Is This What Really Matters in Life?

During the formative high school years, there is so much emphasis placed on GPA’s, class rankings and PSAT scores; all to gain acceptance into a socially-endorsed university. The same mantra re-emerges during the college (and possibly grad school) years. And the conventional wisdom is that the stakes are much higher because the ultimate prize in this contest is a life-long career that will guarantee financial stability and “success.” Is this what really matters in life?

Upon entering the job market, one soon realizes that there are unfamiliar rules and players in this contest, affectionately referred to as the “rat-race.” In this game the emphasis is placed on how rapidly one can ascend to the top rung of a soul-less corporate ladder. Is this what really matters in life?

While making the corporate climb, society has the additional expectation of “marrying right” and finding the “idyllic” homestead to serve as family point-of-refuge, with one small catch. This picturesque view of life is clouded by constant life comparisons to the mythical Joneses. Is this what really matters in life?

Then, as mid-life approaches, one’s introspective side likely begins to surface, reassessing all aspects of life to date. As this movie of life plays in one’s head, the obvious life question arises: Is this all there is? Or, is this what really matters in life?

This journey through life could have and would have been much more satisfying if at a younger age, more focus and attention had been placed on two key outcomes that are often overlooked. Those are joy and happiness — better known as fun.

The Power of Fun

My prior blogs have touched on themes about life being short and time being precious. This post places an importance on the personal fulfillment aspect of life’s journey. To put it bluntly, if we are not enjoying ourselves or having fun on this journey we call life, what is the point?

I think The Beatles said it best in the closing lyrics of “She’s Leaving Home,” found on side 1 of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album …

She (What did we do that was wrong?) … is having (We didn’t know it was wrong?) … fun (Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy) … something inside that was always denied for (Bye bye) … so many years.

As you read the poem below, think about the question that drives this post: Is this what really matters in life?

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Breathe in, Breathe out

Breathe in-breathe out, breathe in-breathe out. What is life, really about?

When you bow your head at night to pray.

What is the message you are trying to convey?

Are you longing for a special innocence and truth?

Reminiscent of times that once defined your youth.

Are you seeking a greater meaning to life?

One free of material possessions and strife.

Breathe in-breathe out, breathe in-breathe out. What is life, really about?

The answers to life’s many mysteries,

can be found in plain view for all to see.

They’re in a setting sun on a mid-summer night,

or a red-tailed hawk soaring boldly in flight.

So if you’re hoping to one-day find,

an internal calm and peace of mind.

Remember, breathe in and breathe out,

and it will help you tune into what life is about.

Breathe in-breathe out, breathe in-breathe out, breathe in-breathe out.

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Find your fun. Find your peace. Find what life is really about.

Privacy Is Our Freedom

From time to time, I will decide to write about a subject that is not directly related to Know Your Enemy, the cancer book, but is a topic of national interest or one that moves me. This blog — about the war between privacy and corporate data collection — is an example of one such topic. As in, our privacy is our freedom. And today’s technology is infringing on it.

How many of you have had the experience of doing a web search and the next thing you know you’re receiving pop-up ads, on your phone or computer, for products or services related to your specific search? This happens too often for it to be just coincidental… C’mon Man!

Then there’s the fact that leading tech companies like Amazon, Google and others are planning to deploy what the industry refers to as “digital assistants” in the home of consumers. The New York Times March 31, 2018 story, Hey, Alexa, What Can You Hear? And What Will You Do With It? , sheds light on the controversial use of this technology and the potential privacy implications associated with tracking consumer behavior and buying patterns. Register me as a “no” vote for this technology innovation. It sounds like something right out of George Orwell’s futuristic must-read novel 1984, written in 1949.

This got me thinking about how precious, and yet how fragile, our freedoms truly are. Most of us take them for granted.

The following piece was inspired by this fight, and was also influenced by the Eagles 1970’s classic rock song On the Border. You probably know it. It starts with, ”Cruisin’ down the centre of a two way street”.
As you read this poem, think about the following questions:
Is technology taking away our freedoms? Are we complicit in allowing it to?

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Someone’s Watching You

Driving down the turnpike on a mid-summer night,
life in the fast-lane, man I’m feeling alright.
The motorcar of choice, a C8 Corvette,
that looks like a Monet and sounds like a jet.

Passing fellow motorists with relative ease,
when I heard a Voice-of-the-State say abruptly to me,
“We know who you are. Pull over my friend
because your driving privileges we must now suspend.”

This may sound a little crazy, even hard to believe,
for a citizenry that only knows what it means to be free.

Surfing the Web after the midnight hour,
looking for news on the latest party in power.
The next thing I know and it would only be my luck,
I find myself on an unapproved Facebook site, oh, w-t-f.

