“What’s your normal?” The question was posed to me a few days ago. What do you mean by “normal”? Like most people, if I stop to think about what “normal” is, I come up with dozens of thoughts and simultaneously none. What’s my normal? What is normal at all? If they really knew how “ab-normal” I think I am.
And I think all of us think we are somewhat abnormal, so maybe that is normal.
I reflected on the question for about 30 minutes. And then it hit me: I am reflective. I think back and consider what happened, how I impacted what happened, what I could have done better, and what I hope to do the next time around. Reflection is my normal.
Which ties well into what I have been reflecting on lately — how did I get here and where am I going from here? I play the TED Talk of my life and come to the conclusion that right now it looks to be playing out in four acts: becoming Doug, learning how to put Doug to use, making Doug available, and ultimately appreciating what Doug meant and did.
The first act is long. It took about 45 years. This was all formation. Learning the basics of being a human, of being me as a human. I learned to develop perspectives and to soften and smooth those perspectives as I came to know other people’s lives and circumstances. What was black and white has blended to an infinite gray spectrum. I developed belief systems, tested those systems, refined them, and moved from being dogmatic and righteous to more open and available. I learned that being “right” is a prison. I learned that, no matter what I think I know, I am certainly wrong to a degree — how profoundly liberating.
While I am still confident, I have wrapped my confidence in a layer of mindfulness. Rather than being self-assured that I can achieve and accomplish almost anything, I am reassured that I will benefit from the experience regardless of the outcome.
The second act, which is just closing, took the last ten years. Learning who I am led to a long wait, much in quiet anticipation, while learning how to offer who I am to the world. The hardest lesson for the receding earlier version of me is that this answer cannot be dragged forward. As a younger man, I would have tried to wrestle it into my consciousness. It is not to be overpowered. It comes in its own time, quietly, from a blind spot. It whispered in my ear and brushed against my hand. Did I just hear something? What was that I felt?
How does the world need me to come forward and offer what I have to offer? For me, the answer is in small ways, by being available, by saying yes to requests to listen, to understand, to share experience. At the end of Act II, I started saying yes to requests.
I am at Act III. I don’t know how long this will last. I know I will know when it is over. That will be when my experience becomes a relic of a time gone by. When what I know is no longer applicable to the challenges being faced. I understand this time is inevitable. I’ll embrace it. I know people fighting to stay current and stay relevant, which are laudable goals to which I also strive and aspire. But, I am now realistic. Our times come to an end. What we have to share evolves from functional to quaint. It behooves us to know when this is happening and graciously step back. Will I be remembered? Most certainly, at least for a while, long enough.
To know I have helped one, maybe few people. To know that something I learned or came to understand has helped others learn and understand is a life well spent. To know that a path has been smoothed, a doubt eased, a sense of exhaustion has found rest in my counsel and my support, these are the scenes to be reflected on and appreciated in Act IV.
When I was a younger man, I had far-flung visions and grand plans of making big footprints. Today, that seems selfish and trite. The richness I seek today is not in fame or renown, but in a person or two who may find their journey easier because our lives intersected. I want to spend time with these people in the last scenes of my life and remember how rich our lives have been for having loved each other. Act IV is a testament to love and care and generosity of time and spirit, of saying yes when called.
As I exit many years hence, I hope to be warmed with one final acknowledgment: I gave and it mattered.