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Dec 06

Reflections on My Life

Problems Offer Gifts—

In a strange way, my disabilities can be seen as one of many strokes of luck I have experienced. Every time I am fed through the tube, I get to lie quietly for an hour, dozing sometimes, but most often reflecting on my life (or this blog). Speaking just for myself—others probably have a different approach and values—I look back on my life so far with a mixture of pride and self-criticism. Pride in what has been accomplished and self-criticism over what has been missed or mishandled.

As I approach eighty, I am struck as to how quickly the time has flown by. Where was I that I failed to note the passing of the years and opportunities? Like many, I am fortunate that I was born white in a society that values whiteness above “otherness;” I have been fortunate to have been healthy and whole in a world that has condemned too many to sickness, deprivation and serious disabilities; I have been fortunate to have achieved a measure of success in a world that builds walls around achieving the most each individual is capable of achieving; I have been fortunate to have had the friends, family and relationships I have when too many have been deprived of these rewarding benefits.

My good fortune vastly outweighs the misfortunes I have faced, but as stated in Richard Bach’s book “Illusions, “…You seek problems because you need their gifts…” It seems my few problems have always had gifts for me, gifts that I have carried with me throughout my life.

As a child I was asthmatic. While others played outdoors, I read books, even the dictionary. It’s fair to say that my love of knowledge has propelled my life into the path I have followed. In my childhood, despite the admonitions of an overprotective mother, I spent my playtime in a semi-rural setting catching crawdads or tadpoles in the nearby creek that was as-yet unpolluted. Though my father was often absent because of his work, my mother provided me with books and corrected my spelling when I wrote home from the strict Catholic boarding school far from my family. That led me to later represent my school in the national spelling bee. When I lost, the winner from another school later became one of my best friends. Even in loss, there was a gift.

Being fortunate enough to be reasonably attractive—something that never registered on me until I was in my thirties and divorced—I never wanted for female companionship. Without exception, the women taught me more than either they or I realized and occasionally left me with regrets at how thoughtless I sometimes was of their feelings, regrets that still smolder inside me today.

After the divorce, my former wife’s new husband was instrumental in preventing me from seeing our daughter. Feeling helpless, I hired a lawyer to establish firm visitation guidelines. This incident impelled me to become a lawyer so I could never be taken advantage of again. Another gift, particularly because my daughter and I have become close in the years since.

I became a corporate lawyer only to see my job of thirteen years go a’glimmering when I was laid off. Thanks to my volunteer draft and legal counseling at the Los Angeles Free Clinic, I was hired by a small firm almost immediately and became a draft and military lawyer during the Vietnam War years. These were my happiest years in law practice because not only was I putting my political views to work but I was making more than my corporate salary.  Yet another gift was given to me.

One day I realized that I was doing everything with my brain but nothing with my hands. Balance was essential but missing in my life, so I took pottery lessons at a Santa Monica studio until, being the person I am, I became good enough that the studio owner hired me to teach on the weekends. Suddenly, I was a draft/military lawyer during the week and a pottery teacher on the weekends. The students were predominantly females between the ages of eighteen and forty…and I was single. It was like being a kid with unlimited credit in a candy store. Despite my developing something of a reputation, I met Ewa who became my wife and the love of my life. You can say the gifts just kept coming.

The Vietnam War ended in part because of the activity of the lawyers I worked with, and eventually the practice of everyday law became boring. Jobs in the law and at one of the major networks came and went but the bright spots became the births of our children and my becoming a vice president at the Fox Broadcasting Company.

Throughout the period until joining the nascent FBC, there was a tension between my ambition and the need for balance in my life. In the corporate world, the balance shifted considerably toward long hours away from my family. The balance evaporated entirely at FBC until I was jolted to the core one day by my young daughter’s observation that “You’re not here a lot, Pappa.” Approaching emotional burn-out, I chose to take an early retirement and move to Sweden where my wife, a Swedish citizen, grew up. Balance was restored.

Two more gifts came my way when our son came out as gay and our daughter was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. As a confirmed heterosexual, it never occurred to me that a member of my family could be homosexual. The gift is that our son has taught me that love comes in more than one form and that a person’s sexuality is just one part of them as a human being. Our son is the same intelligent, multi-faceted guy whom we love with our whole hearts. Put another way, he has broadened my view of the world.

Our daughter has taught me that bi-polar disorder is a blessing rather than a curse, an advantage that occurs most often in artistically talented individuals from Leonardo da Vinci to our bright, lovely, much-loved artist daughter. With proper medication, the person lives a normal life while seeing it from a different perspective than those of us who are predominantly left-brained. Indeed, we left-brained folk might be the deprived ones. As with our son, our daughter has opened a window into a bigger world for me.

After years of rejecting suggestions from friends and the local newspaper that I start blogging, I finally stopped resisting when my older daughter said that she would help me establish a blog and my wife said she would redesign my bland banner. Those years of resistance melted away until today I find myself as deeply engaged in the blog as I had vowed I would never be. Was this because my disabilities confined me to the limitations of my social life? If so, then I have again received a gift that allows me to renew my life at a different level.

The moral to all this—if one is to be found—is that our problems do indeed hold gifts for us in their hands. At least, they have for me.

 Advice for Whomever—

Finally (perhaps apropos of nothing), as a youngster I frequently heard from my parents that I was “the laziest kid west of the Mississippi.” I have spent too much of my life proving that they were wrong. The result was so obvious that one of my secretaries posted on my office door an excerpt from a speech that said essentially that a person should do only what he had to do and not everything that came his way.

