I spent the last month doing something entirely irresponsible.
I stopped doing most of my work, emails, social media, blogging.
I wish I could tell you it was a social experiment to unplug.
But truthfully, it was the only choice I had.
While “trying” to write my new book, I realized I could no longer think deeply and coherently for a prolonged period.
Every few minutes, I flinched and needed a hit of something whether it was on my phone or a website scroll on my laptop.
And you can’t say to one and three-year-old children, “Please don’t interrupt me. I’m writing and need to think coherently” as my daughter smashes my desk lamp onto the ground and my son plops onto my lap and bangs on the keyboard.
Then you have every Dodger game, the Netflix show Fauda (which I’m just starting), Instagram stories, ESPN documentaries, the occasional 60 Minutes heartstopper… and just one diversion into that ever-busy world of seductive, addictive content and I am GONE…for hours at a time.
How in the world is one to think deeply and coherently?
Have you tried it lately?
That means someone else is doing the deep thinking for you and for me.
And yet, when somebody is bold enough to form their own deep, coherent thoughts, they stand out.
Throughout this sojourn to the “belly of the whale,” I have been listening to a great book on Mohammed Ali.
I never had a full appreciation for his legacy because he was mostly before my time.
Here’s a guy who was the richest and most famous athlete of his era, but we don’t remember Mohammed Ali for his athleticism.
We remember him for thinking differently and refusing to fight in Vietnam.
He said, “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what?
“They never called me n*****, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”
At the time of these remarks, in 1964, the war in Vietnam was popular and Mohammed Ali was reviled by the media.
He stood his ground.
Ali once proudly declared: “I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me—black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”
As the Vietnam War became unpopular, Mohammed Ali’s reputation shifted back into favor.
His defiance defines his legacy. And that defiance inspires me!
Over the past month, I locked myself up, shut down the outside world as best I could, and began the process of listening to two years of interviews with elders who are the subject to my new book, and writing, writing, writing.
I began to hear my own voice reemerge through the noise.
Yes, I felt irresponsible for not staying on top of my life, but the more I disconnected from the outside world, the more I could listen and think clearly, fully, loudly about who I am and what I do.
The story of Jonah came up several times in the past month.
To remind you, Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by a whale.
As Richard Rohr writes, “It sometimes takes being ‘swallowed by a whale’ and taken into a dark place of listening and discernment to let go of our small, separate self and its private agenda.
“Eventually, we must allow ourselves to be drawn by our soul’s desire rather than driven by ego needs.”
“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.
“Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
Over the past month, I have become very clear on my vocation. Not to be a voice of wisdom but to connect you to our most precious and untapped source of wisdom.
There are over 2,000,000 Americans who are 90 and older and 74,000 Americans who are 100 and older.
They are not famous. They are not going to charge you to see them speak. They are not peddling social media followings or trendy diets or new products.
You won’t find them unless you seek them out. They blend mysteriously into our society, modern life whizzing by them.
For the past two years, I have interviewed this generation of people in their 80’s 90’s and 100’s who have little or no voice in popular culture and have 8, 9 ,10 decades of life experience.
Many are living alone, with little or no link to the younger generations like you and I.
Mohammed Ali’s words speak to this generation:
“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize.”
What a great moment in our history to turn on these voices of wisdom, who might just be healing medicine for all these voices of power.
I have decided not just to speak on behalf of the elders but to speak DEFIANTLY on their behalf.
I hope you will too.
My new book, Life Lessons from the Oldest and Wisest, launches later this year.
I will be dedicating a section of the book to capturing the life lessons that YOU have learned from the elders in your life.
Would you please email Dave and share in 75 words or less:
- the name of the elder who had the greatest impact on your life
- their age
- the life lesson they taught you.
My Grandma Evelyn inspired my interest in elders. She died in 2010 at 90 years old. She loved flowers and created floral arrangements for much of her life. She always created space for beauty. Her memory reminds me to do the same in my home, and in my heart. When my one-year-old daughter screams “FLOWER!” on our morning walks, I know my Grandma is right there with us.