Are you stayin’ alive?

The other day, a classic rock station happened to play the Bee Gee’s famous 1977 song, Stayin’ Alive. The lyrics tell the story of someone who is struggling with life, but won’t give up. He has ups and downs, but has hope and won’t abandon it. One small passage eloquently captures how the person is contending with his challenges:

Well now, I get low and I get high
And if I can’t get either, I really try
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I’m a dancin’ man and I just can’t lose.

These lyrics take on fresh meaning in light of three articles, which have recently appeared in the media.

About a month ago, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Joe Queenan entitled The Awful Dangers of Calling It Quits Before You’re Done. Mr. Queenan wrote about the unintended consequences of abandoning your work too soon. For instance, what might happen he stated, if an endodontist decided to walk away from a root canal procedure right in the middle of it, because he’d simply had enough of his chosen profession? His examples are many and memorable, funny and serious 

The writer’s focus was largely on what would happen to others, to the people who count on you, in the moment and down the road. There was no mention of how quitting might affect the quitter. But there should have been. Much has been written about how staying active benefits you too, by engendering a sense of purpose, value and self-worth.

About two weeks ago, I came across a piece in The New York Times called To Age Well, Train for Contentment by Robert Goldfarb. Mr. Goldfarb is 88 years old and a self-proclaimed gym rat. Yet, he questions whether his passion for physical fitness is enough. He wonders, Should I also have asked more of my mind? His question led him to see that there is one characteristic common to his friends who are, indeed, aging well; i.e., these people all exhibit a near-palpable serenity, a sense of peace, despite adversity. They accept uncertainty without folding under its weight. They stay engaged and don’t give up. The characteristic Goldfarb is referring to is contentment.

Around the same time as I read the Goldfarb article, I came across this one by Corey Kilgannon, also in The Times: The World’s Oldest Barber Is 107 and Still Cutting Hair Full Time. Wow! Talk about longevity! It turns out that this gentleman, Anthony Mancinelli, attributes much of his staying power to having an activity – in this case, his job – that’s deeply satisfying to him, and to the relationships it has spawned. His very existence has mattered greatly to many people and, I believe, to him as well.

Taken together, these three articles illuminate a pattern that is hard to ignore: Staying alive matters. Not just in the obvious physical sense; but in how you continue to learn and grow, and how you contribute to the lives of others, in ways that supply you with the health-enhancing benefits that doing so offers.

Is there a theme underlying this pattern?
While “aging smart” might seem to be the obvious theme this pattern reveals, it isn’t, although, how we age is certainly part of the message. The theme underlying this pattern is Grace. Grace has many meanings, but the one that seems to apply in this context is “honoring or acknowledging someone (or something) by one’s presence.” That “someone” isn’t just others. It includes you.

Is there a lesson here?

If staying alive, as described above, confers grace upon you as well as those you touch, then the lesson is to give and take. Continue to give your talents, passions, skills and experience – your gift – in the name of making a difference in the lives of others, and take, in return, the rewards of stayin’ alive. You’ve earned them.

With this in mind, let’s take it one more time from the top …

Well now, I get low and I get high
And if I can’t get either, I really try
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I’m a dancin’ man and I just can’t lose.

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