When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen
“It Was a Very Good Year” (1961)
-composed by Ervin Drake
A self-ordained professor’s tongue, too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
Equality, I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ahh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now
“My Back Pages” (1964)
-composed by Bob Dylan
This is a counterpoint to this morning’s meditation, which had a distinctively forlorn tone and pessimistic outlook. Life can be like that for me sometimes. I suppose it can be like that for some of you on occasion. But something LeVar Burton said on twitter about 1968 made me think back. I actually “misremembered” the famous chorus to Dylan’s tune as, “I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now.”
When I looked up My Back Pages (and I’m probably remembering The Byrds’s cover of the song), I realized my mistake. Then the Drake song, made famous by Frank Sinatra, popped into my head.
That’s more like it. That’s what I was thinking. That’s what I was feeling. I was so much younger then, and it was a very good year.
But this is supposed to be optimistic, isn’t it?
I’m utterly convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.
People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.
By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy. If they succeed at a task, they don’t enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.
Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to feel more gratitude. Fortunately, gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes.
“True Secret to Success (It’s Not What You Think)”
That reminds me of the very first meditation I wrote for this blog, exactly 14 months ago today.
“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”
It’s the one Jewish blessing I still allow myself to recite and virtually the first coherent thought I have upon awakening each morning.
I’m grateful to wake up alive.
In his article, Geoffrey James calls gratitude the “secret to success.” He talks about making a list of everything that happened to you during the day that makes you grateful and writing it all down before going to bed. He says that the more you practice gratitude, the more it will become part of your “reprogramming.”
It’s funny, but I think the Jewish sages had that idea long before James wrote his wee article for Inc.com.
Of course, that’s how we learn just about anything, by practicing. I suppose that’s true of being grateful. I suppose that’s true about having a relationship with God. Like any relationship, it takes practice, patience, and lots of attention. You reap the rewards of whatever you put into it. If you practice too little, the rewards are very few.
Both “It Was a Very Good Year” and “My Back Pages” are retrospectives on life. The former song expands the person’s vision across an entire human lifespan while the latter is Dylan’s personal presentation of his disillusionment with the folk protest movement of the early 1960s.
I periodically become aware that there are more days behind me than there are ahead, but I take some comfort in my family, the next generation I see in my children, and the generation beyond that in my grandson.
And I take some comfort in God.
But it’s difficult not to look back and ponder all the youthful wonder and immature anguish, the carefree nights and days and the painful and terrible mistakes. Was I a better person then, or now? What have I learned. Was being seventeen really better? Am I younger or older than that now?
But however it’s all worked out, I haven’t forgotten to be grateful to God. I’m alive. I have a wife and three children. I have a grandson (and I can still hardly believe I’m a grandpa). I’m working. I live comfortably. I’m able to give something back to my community, which is a blessing. Life isn’t perfect, but God has been generous.
And I’m grateful. I should practice that more.
Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ahh, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year
How do I feel?
I feel older. But sometimes, when I’m grateful, I feel young.