Source: The Corydon Democrat

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New life in a new year
Community conversations

by Judy O'Bannon

December 31, 2013

I know there is nothing magic about any specific date, as in New Year's, Jan. 1, 2014. But we are a human race that likes to organize, set goals and have deadlines, and a new year can motivate us to do this.

During the holidays, we overeat, stay up too late and put off doing sensible tasks. There is orderliness to sitting down with a blank page and deciding what we want to happen in the calendar year ahead. Most of our "New Year's resolutions" are not just commitments to do what worked well for us in the past. They are pledges of our intent to make changes or do something new. It is as though we raise our right hand and say to the universe that we will try to do better in the future.

Americans are filled with gusto for advancement. Our country breeds a mindset of inquiry and adventure. In the early colonial period of our land, those who came to America were searching for a better life for themselves and their kids. I guess it is the same these days with immigrants from all over the world. These are people who are willing to take risks in order to improve their lives. They envision life that is different than what they have experienced. These folks are aggressive, confident and innovative. We have always been a diverse people, gathered from other lands to seek new opportunities and escape old burdens.

Recently, Time magazine ran an article about the economic and social conditions in China. The feature emphasized that China could manufacture things, but only after other countries' citizens had created the design for the products. My understanding is that China has a culture that does not encourage, let alone reward, those who advance new and different ideas. Its mantra is to follow the leader and old ways to be safe. There is a built-in fear of failure in such a system that filters into individuals and the institutions they maintain. The article in Time pointed out that China's financial systems are not structured to support high-tech innovations like those in Silicon Valley in the USA.

Years ago, I heard Bill Gates say, "It used to be information that led to strength as a business or nation, but, now that everyone has access to the Internet, it is innovation that separates the achievers from those who simply trail behind."

During our recent wedding, my husband Don and I were blown away by the glee with which people responded to the news of the marriage of two old folks whose ages hover around 80 years. Most interesting were their comments that often went something like this, "It gives me hope there are still exciting options to look forward to in the future." We all need hope or we just wither and dry up.

AARP magazine featured a story about four older actors who have just made a movie together. It read as good advice to me.

Michael Douglas: "Work is what keeps you going. My father, Kirk, is 96 and finishing his 10th novel. We all know people who retired at 50 and just got old. If you retire, you better know what you're going to do with yourself. Because we're living much longer lives."

Morgan Freeman: "Hey, if I don't have a job, I don't know why I bother to get up. Any time the phone rings, I'm ready to go. What else am I going to do? Retire? I don't know what it means."

Robert De Niro: "I feel optimistic about things. You certainly don't want to think that the worst is yet to come."

Kevin Kline: "It's like, 'What's the best role you've ever played?' The next one."

De Niro: "That's right. We don't know what lies ahead. So, I'm only going to think about the best."

We all know people about whom it has been said, "They didn't know when to get off the stage." They stayed too long at a job or career and lost their effectiveness. We are talking about something different here: reinventing ourselves throughout our lives in order to keep viable and invigorated. That is what a New Year's celebration is all about.

Last week at church, I spoke with a friend of mine who is also around 80. She said, "Guess what? I have just sold my big condo and all its contents and am moving into an apartment the first of the year." She didn't say, "I had to down-size, move from my home and go to a dreary safe place to wait out my days." No, she said with an excited voice, "I think it will be fun to have new neighbors in a new building." I would guess 2014 will be a good ride for her.

Happy New Year.