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James R. Stout

The Gift of Life

            It’s been a cold day here in East Texas. Cold for East Texas that is. The temperature at my house never got above 36 degrees. That may not be the below zero temperatures of some of our northern states, but for around here it’s cold. All that cold air outside went a long way in helping me decide to not go outside today. There was nothing that had to be done so bad that it required of me going outside. The only problem was that I found myself doing too much sitting in my chair bundled up and trying to stay warm. Oh, I could have done some things around the house such as cleaning it, but the fact is I just didn’t want too. So, I didn’t. I did manage to get some recording done, but I had to turn the heat off while recording so that the sound of the furnace wasn’t picked-up by the microphone. Although I have some soundproofing in my studio, it still needs a/c and heating. I recorded until my fingers got too cold and I was shivering then I stopped and ramped up the heat again.

            What ended up happening was I went back to my chair, bundled up, and did some thinking. I started thinking about my grandfather after a while and I realized that tomorrow (February 9th) will mark the day that I will turn 63 years and 5 months old. What does that have to do with my grandfather, you ask? Well, I figured out that on April 22, 1963 my grandfather turned 63 years and 5 months old. Stay with me for a little bit longer and this will all make sense. That fact made me think back on what my grandfather was like when he was my exact age. My perspective on him has changed over the years and the change has accelerated over the last couple of years.

            When I was a kid, I thought my grandfather was ancient. To be honest, most people looked older back then. Not just how I perceived them at the time, but also when I look at pictures from those days. Grandpa had thinning hair, had started to put on a little extra weight, and had quite a few wrinkles and age lines. To me he was old. I probably am diluting myself, but I don’t think I look as old at my age as he did at my age. However, after recalling his every day life in those days I realized Grandpa was in far better shape than I am now. At least, so far as we could tell. He got out and worked hard every day. I don’t. He raised cattle, built fences, did tractor work, chopped wood with an axe, and all the things that go into owning a real working ranch. He had no employees. He did the work himself. Frankly, I couldn’t keep up with him if my life depended on it. In many ways he was in far better shape than I am, and he certainly worked physically harder than I do. He still went to bed early but got up early too. When I would be visiting, he didn’t stay in the house on cold days. Wood had to be brought in and the stove tended too, but he also had to go check on the livestock, make sure that they were fed and not in distress, mend any fences that might need mending, and sometimes get on his tractor that had no cab and do whatever might need doing while cold winds blew in his face. I supposed if I absolutely had to do some of those things today, then I would. But I’m soft (most of us are these days) and I don’t have to do those things. Of course, in my defense I should point out that Grandpa never had to work in the corporate world and put up with the stress entailed with office politics, the politically correct police, or the stress of dealing with bosses. He never had a boss. He started farming his own land when he was 20 years old. He worked on his parent’s family farm before that. I worked in the corporate world for most of my adult life and the only time I didn’t have a boss was when I didn’t have a job. I worked hard in a different way for a long time so that I could retire at 62. Grandpa never retired. Interestingly enough, he died 4 years to the day after the day he turned 63 years and 5 months old. Gulp! Two days before he died, he was digging post holes and building a fence about 100 yards from where I am now sitting and writing this blog. If I only live as long as Grandpa did, then I have only 4 years left. Here’s hoping that won’t be the case. But it does give me pause.

            While I am ready to meet God and to spend eternity in Heaven, I’m not in a hurry to do so. This is the only life I get in human form. I want as much of the human experience as I can get. After all, I’ll have eternity for what comes next. When Grandpa died, he had 7 grandchildren ranging in age from 4 to 17. I was smack in the middle at the age of 11. I have 5 grandchildren ranging in age between 7 months and 11 years. I get to see three of them very often, but there are two that I don’t get to see much at all. It’s not my desire for that to be that way and it is my prayer that I will get to see them more often in the future. I love them all so very much. Thinking about my mortality tends to make me want to see them all more and more. I suppose that is only natural. In a way, there is a fence that needs mending in my life too. I will continue to make that effort.

            My grandmother lived for 22 years after my grandfather died. She got a whole lot more of the human experience than he did. But in some ways that might have been a blessing for Grandpa. He didn’t have to go through some of the indignities that befall us in our old age. But still, Grandma got to see all of their 7 grandchildren become adults. She also got to enjoy all 4 of her great-grandchildren. She got to see many more sunrises and sunsets. She got to enjoy spending time with her 4 children, 7 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. She got to sing praises to her savior that many more years. Life is so very precious.

            I also found myself thinking today about recent legislation in New York that allows the abortion of a full-term baby only minutes from being born. I won’t get into how on Earth our country could get to such a point, but I will say that it literally makes me sick to my stomach to think about. I mentioned that I have a 7-month-old granddaughter. I have a picture taken of her only minutes after she was born. The thought of such a precious life being murdered only minutes earlier is beyond reprehensible. Any baby whose life is snuffed out in such a way will never have the chance to be 63 years and 5 months old. That baby will never have children and grandchildren. That baby will never enjoy a single sunrise or sunset. That baby will never get to enjoy the human experience other than the 9 months spent in his/her mother’s womb. That baby might have discovered a cure for cancer or might have saved lives by being a police officer or firefighter. That baby might have been a teacher that profoundly touched and affected the lives of thousands of children over a decades long career.

            I’ll get off my soapbox now. This started out as a blog about how different the lives of my grandfather and myself are at the same age. But there are some similarities too. Probably more of those than differences. By the time I did all that thinking today two things happened. First, I got a headache from doing too much thinking! More importantly, I realized that I am so fortunate to still be alive and to have time to be a better person. Not that I’ve been a bad person, but I don’t have to look long at my life to know that I made some big blunders and missed the mark too many times. I still have time to do better. I said earlier that life is precious and that is a fact. I’d have to be some kind of colossal fool not to realize that life is a gift. I plan on making the most of that gift with whatever time I have left here on Earth. How about you?

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