Sunday 11 Dec 2016

Tell Me All About You
JR Hafer

I was speaking to a group of executives, recently. My topic was the real estate market. I spoke on the state of the current real estate market.

After my talk, there was a question and answer session. Someone, in the audience, asked an unexpected question. I had to think, for a moment, before responding.

The question came from a 95-year old attendee. His question didn't concern the real estate market. "Young man," he said, "do you realize what an extraordinary life you've had? You are your experiences, you know?"

He explained how we had similar life experiences. The difference, he said, was he didn't capitalize on his experience. He intended his question to urge all present to make hay while the sun shines.

His words haunt me. I think about his question, constantly. He led me to take stock, of my experiences; to weigh the worth of my life. I admit such worth may live in how you look at a life. My life has indeed been one of note.

In my lifetime, there's been a too much of change. Progress in technology has grown exponentially. About the time, of my birth, television took off and radio move from a national to a local medium. Most aeroplanes, 60 years ago, relied on propellers, and jets were few. Last month, the third Chinese space mission, in five years, included a space walk.

Personal computers arrived and moved through a hundred generations, in the past 60 years. Cell phones, today, are everywhere. On election night, 2008, thousands of college students spontaneously gathered, at the White House, in response to text messages.

In my life, I have succeeded many goals. I'm most proud of becoming a pilot. My passion is flying. As a child, I read books about those who flew. I especially liked the old-time barnstormers and the planes they flew.

I recall, too, when then Senator John F. Kennedy talked about the need for grit and vision. He spoke of his experience in the South Pacific, during World War II. He believed deep want can lead to success, in any field. Kennedy survived a horrendous ordeal, in the Solomon Islands.

In 1944, John Hersey reported how Kennedy came to believe in grit and vision, in the "New Yorker" magazine. Hersey wrote, in "Survival," how Kennedy saved himself and his crew, when their ship sank. In 1961, Robert Donovan expanded the story to book, "PT 109." The words and actions, of John Kennedy, motivated me, introducing initiative in to my life.

Kennedy, as President of the United States, supported my passion for flying. His dream was space travel. On 12 September 1962, in a speech to 80,000 people, jammed into Rice Stadium, in Houston, Texas, Kennedy dared America to put a man on the moon, by the end of the decade. We did.

Each time I watch the space shuttle launch, from the Kennedy Space Centre, reminds me how fortunate I am to live, now. Watching the launch reminds me of being a member of the Gemini 3 primary recovery team, in March, 1965. I had the chance to meet Astronauts John Young and Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom.

Aboard the USS Intrepid CVS 11, I was a photographer. I had access to Young and Grissom. It was a thrill for all-time.

On 27 January, 1967, Grissom and two other astronauts, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee, died during a training exercise. I felt as I lost a friend. Years later, I learned the plan was for Grissom to be the first human to set foot on the moon.

Also in 1965, the military assigned me, on temporary duty (TAD), to Guantanamo Bay, the US military base, in Cuba. I spent two months watching Soviet ships arriving and leaving from a Cuban port. I have a picture, on my office, wall of my time at "Gitmo."

I learned to fly, and soloed, for the first time, on 25 November 1967. My greatest passion came true, through grit, on my birthday.

For me, flying eases stress. Flying takes everything you got; concentration is a must. Still, you can enjoy the view, as you leave stress in the wake.

There's an unusually strong sense of serenity as you fly above the Great Smoky Mountains. These mounts run the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Soaring over earthbound traffic jams is also a thrill!

Once, I landed at Bluefield, West Virginia, after dusk. As my wheels touched the concrete, I noticed three deer, standing in the middle of the runway. I stroked the throttle. The sound of the engine sent the deer scatterings. This is the only time I've wished for a horn on my aeroplane.

The comment, from that 95-year old member of the audience, gave me new angle. I, you, need to recognise life more than we do. Sometimes, you, I, have to embrace our lives as a success, not only the passage of time.

We call stories about the few who win, at life, history. Life includes all of us. Where does the worth live? Does it lie in the stories of some? Can we get more out of the lives of all than of a few?

Life stories carry more worth than the stories of some, mostly winners or the lucky. The true worth, of a life, lies in sharing it. This means not caring if those, who place less worth on their lives, call us egotists.

When you talk or write about your life, you tweak interest. Not everyone finds your life equally interesting, but many do. For a long-time, mention of Guantanamo Bay raised questions about the Cuban Missile Crisis, of 1962. More recently, terrorism and the legality of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay come up. My experience, at Guantanamo Bay, adds to any related chat.

Sharing your life makes other lives, new or old, better. Daily life is akin to a jigsaw puzzle: many small, odd-shaped pieces. When you talk about your life, with someone your own age or older, their puzzle gets a few new pieces, and conversely. When you talk about your life, with someone younger than you, she or he learns much. When you write about your life everyone, regardless of age, benefits. They benefit today and ten million days from now.

Scholars, with a historical bent, call talking about our lives oral history. Through oral histories, we realize the multifaceted form of slavery, which existed in the USA. The winners, the slave holder, wrote a history of the era; slaves, the losers, gave oral histories.

Awareness of mistakes past makes life, today, less treacherous. Life without mistakes would be dull. Making fewer avoidable mistakes would be good. This is only possible when women and men share their lives, the ups and the downs, with us. So, tell me about you.

JR Hafer writes from his home in central Florida.

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