My mother died when I was born.
I was fortunate to be brought up during my early years by a grandfather and grandmother who placed community above self in their daily lives.
It is a lesson that has stood me well in my so-called Golden Years, one that has held the boredom at bay that so many of my older friends find facing them as they slide slowly towards the inevitable.
My grandfather was for many years a state senator in Ohio, serving with the Brickers and Tafts of his generation in a state in which conservatism was deeply embedded. Serving one’s community was an important aspect of those conservative lives.
My grandmother grew up a young lady educated by Episcopal nuns in Colorado and brought to the table a sense of formality above familiarity, a sense based on the well-structured discipline of caring for others.
A rather unstructured religious person over the years I eventually migrated to the Unitarian-Universalist fellowship thanks to a kind old minister who taught me to seek knowledge of life and living and to make my own decisions concerning the way I choose to live.
One of the basic decisions I made was to live my life based on one of my grandparent’s favorite biblical teachings from Matthew 6:
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret …”
I suppose in simply writing this column I am violating that very tenet but I think it important enough to pass it along to other seniors who are seeking some solace and enlightenment in what can become at times a mundane existence.
In other words, if we want to truly enjoy these final years we need to get outside of ourselves.
My grandfather taught that we should always leave any community in which we live and serve in better shape than it was when we joined it.
For many years as a journalist, this was simply a matter of exposing those who would steal the trust and money of the communities they were supposedly serving. To maintain the integrity to perform that job successfully I remained detached from the many organizations that served the communities in which I lived.
For two-thirds of my life, I lived this rather remote but very rewarding existence.
Eventually, as I founded some publications of my own, I found that involvement in the communities they served was a necessary part of doing business.
At first, it was with some trepidation that I began joining some of the various community and civic organizations within the areas served by my newspapers and magazines.
It drew me out of myself if nothing else. And it turned out to be a rewarding experience not to mention a great opportunity to learn about both self and others.
I learned that Rotary International has spent many years eradicating polio worldwide, that the 40&8 of the American Legion has been providing training of nurses to help meet the persistent shortage of medical personnel in hospitals particularly those serving veterans, that the Elks actually started the VA system of hospitals following World War I, that the Masons are a haven of help for not just members but also their widows and orphans, that Scottish Rite helps young people with hearing and speech problems learn to communicate, that the Moose provides homes and education for children cast adrift, and that the Shrine helps children learn to walk and overcome birth defects just to mention a few of the many services available in the communities in which I have lived the last third of my life.
These lessons were all learned because I chose to join and participate in these various organizations. They are valuable lessons that helped bring me back to those formative years in which I watched my grandfather help build a better community in which to live and my grandmother build such things as libraries to foster the development of better residents within in that community.
They say there are three Ws we can employ as individuals in helping to build better communities – Work, Wisdom and Wealth. I have participated in all three. I have generally tithed regularly of my earnings to the various needs in the communities in which I have lived and served. I have contributed my knowledge of economics and business to organizations to which I have belonged by serving in whatever official capacity within each organization I could best fill a need. And I have put in the hours needed to support those organizations, often in the kitchen stirring a pot of gravy or the backyard picking up trash.
From all of this I have drawn a comfortable feeling of satisfaction and I continue to do so.
If there is a dark spot in this somewhat glowing thread it is that in almost every organization that I spend time these days there is always a constant call for more members and more money as memberships decline and costs of operations constantly increase.
What has happened over the past half-century? Have we become more callous toward the needs of others within the communities in which we live and serve?
Maybe so, but whose fault is it?
I contend that it is our fault. We have forgotten to teach that service to our communities is a valuable part of keeping those communities alive and well.
Someone once told me there are only two types of people in this world: Those who give and those who take.
There is never any shortage of those who take from our communities whether it is from necessity or from the feeling that they are simply entitled to have whatever it is that fills their immediate desire.
There seems to be a constant shortage these days of people who are willing to give. Maybe it is the constantly accelerating pace of life that prevents many from getting involved in things outside themselves and maybe it is that there are too many things competing for their time to allow them to consider doing for others within their communities.
Whatever the reason the fact remains that the rewards of community service far outweigh the personal costs.
If you’re finding your Golden Years have reached a so-so level, you might want to consider getting back in the game of life by joining one or more of the various civic and community organizations around you and becoming an active participant in its programs.
I’m most grateful for those early lessons taught me by my grandparents, who taught by example, and most grateful for the fact that somehow they stuck and I found my way back to them over the years.
Dave Whitney is a retired journalist and adventurer who has won many writing awards. He was born and raised in central Ohio, attended school in Missouri, served in the US Army Security Agency, and migrated to Florida a half-century ago. Author of four books, he is a former Associated Press writer/editor and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize during his writing career. As editor and founder of the Free Press newspapers in the Florida Keys, he was the first publisher to pick up Frank Kaiser’s “Suddenly Senior” column when it entered syndication. Whitney currently resides in Lakeland, Fla., after living 25 years in the Florida Keys.
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