Life's Lessons Are There for Us All

This week's visit with you is going to be quite a bit more philosophical than normal. Perhaps it is because of the miles that I have traveled on my FIRE Act Road Trip. More likely it is the approach of my 59th birthday. In any event, it is probably a good time to stop and take stock of what I have experienced during my life.

As you read my words I would ask you to pause periodically and reflect upon your own life. Far too many people fail to take a periodic reckoning on the bearings of their lives. They drift aimlessly over the rivers and through the woods of life. Let me tell you one thing. The road to Grandmother’s house gets longer as we get older. The road of life takes some sharp turns and if you are not paying attention you might have a bad wreck.

Let us now speak about some of the lessons that I have learned on my way through life on this Big Blue Marble we call home. Perhaps the first lesson I want to share is that we don't have to change friends. What we must do is come to grips with the fact that friends change. Times change, and friends change; that is just the way it is. No matter how good a friend is, they will occasionally hurt you. Such is the way of the world. You just have to learn to them when necessary.

Friendship is one of the foundations of life. I am not talking about networking, I have lots of fine professional associates, but friendship, well that is really something else. I've learned that true friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance. Same goes for true love. My best friend lives many hours from me, but he is still my best friend.

A critical element which is often forgotten involves our own actions. Far too many people operate as though they were the only people on the face of the earth. One of life's hardest lessons involves the cold, hard truth that each of us is capable of doing something on an impulse which can give you heartache for life. Screw up in haste and repent in leisure might be the true explanation for this.

Over time I have decided that it is taking me a long time to become the person I want to be. When we are young, we want everything to happen right away. Heck, there is even a name for this now. It is called instant gratification. My friends, the best things in life take a long time to accomplish. Recognize this, set your goals, and work patiently toward them. You may never accomplish everything you wish, but you will do more than if you never tried.

Always leave the people you love with loving words. It may be the last time you see them. There have been times when I left a friend or a loved one wishing I had said more kind things to them. I can recall reading a number of New York Times stories about adult children who regretted that they never told their parents how much they loved them.

I remember a particular Sunday not long before my father died in 1988. I was headed home from the fire station in Newark and as I approached the traffic circle in Freehold, I felt something move me to take the road to my parent's home. When I got there, I went in, said hello, and plunked myself down into the chair next to dad. We spent the next hour or so watching one of his favorite World War II documentaries.

Shortly after 8:00 PM I got up and said that I had best get home to see Jackie and the kids. I then went over, kissed my dad on the head and told him that I loved him. I shall never regret doing that. For you see, it wasn't too many months later that he went home to be with the Lord. Be kind and loving my friends, for tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Another of life's lessons is that each of us can keep going long after we have initially decided that we cannot. I first learned this from my football coach in high school. That type of thinking usually allowed us to guts it out in the fourth quarter. It must have meant something, because we won the league championship that year. Then all the years of making long, dark, flaming hallways in Newark riveted it in my mind. You can do a hell of a lot more than you think you can. Do not let your mind be your limiting factor.

Each of us is capable of doing far more than we ever imagine we can. We just have to remember that we have to keep pushing on toward the goals we set for ourselves. This lesson, more than any other, helped Jack and me to push on during our Fire Act Road Trip. Just when you think you have seen and done enough, you have to suck it up and keep rolling.

There is a reason for this you know. Each of us is responsible for what we do in this life, no matter how we feel. I am sick and tied of listening to the whiners and losers who keep blaming other people for their bad lot in life. Suck it up and keep going. Look to the Lord for faith, but remember that each of us is responsible for learning, doing, and trying in this life.

However, you can only do this if you understand that it is up to you to learn how to control your attitude. I have a bad temper, but over the years I have learned that it could get me into a great deal of trouble if I didn’t learn to control it. I have gotten better at this, but there are still periodic lapses. My friend, either you control your attitude or it will come to control you. I assure that the outcomes will be better if you are in charge.

I've come to learn that heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences. No one who is really a hero ever starts out a day saying, "well, I guess I am going to be a hero today." No, these folks just move through life, living decently and helping others in normal ways.

Then suddenly a situation presents itself when courage is called for, and these folks step forward and simply do the right thing, like they always do. They are merely acting like they always would, but on occasions like this they go above and beyond the call of merely showing up at roll call. They do not weigh the cost to them, they merely do what it right and proper. False heroes are a pox upon the soul of humanity.

You need to follow your heart and you need to do what is really right. One of life's great lessons is that you really can’t do things for the purpose of racking up dollars for their own reward. Dollars are not a good indicator of success in life. If I have learned anything in this life it is that money is a lousy way of keeping score. It is your friends and family that really count. Be loyal and supportive to them at all times.

One of life's other great lessons is that your best friend and you I can do anything or nothing and still have the best of times. Jack Peltier and I have been on the road together many times during the past 30 years. I want to credit him with helping me make my way around the country on our road trip in 2006. He has been thoughtful, supportive and encouraging at every turn. You can truly do wonderful things with your best friend.

There are many surprises in life. There have been those people who I thought would be the first ones to kick me when I was down. I have been greatly surprised by their willingness to help me get back up. Life is full of surprises, life is truly full of surprises my friends. Never leave a relationship on a bad note, because even when you are angry, you may have the right to be angry, but you never have the right to be cruel.

Life's lessons come at you fast and furiously. Perhaps lessons like this come from the fact that maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had and what you've learned from them and less to do with how many birthdays you've celebrated. I like to think that what I am today is a combination of all that I have done in life and all of the people I have met: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I've learned that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned is that it isn't always enough to be forgiven by others. Sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself. I've learned that just because two people argue, it doesn't mean they don't love each other. And just because they don't argue, it doesn't mean they do. Love and forgiveness go hand in hand.

Maybe we would have a better fire service if people would just cut the bull and say what they truly believe and act kindly towards other people. I believe that it is the Golden Rule which best states the intent of my visit with you this day. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you live your life in that way, all of the other lessons will fall right into line.

Lastly, I have learned that the people you care about most in life are taken from you too soon. It is for this reason alone, if for no other, that you should cherish each moment with the people you love. Live for the future, but cherish the moments that take you there. Credentials on the wall do not mean a thing if you live your life as a living, breathing, dumb-ass.

That is why I value most my friends who believe in me and work hard to keep me from being a dumb-ass. To quote one of my heroes in the day-to-day battles of this world, "Don’t be a dumb-ass." Not bad advice in today's trying times.

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