In mid-December I start getting a few holiday letters from friends that I enjoy reading. However, when I tried to do one myself years ago it just seemed incredibly boring. So, I took a clue from an old Esquire Magazine tradition of publishing short essays by celebrities recounting the lessons they learned that year. So, I tried that and found that not only was it more interesting, it was a good exercise in self-awareness that I highly recommend.
- At a certain age you want to retire…for real. I was a big fan of John D. McDonald’s novels built around the character of Travis McGee. Travis lived on a houseboat that he won in a poker game, drove an old Rolls Royce that had been converted into a pickup truck and was sort of a soldier of fortune. He would say that he took his retirement in chunks. When opportunity came along, he would jump on it. When he was running out of money, he would look for opportunities. In reflecting on the last 20 years or so, you could say I’ve been taking my retirement in chunks as well. I’ve been in selling residential real estate now for about 15 years…even wrote a book about how to do it. And that’s a good occupation for giving you the opportunity to work when you want to. Now, at 74, I’m developing a plan to take bigger chunks of retirement at a time. If I can find two or three good clients in 2020 and do a good job for them, I will be satisfied.
- Time flies…whether you’re having fun or not. When I calculated how long I’d been in real estate for the paragraph above, I realized my tenure as a Realtor might surpass what I’d always considered my primary occupation, banking, where I spent 17 years. That ended when I left Durham’s hometown bank, now part of SunTrust, as its marketing director. Why does time fly? It occurred to me a long time ago that every minute of your life is a smaller proportion of the life you have lived than the moment before. But I also like another metaphor I heard somewhere as well. The closer you get to the end of a roll of toilet paper the faster the cardboard tube turns to deliver what you need. Think about that.
- Our democracy is much more fragile than I thought. Years ago I read a popular book about how our economy works. I’ve searched lists of books written in the 70’s and 80’s about the topic but haven’t been able to identify that book. However, an illustration in it disturbed me at the time. When a guy buys a nice suit, he immediately starts looking at what it would take to buy a nicer suit. Advertisers know that and deliberately will encourage that desire. Suits may be an obsolete example but cars, vacations, entertainment and, of course homes, all follow the same path. It is also important in the sale of credit to make it easier to buy those things. The growth of our economy is based on us buying more and more. It is also a tool that the “haves” use to control the “have nots.” This has driven the unprecedented income inequality that is dividing this country. I also believe this has given the opportunity to unscrupulous men to grab the levers of government to accelerate the process in their own behalf. I have always leaned left in my politics with a heavy dash of fiscal conservatism, so it will surprise no one who knows me that defeating Donald Trump in 2020 is the first and most important step in turning this around.
- You use it or lose it. All the debates about the right to health care can get abstract. As I write this a few days before Christmas, two people in my closest circle of friends and family have undergone major surgery and two others are dealing with conditions, that, while not as bloody, have major consequences. Two others, just outside that circle are dealing with end of life issues. It’s hard to believe it but we’ve ceded control of this country’s health system to insurance and pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists. And it’s not just that medical bills and lack of care and time off of work lead to over a half million bankruptcies in this country every year, pharma companies have dumped billions of doses of opioids into the marketplace and caused an epidemic of addiction in this country. After getting a significant amount of my exercise this week walking the parking lots, tunnels and halls of two large hospitals, I remain convinced that the major responsibility for my heath falls on my own shoulders. This year I’ll get my weight back down, do my annual fast from alcohol from January 2 to Easter, and keep my Airdyne running till one of us dies.
- There really is a climate crisis. I know that I’m in the last quarter of my game against the grim reaper, just waiting for his last-minute field goal to put winning immortality out of my reach. My home here in Durham will never be beachfront property during the remainder of my lifetime. So why the hell do I care? The existential crisis of our time might not be my main concern, or that of those in cages at our southern border or those addicted to opioids, or those who have to sleep on the street. But it will affect my granddaughter who has a good chance of seeing the next millennium if the planet remains reasonably habitable. So, I care.
- Women will save us. From the day I got my first pubic hair women have been a mystery to me. My first big breakthrough was in my twenties when I realized that women, even the smartest and most attractive, can have insecurities, want to be valued and accepted and can be good friends. Only in the last few years, and this one especially, have I begun to understand how important women will be to solving the problems the world faces. At the forefront right now is Nancy Pelosi. There are lots of other names I could mention but here is one fact to illustrate. Democratic women won 13 seats in the current House of Representatives in districts that Trump won in 2016. All 13 voted for Trump’s impeachment in spite of the political risk that exposes them to at reelection. In 1956 JFK won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles in Courage. All 7 profiles where male Senators. I predict future volumes will include more women than men. The 2019 Kennedy Profile in Courage Award went to the aforementioned Nancy Pelosi and was presented by Caroline Kennedy.
- Christmas. For at least the last 40 years I have not been a big fan of Christmas for reasons that are laid out in 3. above. There is unrelenting pressure to eat too much, drink too much and, especially, spend too much. However, I do love some of the music and last year I included a video of “One Voice” performed by the Air Force Band. Here’s another year with the same cast of characters. Click the link or the picture and pull out a tissue. https://youtu.be/vniBBT7nRJg