The take-away to that story is that parents and caregivers should be careful of what they say to the child. The child may turn a criticism into a life’s script that will both haunt and influence him/her for a lifetime. However, it might be said that their criticism was a gift. If so, then it has been a goad that has driven me to push myself more than was reasonable or healthy. Still I say, look for the gift.

20 comments

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  1. Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas

    WOW
    That is one amazingly profound blog. I would like to print it in our newspaper the Hyp News with your permission. It is so inspirational!
    You remain one of my heros.
    Love Shelley

    1. Don Bay

      I genuinely appreciate the kind words, Shelley. You are welcome to reprint the piece in your paper. I ask one favor in return ONLY if you feel that there is something worth reading from time to time: would you include the suggestion that your readers subscribe to the blog if they like what they see. As the Archives show, the subject matter varies so there is something there that might interest them. And Bach’s “illusions” is filled with wisdom worth making part of your life. It’s one of my favorite books. I suggest it’s worth reading.

  2. Marty harris

    I have been reading all of your writings Don, sometimes shaking my head vertically and sometimes horizontally. This one is all vertical. I am happy that you see and acknowledge the wisdom of life and your path through it. You are a wise man, for a lawyer.
    As I age sometimes with grace, sometimes not, I come across the same observations grateful for my choices and opportunities but sometimes wondering about the crossroads and choices not taken.
    In the end though, this has been and is my own movie and as William S so succinctly put it “all the worlds a stage, And all the men and women merely players”. I work each day to find the grace in each moment, not easy, but to me the only path that matters.
    Thanks for your words, brother traveler.

    1. Don Bay

      I’m also interested in those occasions when your head shakes horizontally. Share those horizontal shakes with me. As a lawyer, I love a good debate, but I’m also open to having my mind changed. With your quick mind, the odds improve on changing my mind. We’re still traveling, brother. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  3. Art Ulene

    Thank you for sharing your gifts with us. Pure magic! Art

    1. Don Bay

      You are one of the gifts in my life, Art. Thanks for being part of it.

  4. alysonstover

    Beautiful 🙂

    1. Don Bay

      I appreciate that. “Illusions” is worth getting for the thought-provoking gems it contains.

  5. lionel burt

    Mr. B,
    a GREAT piece. well crafted and poignant. as to misguided advice being carried in one’s head for many years until more closely examined, there was a commercial ditty from the Dole Company on radio that went “I’m Conchita banana and I’ve come to say…blah, blah…so you should never put bananas in the refrigerator. No, no no, no!”
    I can’t tell you how many bananas I’ve let go bad over the years because i had bought into that musical admonition. now, when bananas turn brownish, i immediately put them in the refrigerator and they remain intact and delicious for quite some time therafter. lesson to be learned: beware of ditties!

    1. Don Bay

      What happens when you put yellow bananas in the fridge rather than those that have already turned “brownish?” I assume that with an analytical mind like yours, you would have tested that, too. Inquiring minds want to know. Other than that and the fact that I get your point, I appreciate the kind words.

      By the way, has anyone noticed that bananas don’t taste as good as they once did? That’s because the first bananas were monocultured to death (almost literally) and have had to be replaced with a less tasty variety. Fruit corporations have to keep their monopolistic profits going. Just thought I would throw in a little-known fact while we were on the subject.

  6. Kathlena Contreras

    What a great post, and a great attitude! You made my day. 🙂

    1. Don Bay

      You make every day for me. Let’s hope there are many more posts like this one.

  7. Mary Ann Conley

    This is truly inspirational. I’m grateful for your insights and so happy you shared them in your blog. Richard Bach has written a number of marvelous books, by the way.

    1. Don Bay

      I appreciate your vote of confidence. I agree that Richard Bach has written some good books. My favorite for its numerous gems of wisdom remains “Illusions.”

  8. Gunnel Mattsson

    Hi Don,
    I just want you to know that you also have Swedish readers. Since I became aware of this blog I visit it frequently although I have never written anything until now. I just want to thank you for your positive words and tell you that your presence is very missed in our group. Till we see you again, keep up the good work and all the best for Christmas and 2014. Love / Gunnel

    1. Don Bay

      Wow! I am delighted that you are reading the blog. As you have seen, the content is aimed at an American readership. To have Swedes reading the pieces is both unexpected and the frosting on the cake. Many thanks! I hope to be able to rejoin our wonderful group one day soon. Fingers crossed. God Jul till Er!

  9. Moorhouse Katharine

    Don, this piece was so compelling, it really touched me. I’ve sent it on to a few friends. Thank you for sharing your insights. You’ve got me dwelling on my past, looking for the surprise gifts that came about from disappointments, I’m dumfounded at how many there have been! Thank you for your positive perspective!

    1. Don Bay

      Looked at from the perspective of Bach’s “Illusions,” our problems take on a completely different hue. I have had the benefit of having the time to examine my life so I can see the gifts that have been given to me. The same has happened to you and can happen to others willing to honestly look. As I have said repeatedly, “Illusions” is one of my all time favorite books and worthwhile for anybody to read…again and again. The “problems/gifts” segment is just one of several worth incorporating in your life. Thanks for your comment, Kit, and for sharing your insights with friends.

  10. susan harris

    I enjoy reading your blog and rarely shake my head horizontally and cannot remember the times I did.
    What are the gifts coming from this disability you are currently having besides getting to lay down and eat and think about your blog? After having died and come back from a heart attack attack I had some pretty major realizations about my life. One being that if I traveled to Sweden to visit I would be sorely disappointed if someone I know didn’t make me pancakes!!!!

    1. Don Bay

      Major physical changes can definitely lead to a review of your life. Among others, mine led me to evaluate my life in terms of the problems/gifts philosophy in “Illusions.” A heart attack could certainly lead to similar thinking. As to the pancakes, we’ll have to wait and see.

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