What Makes a Life?

I keep getting fresh reminders that I am now fully and irrevocably “in my 60’s.” Usually it’s something related to my physical health. For instance, when I had a detached retina recently, a number of caring friends asked me how this had happened.  I found it impossible not to form a sentence that referred to myself and included the word “aging.”

Hearing this with my own ears was quite a revelation for someone who had never admitted to being “middle age” …until I recently realized I’m now beyond that mile-marker, at least chronologically. I’m finally warming up to that label, now that the t-shirt no longer fits me.

Author Anne Lamott, who shares my birth year (1954), recently gave a delightful TED Talk in which she quipped, “There’s so little truth in the popular culture, and it’s good to be sure of a few things. For instance, I am no longer 47, although this is the age I feel, and the age I like to think of myself as being.” I could relate completely!

Another recent reminder was the fact that I suddenly pay some attention when the annual Social Security statement arrives, as it did a week or two ago.  Reading it, I discovered that the government lists the amount of income I’ve earned every year since 1971. That was quite amazing to see, year-by-year, a monetized summary of all my work efforts for each of the past 45 years!

I even thought about adding it all up. And then I didn’t do it.

I probably will some year; that would be interesting. But it doesn’t make a life, does it?

I was probably influenced by something I’d read a few days earlier. Successful Houston developer and energetic philanthropist David Weekley wrote, “Maybe I simply need to hold God’s resources loosely and start counting how much I have given away, rather than what I have accumulated.”

Now that would be interesting information to learn about myself! And, in one sense, it does help to define a life.

A World Vision supporter I’m privileged to work with is getting older, and he recently decided to write his autobiography, mainly for his family.  His daughter was kind enough to give me a copy of the completed book.

It included two photos and a couple of pages regarding his philanthropic involvement in Africa due to his concern for a specific aspect of global poverty. He went on to write about his involvement in addressing that need with World Vision, including a trip to see the program in action and the impact their family is having.

It was quite moving for me to see, there in black-and-white on the printed page, that the work we’re doing together actually warrants inclusion in his life’s story! Of course, this is always my hope and goal, but it’s a rare privilege to see someone counting up their life and including this aspect.

I suppose counting up one’s life happens more and more once we’re past its midpoint.  And that’s not all bad.

So, what makes a life? It probably has a lot more to do with impact than income.

I guess it all depends on what you count. And what you don’t.



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