I was thinking this weekend about the age-old debate over whether life is a journey or a destination. Ralph Waldo Emerson helped to create that debate when he was given credit for the quote, “Life is a journey and not a destination.” However, to be fair to Emerson no one has ever found proof of the authorship issue, but we’ll let it go there.
I still can’t help but think about that today for a number of reasons. Having my 70th birthday earlier this month is of course one of those reasons, but there are others just as important. Learning about the loss of a good friend, or even a number of special acquaintances is another reason to ponder that complex question.
I envy those who can just focus on the narrow goal of just moving forward, as they don’t have to constantly worry about whether they were right in their choice. Something inside them guides their journey to that one destination. There is nothing wrong with that, it is a choice that is very fulfilling for so many in life, and there are many who believe the opposite is true and I also respect that opinion.
For me, my journey has been in the discovery of great possibilities in life. It could be described at times as a wonderful rollercoaster ride. There have been highs and of course the lows we all experience. I believe it is in the lows that we discover who we truly are and the inner strengths we possess to overcome the challenges that life throws at us.
I believe your character is best identified by how you deal with those disappointments in life, as it establishes the value of your inner self. The same is true with integrity, which is best seen when there is no one there to witness it, for its always easy to do what’s right when you don’t have an alternative.
I only came to realize that after I turned 17 and watched my father take on the challenges of Stage 4 cancer that racked his body over a one-year period. That dreadful disease left the former active and athletic 44-year-old individual paralyzed from the waist down. In the final days of what was left of his time with us he would stare at my mother and I when we’d first walk through the door of his room at the Manchester, N.H. Veterans Hospital.
As long as I live, I will never forget the eyes which had always been so bright and the smile that would light up a room. Neither of those traits existed any longer. Likewise, I will never fail to forget his refusal to complain or feel bad for himself. He would always assure his many friends that everything would be fine, and this was just a setback and he would soon rebound.
My mother, who was a nurse would care for my dad at home when he was not in the hospital. She would sleep on the most uncomfortable cot I’ve ever laid on at his bedside. She would never complain and would always be there to comfort him and deal with his many needs. Few saw the commitment she would demonstrate over that terrible 11 months my father suffered. That was a lesson I learned about “integrity,” and love.
That portion of my journey in life help to craft some of the person I hope I’ve become. Many of you I am sure could share similar reflections on your life and could share them much more eloquently, such as a great friend of mine who took a leave of absence from his job a few years ago to care for his dying father. Feeding, bathing and caring for his most intimate needs for several months. His commitment once again reinforced by belief in what I feel defines integrity; “doing the right thing when no one is watching.”
I’ve been fortunate to live a full and rewarding life. To surround myself with people and purposes that will make a difference in the lives of many beyond their personal circles. The lessons, heartaches and joys help mold who we are in life. There are no guarantees of a smooth road, but the manner in how we approach the hardest of those challenges continues to mold the people we are.
In my life it has been important to surround myself with those that I could trust during those toughest of times. Men and women who will exhibit the highest standards of character and integrity that life has to offer. People who choose to give of themselves, while caring about causes that are right and are not a benefit to them, but instead benefit those in a greater need.
We are blessed to have so many of those same individuals in the community we live in. Residents who rise up to assist those in need of a helping hand during a time of crisis in their lives. They shy away from taking credit or seeking the limelight for personal gain and instead demonstrate that great character trait of integrity which sometimes is so lacking in society today and especially in politics.
I believe if my journey in life was to end here, that it will have brought me to a destination that I can truly be proud to call home.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com.