Musings on the Passage of Time
Every year on my children’s birthday’s I write them a letter, outlining what has transpired in their life during the previous year and talking about my hopes and dreams for them going forward.
Today’s my birthday … and I thought, why not a letter to ME? I don’t mind telling you I turn 53 today. Funny. When I started my career as a TV reporter, I didn’t dare tell anyone my age because I was so young. At the age of 19, I was covered the busts of strip joints where you had to be over 21 to enter. I remember hoping they didn’t card the working press! Today those kinds of worries are long gone.
When I first saw the number in black and white—53 -- I blanched! Yikes – that seems so old! After all, my mother died at the age of 54! Sadly she had endured nearly two decades of health problems, so her life was very different from mine. Still, when you hit those milestone days, it does occasionally prompt one to pause and reflect. At this stage in my life journey, am I satisfied with my choices? What remains to be done? From whence come the siren calls that I must answer to feed my soul? Are the adjectives that I or others would use to describe me ones of which I approve? If not, what can I do to change them? As I reflect on these questions, I have to recognize that they are useful to all of us whether we are making a birthday or not – so I pass them along to you.
The other day as I was dashing about running errands, the thought hit me: If I died today, I died satisfied. No regrets, no unfinished business. Perhaps the knowledge that my own mother died near my same age prompted this thought and while I know my family, especially my husband and kids would be devastated if I were gone, I would hope they would find comfort in knowing that their presence in my life made me happier than I could have ever imagined. My kids, though young, will turn out well as I have seen them make the right choices, properly anguished when they screwed up, and I know that they have kind and giving hearts. That coupled with a drive to succeed ought to be enough to get them to their own ‘regret-free’ happy lives in the future.
In my own life, I continue to be amazed at the opportunities that have come my way. Some of you may not know I come from a little bitty carpet manufacturing town in North Georgia. We barely had an AM radio station when I was growing up, so the idea of working on television at a national level wasn’t something anyone in my school would have thought of. Yet that’s been my life and whether it’s been covering horrible tragedies like 9/11 or forest fires and floods or ‘pinch myself’ moments like working the red carpet at the Oscars and Emmys, I have never, not once, not marveled at the fact that Debbie Norville was actually doing this. On reflection, I think that’s been a factor in both my success and my longevity. That sense of wonder has always been coupled by near-palpable humility. Where I come from it’s practically a sin to become ‘too big for your britches.’ So I have never, not once, forgotten where I come from.
So many of the girls in my high school got married right after graduation. At our last high school reunion, some of them were grandmothers! My daughter was still in Middle School! I waited until I was nearly 30 to marry, had achieved certain milestones in my career, and found the guy of my dreams who hailed, from of all places, Sweden. I’m not sure what was harder for my very red white and blue Southern daddy: the fact I had to join a union to do my job, the fact that my kids were born up North and therefore Yankees, or that I married a ‘furriner.’ Happily, it’s all turned out well, so I believe Daddy’s recovered!
I couldn’t have chosen a career for which I was better suited. I was always the little girl in class who asked “How come?” The teacher who in exasperation told me to go to the library and look it up and write a report to the class had no idea she was pushing me toward a career in which I could ‘find out’ and tell the whole class, only this time the class was a television audience. I love what I do, though at times feel frustrated that at a time when all Americans are struggling with confusion about where our great country is headed, we don’t always provide enough information to help them make the best choices. That’s when I remind myself the announcer dude says “Inside Edition with Deborah Norville,” not Inside Edition for Deborah Norville. The moments of levity, the gee-whiz stories, the tales that touch your emotional heartstrings – those stories also have a place in viewer’s daily TV diets and I am thrilled we have a loyal audience that visits us regularly for such fare.
What remains to be done? Gosh. As I said, if I died now, I leave the earth fulfilled. I have travelled to places I once couldn’t locate on a map. Travel is a wonderful form of education, especially when one visits places culturally and linguistically unlike home. I haven’t seen India or Russia. I haven’t been to Japan, Australia, or Antarctica. Maybe one day I will, but if it doesn’t happen, that’s okay. The memories of the extraordinary places I have been can last me a lifetime.
