Focus and Mottoes


Proverbs abound in our culture. New ones are as fresh as the new television season with their Madison Avenue’s pitches. Slang words and phrases are quickly assimilated into our common vernacular at the speed of our web browser or email carrier. Perhaps we all have statements that we make when we walk in and out of the house. We have little mottoes and mantras that define who we are or where we’re from. Decals on cars declare OIB (Ocean Isle Beach) or PI (Pawley’s Island). One of the best symbols of our fair state is the Palmetto and Crescent that graces everything from vehicles to t-shirts.
I have been watching the Olympics with great interest amazed at the dedication and determination that these athletes have exhibited. Of course Michael Phelps’ feat of 8 Gold medals is impressive, and so is 41-year-old Dara Torres’ Silver medal accomplishment. I have especially liked listening to their post-event interviews although I’m a little bored with Phelps’ standard line, “Once again, I’m at a loss for words.” He has said some remarkable things like, “If you you’re determined, you can accomplish your dreams.” Given his ADHD diagnosis, that says a lot to everyone. Focus is important, or how else do you explain Dara Torres’ ability to juggle motherhood, family, and swimming? Notice the focused beam of light in this morning’s webcam shot from Mt. Mitchell. Where this is going is what would I say in my post-life interview or, better yet, what would others say was my focus, my mission statement?
Life mottoes and symbols give us an identity. They provide us with instant affinity groups. They should all pass the t-shirt test. If they can’t fit on a t-shirt, then they’re too long. Before t-shirts we put them on tombstones and called them “epitaphs.” Someone once said that life mottoes or mission statements should be short enough to be memorized, but long enough to be memorable. How appropriate!
I’ve seen some remarkable life mottoes in recent years, from comedians to poets. Lily Tomlin purportedly claimed, “We’re all in this together ­– alone,” as her motto. Poet John Gay’s epitaph reads: “Life is jest, and all things show it, I thought so once, but now I know it.” There’s the humorous and the sublime. You decide which is which: “Some days you’re a pigeon. Some days you’re a statue,” and “God give me work until my life shall end and life until my work is done.”
What sign and symbols will be on your tombstone? Could it be we’re writing them right now whether we like it or not? Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold in their Handbook for Mortals give some guidance in writing life themes. They call them the “Four R’s for the Spirit.” First is remembering. They ask us to take time to reflect on life and all of its happenings, both accomplishments and failures. Reassessing comes next. They suggest that we should ask what our lives have added up to, or who we really were, then share these thoughts with the people who know and love us. The third “R” is reconciling where we try to be at peace with our own imperfections. Last they suggest that we try reuniting, being at peace with others, especially those we love. As they put it about reconciling, “It is important to come together with family and friends, when you can, and to have the chance to say farewells.” All four “R’s” can aid us in getting our epitaph written before our death rather than after.
I want to be a person intent on memorable missions, creating an epitaph worth remembering. Then after I’m gone people won’t have to wonder about what to put on my tombstone. Maybe I should go ahead and ask them now what they have in mind. Better yet, it’s not too late for me to make a revision.