MASTERSON ONLINE: Our lives in chapters
Reflecting on the past seven plus decades, I can’t help but see them as chapters in my life book.
With each change in the seasons of life and each change in the environment, I was constantly and subtly becoming a new person and I didn’t take the time to realize it.
You will find the same if you ever choose to examine your own life in this way.
Not long ago I wrote about the famous series of paintings by Thomas Cole, “The Journey of Life”, which describes on canvas four stages of our life, childhood, youth, age adult and old age. While Cole was on the right track with his perceptions, even including a lifelong guardian angel in every scene, I see my process in more progressive terms.
We human animals are constantly evolving with each new experience, lesson, person, encounter, and emotion that enters our lives.
Consider how every minute some 300 million cells in our body die to be replaced by new ones. In the time of reading this column, you will have replaced nearly a billion cells that 10 minutes ago were part of you.
In retrospect, I was no more the person of looks or attitude at age 10 than I had become at age 16, and the same succession has held true over the years.
I’ve read that we pretty much become physically new people about every seven years through cellular changes in our bodies, with the exception of neurons in the cerebral cortex.
But more than the way we gradually descend into old age and its inevitable physical ills, I am also referring to our knowing and our perception of existence.
My first chapter until about age 7 was filled with family, classrooms, playgrounds, making friends and getting to know my extended family, especially cousins of my age. It was a magical time filled with introductions to characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.
Chapter two, between the ages of 8 and 16, was a time of self-discovery, whether with friends or the joys of the outdoors, like catching crawfish and fishing at Crooked Creek, athletics and discovering the opposite sex as hormones kicked in. was also the chapter of my introduction to the Christian faith.
Chapter three, 16 to 21, was devoted to the activities of a self-aware, exuberant youth searching for his identity in a wide world. It was a chapter of learning to ride a shifter and dance and the need to gain confidence and acceptance while trying to fit in with my peers.
By Chapter Four, at age 22, I had been introduced to the responsibilities of adulthood for the first time through Coast Guard boot camp, and was beginning to envision building a future by starting a family, finishing college and getting a job doing something I enjoyed. It was time to really concentrate for the first time.
Chapter Five, between the ages of 23 and 30, has been invested with responsibilities in his own right with jobs as editor of two daily newspapers in Arkansas, a wife, a son, and monthly bills. I was also determined to do the best job possible in my chosen profession and hoped that would bear fruit. My motivation button had been pushed, along with a newfound empathy for those less fortunate.
Only the next chapter remained to be unveiled. I also discovered injustice in my fifth chapter and how widespread it was in all aspects of living together.
In 1976, Chapter Six began with a fellowship that allowed my family and I to travel America in an RV for a year and write about people and their moods during the nation’s bicentennial year. This chapter would end with the investigations of Arkansas Democrats after encountering and surviving big city life through reporting in the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Sun-Times.
Experiencing living and working in two big cities for the first time opened my eyes to how hundreds of millions of Americans live and interact on a daily basis, which was a far cry from the smaller communities back home. we.
In many ways, this busy chapter would provide my most prolific growth.
Chapter Seven, at 40, found me leading investigations for three years at the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. This was followed by five years at the helm of the Kiplinger Masters Fellowship Program for Professional Journalists at The Ohio State University. This became the chapter that provided my mind with the most learning.
Through each of these chapters, my accumulated attitudes, thoughts, and life experiences, acquired largely through work and a myriad of friendships, continued to mold me into a different person than I had been. during the previous ones. It was a growth that created a new me as each chapter was born.
Chapter Eight found me out of the classroom and back into the newsroom of The Asbury Park Press, New Jersey’s second-largest daily newspaper, where I conducted investigations for a year.
It was possibly the longest year of my life and I learned a lot about trying to live in a place like New Jersey as a guy from Harrison who could never survive long in the middle of the harsh culture of the East Coast.
And I didn’t. I said a prayer one night that thankfully brought me home to become the managing editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times in Fayetteville for six years to help with this chapter.
Chapter Nine took me out of traditional journalism after decades and back to Harrison, where I continued to expand my horizons as director of communications for American Freightways Trucking, which sold to FedEx a year later.
I learned a lot about the trucking industry and corporate public relations that year, but was grateful to Walter Hussman, editor of WECHO Media, for the opportunity to return to journalism and launch this column in 2001, my chapter 10.
Chapters 11 and 12 brought constant shifts in my attitudes about everything from changes in my chosen profession to our culture to how we share our lives, which is far different from how life was in my first chapters. I find that I am now more fixed in my opinions on many things, including the direction of our country today.
My final, rather poetic chapter took me home to Harrison where the first chapter was written, and a place of deeper understanding of all I have seen and learned since.
Guess I’d better sum it up as more and more settled into where I started.
I read not too long ago that the progression of leaving behind previous chapters to become new people is akin to death.
As in existence, once a phase of our life is over, we can never go back, leaving only the uncertainty of the chapters to come.
You need to have reached a certain age and completed a certain number of chapters to be able to see what each has contributed to what you have become. If you are at this stage, or close to it, I suggest you try one day when you are alone with your thoughts. A good examination of what has brought us to this point can help put the experience we accept to call life into meaningful context.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly as you would like them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, has served as editor of three Arkansas daily newspapers, and led the Ohio State University’s Masters in Journalism program. Email him at [email protected]