August 2 was my birthday. The big 60 is finally here. Old age awaits.
My first thought is that I made it. Not an easy task. I think of all the close calls. Surely, my guardian angel has been at work.
I’ve been in a tornado, a hurricane, a flood, a dust storm, a monsoon and just about any other natural disaster you can think of.
I’ve traveled many parts of the world. I’ve experienced more than my share of life experiences. Some divine. Some tortuous. I’ve felt hundreds of perfect moments and also the depths of despair.
I’ve been a son, father, brother, uncle, friend, husband. I’ve been fired. I’ve fired people.
I’ve climbed to both the top and bottom of continents. I’ve driven my ’65 Mustang to all corners of North America. I have felt the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. I have been alive for six decades.
On my 40th birthday my wife Ginny gave me a postcard that I have always treasured. It’s a photo of two men steeplechasing on the backs of rhinoceri. “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough,” it states.
Believe me, I still have huge challenges ahead of me. I am, after all, in the newspaper business in the age of Google and Facebook. But not living a full and engaged life is one regret I will never have.
I’ve enjoyed so many hobbies: tennis, golf, guitar, sailing, flying, traveling, beer-making, canoeing, motorcycling and more.
When I was 26, I went around Australia on a motorcycle. I paid for the trip by syndicating a series of 20 articles. It was called “On the Road, Down Under.”
My father didn’t want me to go. He said I should work more first, make money, then go. “But I can go now,” I argued. If I hadn’t grabbed that moment of my life, I would have never gotten the chance again. It was a life-changing event.
I worked on Wall Street in my late 20s when finance was roaring. I witnessed the financial collapse of 2008, the biggest percentage drop in stocks ever.
I walked down to the Merrill Lynch equity trading floor. At the time, it was the biggest in the world. Traders were wailing and walking around like zombies. I thought to myself, “This is the epicenter of the greatest economic system the world has ever seen, and it is utter chaos. Never believe the experts have cornered knowledge. Trust your common sense, your own knowledge and your own intuition.”
So many stories, I should write a book. Maybe I will. In the meantime, my 28 years of weekly columns is the equivalent of over a dozen lengthy books. I will probably never reread them all.
I grew up playing golf and switched to tennis when children came. Tennis takes less time. Now as the body fails, I am trying to relearn golf.
When I was young, I just hit the golf ball the way I felt like. I was too stubborn and impatient to listen to pros and do what they said. As a result, I struggled with the game, like most of us. It would have been so much easier if I had just gotten the fundamentals down from the start.
The same is true of life. When I was young, I was stubborn, selfish and impatient. I never stopped to learn the fundamentals. As a result, I have struggled with life.
What are the fundamentals? That’s so easy to answer. It’s all laid out in the Bible. Everything you will ever need to know about humanity and your role in it. If only I had the maturity as a youth to realize it then.
As the Rod Stewart song goes, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.”
Life is such a mystery. We are all so alike, yet so unique at the same time. Think of snow. It’s a blanket of sameness from a distance, yet every single snowflake is one of a kind. Each crystal lattice is a different pattern. If God can make something as simple as a snowflake unique, just imagine the infinite uniqueness of each individual. Yet here we are on this miracle planet. Seven billion of us alive simultaneously. Wow!
For anyone younger reading, here is my advice looking backward:
Find God. Read the Bible. Go to church. Pray. Respect authority, even while acknowledging its imperfections. Read everything. Develop a cohesive world view.
Remember that you are no better, nor worse, than any other person on the street.
Avoid the basic sins: greed, envy, lust, laziness, anger, gluttony and sloth. Love. Forgive. Never harbor a grudge. Don’t argue with police.
Work hard. Have adventures. Make enduring friendships. Save money. Love your spouse. Exercise. Have fun. Enjoy coffee and wine, but not in excess. Don’t smoke. Have children if you can, but remember they are God’s, not yours.
Respect your elders (that’s me now!), especially your parents. Remember, there is nothing new under the sun. It’s all been there before. Understand Ecclesiastes, but in a good way.
Throw parties. Say yes when asked. Be fearless. Trust God. He alone sees the big picture. Try new things. Relax. Do your best, but don’t worry. Anxiety starts when your faith stops. Be kind to people. Behind every set of eyes, a battle is raging.
When I was a young man, I was blessed with unusual early success. I walked along the beach one day talking to God, questioning why I deserved all of this. “You can take every bit of it away, just give me unwavering faith. That’s all I really care about.”
My wife cringes when I tell this story and shouts, “Be careful what you wish for.” Indeed, my early successes were followed with many hardships that nearly broke my spirit. But God gave me what I asked for.
Wyatt Emmerich is publisher of The Northside Sun in Jackson and owner of Emmerich Newspapers.