While we are living in the present, we must celebrate life every day, knowing that we are becoming history with every work, every action, every deed. Mattie Stepanek
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For those of you who did not meet him, Mattie Stepanek, author of the above quote, was one of four siblings born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His mother was diagnosed with a form of the same illness after having given birth to her children. Miraculously, Mattie lived to be almost 14, while his three siblings died at much younger ages. Mattie was extremely intelligent and was writing poetry at age three, later publishing several books of poetry, most of which were on the NY Times Best Seller List. They can be purchased through his foundation’s website and elsewhere. Through his books, Mattie wrote about peace, love, his family, the death of his siblings, and mankind. He was passionate about sharing his thoughts and feelings–his heartsongs–with others. He appeared on Oprah and on Larry King Live with Jerry Lewis, well known for his muscular dystrophy telethons, and he captured the hearts of all who watched. There is no doubt in my mind that Mattie lived to be 13 because he was passionate about living the best life he could and sharing it with the world.
“It does not matter how long you are spending on the earth, how much money you have gathered or how much attention you have received. It is the amount of positive vibration you have radiated in life that matters,”
What happened to us?
As younger women, we had a sense of purpose almost forced on us: We either went to college, went to work, or got married and rarely did we think we had a choice. Graduating from college certainly offered greater choices and those women who expressed a mission with this choice had their sense of purpose and followed through.
The second option–working–afforded us the opportunity to learn and to go as far as we could, but eventually, we married and soon found ourselves combining work with housekeeping, child rearing, children’s extracurricular activities, etc. Women that chose work learned they could support themselves eventually without relying on someone else, and this should have given them a sense of freedom and creativity and the knowledge that they could accomplish feats they would never have expected of themselves. So, what did we do with that feeling of freedom?
As for the last choice, marriage, it was the most chosen of all. After all, we could avoid college and work, at least for a while. Many of us were socialized to get married early, while others actually thought we wanted to get married. And we got married for various reasons. Some saw marriage as their only way out of the situations they were caught up in. For others, it was a matter of convenience, a way to save money, or a means to provide a more stable environment for children.
Oh, we had choices but were afraid to attempt them. That might have meant digging a hole one could not escape from or worrying about what people would think. Eventually, we learned to admire these risk takers–the ones who were able to break away from traditional norms. Among other things, they found “flower power”, Woodstock, the Vietnam War and the protests it generated, and the continuation of the Beat movement, not to mention the feminists’ movement. We wondered where they were going to wind up. I think they felt very good about themselves for having taken stands about subjects considered tabu. They, too, experienced some sense of purpose and a sense of adventure. Let’s face it, deep down, we really did envy them!
Trust me, we all had a sense of direction, but was it all that satisfying? Was it the same as having meaning in our life? For many, it was, but most of us found that we craved something else. We were suffocating in our duties of cleaning, working outside the home, carpooling, seeing to it that our children got the attention they deserved, and yes, we wondered, “Is this all there is.”
A heartsong doesn’t have to be a song in your heart. It doesn’t have to be talking about love and peace. It can just be your message. It can be your feeling. Some people might even call it a conscience, even though that’s not really what it is. It’s your message, what you feel like you need to do. Mattie Stepanek
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Reviewing your life
When you review your life and the things you did right, you will see these were so many of them! And those accomplishments hopefully serve as reminders that you can continue to achieve. It is never too late for something else, something new and alive in your life, even if you think you have done it all. Having a renewed sense of purpose means:
- being there for your important new self
- elevating yourself to a position of being able to help others without expecting something in return
- having something to do to feel passionate about
- never running out of something to talk about
- having the ability to slough off the distasteful events in your life and move forward
- jumping up out of bed every day with enthusiasm
Yes, I know getting up is hard if you have arthritis, depression, or other problems that impede you. But, in remembering the accomplishments of Mattie, he never complained nor should I of feeling bad. In addition, I am the world’s worst at revisiting the bad treatment I have received or delivered throughout my life. But this kind of thinking imprisons us, making it difficult for change to take place. As Wayne Dyer points out in his book Pulling Your Own Strings, “You do have the capacity to make healthy choices for yourself by changing your attitude to one of creative aliveness.”
“I don’t want it to end, and so, as every therapist knows, the ego does not want an end to its “problems” because they are part of its identity. If no one will listen to my sad story, I can tell it to myself in my head, over and over, and feel sorry for myself, and so have an identity as someone who is being treated unfairly by life or other people, fate or God. It gives definition to my self-image, makes me into someone, and that is all that matters to the ego.”
Find your purpose, your meaning, your passion
And as you have probably discovered, one of the major themes in this website is to keep your life moving in positive directions. Don’t rest on your laurels. Think of retirement as a greater opportunity to find and live your passions, to be successful in your aging. There are statistics that show having a purpose in life greatly improves the likelihood of having a healthier life and an extended one!