For a kid from the North Georgia hills, I have met so many interesting people from the unknown individual to whom something extraordinary happened to Presidents and Kings. Can you imagine what a thrill it was for me to sit in the Royal Palace in Stockholm, Sweden where I interviewed King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, knowing that just three generations earlier, my great grandparents had to emigrate from that country because they were starving? They were the proverbial migrants in search of a better life. As I sat in that incredibly ornate gilded room in the palace, I couldn’t help but think, “Is America great or what?”
And America IS great. I do believe in American exceptionalism. We are the place where the greatest minds come to learn – yet then our immigration policy forces so many of those who’ve gotten the benefit of our great professors to return to their home countries rather than use their intellect to better our nation. We are the nation to which the rest of the world continues to look for guidance and leadership – which is why the paucity of leadership from the White House and Congress is reflected in financial markets that at this writing are roiling.
Can I somehow play a role in any of this? Can any of us? I think the answer is yes, in ways big and small. First get involved and get vocal. Let the folks who are supposed to be representing you know you are watching –whether it’s the gal on the local school board or your guy in Washington. It scares the hell out of them when they get mail from you, so write them a letter – yes, spend 44 cents! – and speak up. I am always doubtful that those mass mailings of the identical messages , whether email or otherwise, really mean anything to the Congressional aide who reads them.
In my own life, I see that the siren call I hear and my own desire to ‘get involved’ might be one and the same. In the last few years, my personal quest to learn ‘how come’ has been centered on ‘how can one channel their energies in positive directions. My research on gratitude, which honestly started as just an exercise to prove I was playing mind games with myself, in fact led me to a treasure trove of data, mostly not widely reported, on how being appreciative could actually make you smarter, more healthy, etc. That sent me down the path of investigating the impact of respect on others ….and how it might boomerang back into benefits for you. Now I am intrigued by resilience and the exciting news is we can all take steps that will help insulate us from some of the pressures and stresses of the world. In these turbulent times, I can’t think of anything more affirming to hear!
My hope is that going forward I can make a difference by empowering folks to be stronger, more resistant to the ‘crap’ that happens in all our lives, and outline strategies any of us can employ to get through the tough times. I know that part of the solution will be found in the connections we make with others. That’s really the secret of gratitude and respect and I’ve come to realize it’s the reason I have long been a fan of the needle arts. As some of you know, I’ve got a successful like of hand knit and crochet yarns in stores. It’s the connection between crafter and recipient that make knitting, crochet, needlework – whatever – such a fulfilling pastime. Most of us don’t make items for ourselves, but for others. I guarantee virtually every stitch is made with the recipient in mind. So ‘connectivity’ is a critical component in fostering resilience. I’ve got some ideas along these lines, so as they say, ‘Watch this space.’
I asked what adjectives I would ascribe to myself. I turn the question to you. What adjectives are synonymous with your life? It might seem self-serving on one hand (and way too revealing on the other!) for me to share my own adjective list – but suffice it to say, some of the describers give me pleasure. Others (like impatience!) are clearly areas that go on my ‘to work on’ list.
It’s good to have a ‘to work on’ list. Though I clearly have more years behind me than I have to come, I suspect (at least the actuarial charts say so) that I have lots of time to get things done. I encourage you to join me.
Finally, since it is MY birthday, I will close by sharing a wonderful missive from General Douglas McArthur. It’s called How To Stay Young.
Youth is not a time of life – it is a state of mind; it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease.
Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair – these are long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.
Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder, the sweet amazement at the stars, and the starlike things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy of the game of life.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope; as old as your despair.
So long as your heart receives message of beauty, cheer, courage, grandure and power from the earth, from man and from the Infinite, so long are you young.
When the wires are all down and all the central places of your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then indeed have you grown old and may God have mercy on your soul.