My mother was 6’2″ tall, towering over my father by six inches. After raising six kids–a task for which she often seemed uniquely unqualified–she went to Hershey Medical School to become a licensed psychiatrist. Virginia Graham Mears, MD began her career as a psychotherapist in her late fifties.
Why not sooner?
Mom had gone to medical school at University of Pennsylvania, where she met my father. Their plans had been to go and work together as missionary doctors in Africa, but a diagnosis of tuberculosis put Mom in a TB sanitarium in upstate New York while Dad went to Liberia to play doctor in the jungle. Mom couldn’t finish her medical specialization studies.
Dad came back from Liberia full of male hormones and jungle love. They quickly had six children, and poof! Once again, there went Mom’s dreams of being a doctor.
However once we Mears children all grew up and moved out, Mom blossomed. She was, by most accounts, a very good psychiatrist.
What’s my point? My point is that it’s never too late to create the life you’ve always dreamed of.
My father was another case of lifelong learning, but his lessons were not academic or professional. They were personal. Dad never once said “I love you” to me until the last time I saw him–after a stroke that had left half of his body paralyzed and reduced his speech to that of a two-year-old child. My wife, daughter (then 4) and I went to see him in the improvised convalescent care facility our family had made of our dining room in the 8-bedroom farmhouse where I grew up. He was sitting in a wheelchair, one side of his face sagging slightly. I brought my wife and daughter close, and he said it–and I can’t repeat it enough–although his speech was slurred and barely comprehensible: “I love you.”
Dad learned to express his love very late, but as I said above–it’s never too late.
I, too, have learned many of life’s most important lessons very late: the blessings of family; the joys of unselfish public service; the necessity of brushing your teeth and exercising, and of watching your weight, your diet, and your bank account.
My greatest teacher has been my wife, who is a person of exceptional character, capable of almost infinite endurance. (Who else could withstand almost thirty years of living with me?)
My last blog post was entitled, “Long march with my wife.” This has been a long stretch, being married, and for me one of the greatest lessons has been that of patience; of taking the long view; of staying the course. Often the best things in life come after many years of doing the same things (in my case, meditation, teaching English to immigrants, and being married to Mamie).
I have often wanted to throw in the towel, to cut and run, which seems to be the American way. We U.S. citizens tend to be a rather impatient lot. Our corporations look more at quarterly profits than ten-year trends. Our married couples want great sex and good times and the latest consumer items–NOW. We often sell stocks as soon as they dip, get divorced as soon as the sex dries up, quit our jobs as soon as it stops being fun.
The Chinese, not so much. The Chinese, with their thousands of years of civilization, tend to take the longer view. They work hard, save money, bite the bullet, endure, and sacrifice for their families. No wonder they’re kicking our asses.
Sure, there’s plenty wrong with modern-day China. I’ll probably address that point in a future blog. But for now I will say that China, as a nation, is a perfect example of lifelong learning. In their case, the lifetime of the Chinese people is thousands of years. But what is a few thousand years in this amazing universe?
Back to our country, the U.S.A. With less than 400 years of history, I’d say we still have time to learn some of life’s important lessons.
Don’t we all?
I work for the adult division of the Los Angeles Unified School District (see photo from one class at the top of this post). We in adult education often use the term, “lifelong learning.” My classes are full of adult immigrants who came here from many different countries and have to learn English. They, too, have been my teachers.
Brain scientists tell us that when we stop learning, our brains start to die. To me that’s enough reason to keep learning. But a lot of people I know seem brain dead. They keep doing the same stupid things over and over again. OK, truth be told, I’m one of those people.
But doing this blog has forced me to learn a lot, and so we come full circle.
It’s never too late to create the life you’ve always wanted.
Well, after a paralyzing stroke, it’s a lot harder, granted, but even after a paralyzing stroke you can show the people you love how you feel.
It’s never too late.