Perceptive Jeff Williams, Harrison & Bates Chairman Emeritus, is fond of repeating, “In the fourth quarter of life, there is no clock.” Then there’s Jim Doherty’s new book, Finish Up Strong – a self-evident title.  Ii is in the sun-set years of one’s of life, where faith and values change frequently.

Experiencing alarming personal medical downtime brings positives: time for reflective thinking, a potential attitudinal recharge, and playing old tapes of earlier life. Heart surgery at 76 can be persuasive – redirecting one’s self-absorbency to the shop – for a tune-up. The line is long.

In those recuperative nights, dreams evoke acute memories of long deceased. Included are family, friends, business associates, teacher colleagues – and sadly, almost instantaneously – past students as well. Accumulatively and eminently, it’s life.

John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop, wrote: “while religion has within it the seeds of self transcendence, it also wrestles the intense and deep survival need that human beings share with all living things.” When Jesus was quoted: “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly,” he was sharing that there is a right “to be.”

Possibly a first: freed of life’s urgencies, of traditional arrogance, “and keeping no records of wrongs” – life’s liberty rejuvenates. Almost seemlessly, it integrates a fresh version of public-spiritness, yet, still finds burden with the nagging struggles of faith. All is yours – a complex direction of the heart, percolating frightfully and gracefully, but chosen by you.

Remember the classic film: THE THIRD MAN, 1949, with Orson Wells? The scene was near the Wiener Riesenrad, the large Ferris wheel.  There Harry Lime (Wells) implored: “You know what the fellow said – in Italy. For thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace…and what did that produce: The cuckoo clock.” Oh if it were that simple! Maybe less slicing, dicing – less begrudgery?

This life spent precious hours in public school classrooms, with earlier years in mundane corporate sales – heavy with baggage attached to such vocation. Now, carefully dispensing limited energies, our best work can lie ahead. We are free from the failures and successes; the triumphs, tragedies; the booms and the busts. Instead, we face, and must choose, among the deep ambiguities presented.

Nearing 77, I intuitively suspect dementia or stroke looms – certainly my family history reminds. Annoyingly, reality nags: life is almost complete, a third of one’s contemporaries have left the building; those remaining display sad, frightening increase of profound mental or physical damage. Conveniently, more times than not, I entertain the idea that life will continue “normally”, more or less intact – for now, granting the “liberty” to continue work, and love. Ascot Bella, our motherly Norwich terrier, assures me of this daily. Like Idella, she’s lucky.

At a youthful age, on the “River Porch” of my grandparent’s Tappahannock home, a sobering realization occurred. In recent autobiography, I noted: “Three generations of family would assemble. In those summer nights of early 1940’s, this thought swept over me: you’d better take this in – listen carefully. Many of these gentile people will be permanently separated from you fairly soon, and that will be it. I was 8 years old.

Finishing one’s life authentically leads to Whittaker Chambers, religious editor of LIFE Magazine. In his “Letter to My Children”, Chambers insisted the essence of communism lay not in its economics, its political system, or even its tyranny. The essence of communism was its vision of mankind – total emancipation from God – an act of self-deification. It was Dostoevsky, who famously wrote that “if God did not exist, everything is permissible.”

So, the question: God or man? “Finishing” time allows focus on such matters – now valued and more precious. Jim Doherty’s Finish Up Strong, recently published, shares views of the many. Even edging to the periphery of these thoughts – sporadically – is God’s gift to all men. Longer life seemlessly brings deeper challenge, adding profoundly to its reverence.

I bet Jeff Williams and Jim Doherty concur.

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