everything there was foreign to me. No matter – I attached a red “I Love Michigan” flag to my lapel and jumped in with both feet. While I never quite embraced the ice and snow of the long winter, everything else about the experience was glorious.
I had a glass-lined office on the 36th floor of the Renaissance Center where I watched the lakers (large commercial ships) pass down the Detroit River . . . explored Brick Town and city dining . . . visited New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco as part of my job.
On weekends, I tromped the University of Michigan campus, teeming with college life, art festivals and protest marches, bought homemade soups and hearty bread at hippy cafes, enjoyed classical music events that rivaled performances in New York and D.C. In the fall I attended U of M football games and walked the streets, taking pictures of the falling leaves of ocher and red to send back home.
Back then I was not so aware of how others faced life but once I hit my sixties, I noted how many people my age seemed to look backward. They reminisced about their younger self, the music of their teens, the home their parents had provided, but except for rare moments of nostalgia, I did not think that way at all. I leaned forward, looking for the best life had to offer me at that juncture and beyond.
I certainly cannot claim to have invented this useful approach – it was either inborn or I picked it up through self-development classes or absorbed the lessons of daily living. Whatever the genesis, the cause, I am grateful that this “forward” notion took root and lent support.
Literary works abound with forward-leaning messages, like the quote from J.R.R. Tolkien: “I will not walk backward in life.” That maxim has worked well for me. That is not to say that I criticize those people who take comfort in their memories, because the only life I get to mold is my own.
So here I am at 78, leaning forward again. Re-embracing my home state of Texas, acting the tourist, listening to Chris Stapleton on the C-W station, driving the backroads, starting my new novel, preparing to teach college Freshmen the value of writing skills – and perhaps giving them a life example to follow. Or, more likely, perhaps THEY will help me continue to lean forward.
— Jonnie Martin