And then out of nowhere, I could hardly believe.
I heard a Voice-of-the-State say abruptly to me,
“We know who you are. Log off my friend
because your Internet privileges we must now suspend.”

This may sound a little crazy, even hard to believe,
for a citizenry that only knows what it means to be free.
But if we hope to safeguard the freedoms of movement and expression,
we must be resolute in their daily oversight and protection.

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Privacy is our freedom. And big tech is slowly taking it away.

Time is Precious

I realized early in the cancer journeys with my mother, Maxine, and wife, Alyson, that time is precious and finite. Our time on this earth is fleeting, often said to go by at the “blink of an eye.”

These experiences caused me to reassess the value that I placed on time and what I really considered to be my priorities in life.

I was never one that felt the need to define my being with material things. I would never say something like “I live in a $450,000 house (which I don’t). Instead, I’d be more likely to say, “I live in a house that is warm and welcoming, and friends say feels comfortable to them.” One of my go-to sayings that I think captures this sentiment best is: “I want all my belongings to be able to fit in the back of my Ford pick-up truck.”

A new measure of happiness … time

But as I went through my cancer journeys, my priorities shifted. It was no longer about how much (or how little) stuff I had. Or how well liked I was. In this new world order, I found a different type of personal happiness and fulfillment; one that involves family and friends that have a similar appreciation of time and friendship. These relationships are very special because the people are authentic, comfortable in their own skin and “givers” (see prior blog post: A giver has got to know his/her limitations).

Now, I also try to focus on investing my time in activities that give me a real sense of joy and accomplishment. I seldom find myself in situations that are uncomfortable or “just not my deal.” Now that I understand just precious time is, I have learned that the word “no” is not a bad word. In fact, it often leads to a more enjoyable experience for all parties because each participant is committed and all-in.

And that led me to write the following poem. Have these questions in mind as you read it:
“How would your life and decisions change if you knew the end was near? Would you play it safe or take a risk and venture outside of your comfort zone?”

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Time is Precious…

How would your life change if you had but one year?
How would the news impact your hopes, dreams, and fears?

Would you invest more time in your current profession?
Or feel the need for greater purpose and expression?

Would you settle on a relationship long since grown stale?
Or seek a special bond you know will prevail?

Would you surround yourself with loyal friends from the past?
Or spend time with new acquaintances unlikely to last?

Time waits for no one and only you hold the key.
To unlock the door and set yourself free.

So live each day as if you had but a few.
And savor every moment like you are starting anew.

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Remember. Time is precious. Live every day to its fullest.

I’m No Stranger to the Loss of Loved Ones

The universe shed

a tear of sadness today

for a man who touched many

in his own special way.

He greeted those close

with a big bear hug.

and when parting, expressed

 feelings of friendship and love.

He lived a life

void of want or of fear

and followed a drummer’s beat,

audible just to his ear.

He knew what he wanted,

the way he liked things to be.

He would tell you about it,

particularly.

Vinny, Vin Man, Vincenzo,

Mike, Michael, Barbaro;

He answered these calls

with a hearty, “Lets Go!”

Up for any adventure,

Michael always came through.

He was the perfect wingman

with a take no prisoners attitude!

We have loved and lost him,

no longer where he was before.

He is now wherever we are

and will be ever more.

–Frank Antonicelli, Matt Mumber

 

As you’ve read from my book Know Your Enemy, I’m no stranger to the loss of loved ones. Though it is no less hard these days, it is always a reminder of what matters in life (to me). It reminds me of how love is infinite, but time is not.

Matt Mumber, MD, a good friend and co-author of “Sustainable Wellness: An Integrative Approach to Transform Your Mind, Body, and Spirit”, and I collaborated on the poem above as a way of coping with the recent, sudden death of our mutual, long-time friend Michael.

This collaboration led me to again take account of the remaining people in my life and the people who have been in my life. I could choose to focus on the loss, but instead, I choose to focus on the time I did have with the people I love(d) like Michael and how much they (and he) contributed to my life. I choose to focus on the people I still have in my life.

People might look at my life and be sad for me for what I am now lacking, but the reality is that I have been rich. I have been blessed with such amazing people in my life and amazing experiences. The enemy of cancer in my life has actually brought about quite a huge shift in my life, some of which allowed me to find these people and value my life like I hadn’t before.

If I could, of course, I would choose for my wife and mom and Michael to still be here. I still miss them and love them and there really isn’t such a thing as “moving on” from that. They live on in me forever, though. They live on in remembering who they were, what they taught me, and continuing to remember that my time on this earth is limited and to make every minute count.

Spring is coming into bloom again and flowers around us are reborn from death. Change is all around us; the cycle of life continues with or without us. Similarly, I’ve found with loss comes transformation and renewal and rebirth of sorts. We can choose to dwell in the muck or we can choose to soar and be reborn stronger than before.

What will you choose?