A Civil War Battlefield, An Ancient Greek, and ‘What You Do’
Sometimes I think I would go a little insane, if not for my sporadic “army vacations” that seem to pop up on my calendar from time to time. Although it forces me to push a little harder in the office leading up to and immediately following the trip, my Army National Guard training trips have been a great opportunity to focus my mind on things other than law, divorce, custody disputes, etc. My clients, for the most part, have been very understanding of my need to occasionally step away for military duty, which I also very much appreciate.
This week I’m in Ft. Lee, Virginia (AKA Fort Leisure) for training on the Army contracting system. It’s nothing sexy, no big explosions or anything, but it’s been an overall good experience. One thing I noticed during this trip was how much more addicted to my phone and email I seem to have become. On a
relatively short flight from Des Moines to Charlotte, and Charlotte to
Richmond, I found myself almost continually thinking “I wonder what emails have come in…I wonder if anyone’s tried to text me…I wonder what’s on Facebook.” And of course, the first opportunity I had to turn on my phone and check my email, I took it. And that’s where this newsletter/blog/whatever you want to call it begins (or begins to spin out of control).
At this point, I couldn’t tell you what most of the emails I received that day were even about, however the first three emails I read grabbed my attention, sort of knocked me aside, and made me think…and I’m still trying to sort them out.
The first email was a heartfelt note from a former client, thanking me for some of the points made in these blogs and our business social media posts…not a trite “you’re awesome” but letting me know that a lot of the points made had truly helped this person get through a bad situation over the past year or more. That sort of blew me away. It’s nice to feel appreciated, but the ideas posted aren’t really my own, and I didn’t quite realize the effect that social media posts could have on anybody. – this makes me want to rethink quoting The Onion and referencing children’s books as often as I do 😉
The second email was one of those daily quote subscriptions I’ve signed up for. (You know you have too). This one was from The Daily Stoic, and it made an interesting point of comparing the recent signing of Kirk Cousins with the Minnesota Vikings to a quote by the stoic philosopher of Epictetus. The piece made the point that regardless of whether Cousins is good enough for the incredible money he’s being paid at Minnesota, that Cousins is as good as he can be as a player, and as a person. The quote from Epictetus was “how long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” Reading this 2000 plus year old quote back to back to the prior email made me pause.
The very next and final email was from my church, announcing the funeral of a young man who passed away unexpectedly at 31 years old.
So there I was, sitting down at the Richmond Airport, in front of Budget Car Rental, with the universe telling me three things – “thank you for what you’ve done, it makes an impact,” “are you doing the best you can right now,” and “your time is limited.” Now I really had to pause, and in fact I’m still processing this proposition. Any one of those three messages would have intrigued me, but their collective timing had me really thinking. I felt little a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge in his nightgown being visited by the three spirits – ghosts of the past, the present, and the future.
Epictetus himself has an interesting personal story. Born a slave, he was able to educate himself to the point where he gained his freedom, and further he became one of the most prominent philosophers of Greece (or maybe of history). One of his many teachings is a story of a lamp. From his Discourses:
I also lately had an iron lamp by the side of my household gods, and, on hearing a noise at the window, I ran down. I found that the lamp had been carried off. I reflected that the man who stole it was moved by no unreasonable motive. What then? Tomorrow, I say, you will find an earthen lamp: for a man only loses that which he possesses.
…what then can not be taken away? The will. This is why the Ancients taught the maxim, Know thyself. Therefore we ought to exercise ourselves in small things, and beginning with them, proceed to the greater.
If you caught it, I think this is where I and a lot of my clients get tripped up. I had a girlfriend once, and losing her really floored me – really. Not unlike a lot of my clients, I didn’t see it coming and couldn’t believe it happened. I struggled with it for a long time, and eventually I had a friend, who was a counselor, that I asked about it. He used the analogy of hiking. Basically, he explained, you both are on your own paths, and your paths joined together, and the best that you can hope for is that you both stay on the same path for a very long time, but you own your path and she own hers, and if she decides to take her path another way, it’s her choice and her path to take, it’s not your path, you down own (or possess) it, and all you can do is wish her well and continue on your own path. – It’s the thinking that we possess something, which we do not truly own, that hurts us when it’s gone – when we find out the truth. When we can’t accept the truth of what we do not control, that’s when life, and divorce and custody cases, get messy.
This is the wisdom of the Ancient Greek Stoics like Epictetus; the Buddha – the origin of suffering is craving impermanent things; Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount – seek ye first the kingdom of God; Shakespeare – there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so; and The Serenity Prayer – grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Most things we do not truly possess and do not truly control in this life – but one thing we can. What you do matters. Are you doing the best you can? Your time is limited.