Forum: Some advice (pre-colonoscopy) looking back on 45 years

What I’ve learned so far: Keep making things. Fail. Find people to trust. Expect hardship. Begin.

Cory Armstrong

Cory Armstrong

By Cory Armstrong / Herald Forum

Most likely, more than half of my life is over.

I turn 45 soon. My wife is reminding me to schedule a colonoscopy. We are slowly losing our oldest son, piece by piece, to his friends, to his phone, to the driver’s license he’ll get in June. To a bright and unknown future somewhere else, with two parents — blurry and distant — in the background, hoping to get a few texts a week.

We are not an advice-giving people or prone to sentimentality. And yet, I’d like to urge my kids to consider a few things before the tectonic plates underneath our relationships shift for good. When they become adults, they may need help hauling couches in my truck or scraping together cash for first and last month’s rent, but I doubt they’ll come asking for life lessons.

So, for my sons, here goes: some things I’ve learned:

Keep making things and try to always be bad at something: Poems, pottery, birthday cakes, brisket, engines, trellises for pole beans, comic strips or home-roasted coffee beans. It doesn’t matter what. The creative act elevates the spirit, humbles us, and quiets that part of us that is quick to criticize others. Keep trying hard things and, once in a while, you’ll do something exceptional; you’ll bring something beautiful into the world that wasn’t here before.

Surround yourself with people you can trust: People who tell you the truth, who’ll call your attention to it when you ego or righteousness or obliviousness needs a good long grounding. Your gut is your guide here; try not to ignore it as I have mine too often.

Take care of your body: Make it work hard on most days of most weeks of the year, even when you don’t feel like it. You will feel better and develop a type of discipline and fortitude.

Things will get rough: When that happens, reach out. You’ll need people who want the best for you, people you can trust. You’ll need discipline and fortitude.

Find groups that value skill, hard work and results: Workplaces, teams, volunteer boards; this may seem straightforward, but we humans have all manner of ways to mess this up: favoritism, blind loyalty, misaligned incentives, or the elevation of optics over substance. If you realize that you’re not in a culture based on meaningful achievement and you’ve made a good faith but fruitless effort to shift things, get out, even if you’re among those who benefit. Many of these groups are rotting from within, and if you’re not careful, parts of you will begin rotting as well.

Respect real political conservatives: If they operate in good faith, they are essential to our democracy. They uphold a healthy reverence for traditions and institutions, are vigilant against tyranny and threats of real evil in the world, and are rightly wary of anyone advocating utopian visions. They feel duty-bound to leave this country and world intact for the generations that follow, and obligated to make good on the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation and the countless others who built this county. They’ve paid attention to Mao and Castro and Lenin, and they understand that anyone claiming to make everyone winners are much more likely to just rearrange the winners and losers, sometimes with devastating unintended consequences,elevating themselves in the process.

Respect real political liberals: If they operate in good faith, they, too, are essential to our democracy. If conservatives are the harbor, liberals are the ship, pushing us to discover new and unknown ideas, open to novel ways of managing our pluralistic society, and more likely to see different voices as additive, rather than a threat to the republic. They are quicker to acknowledge and give voice to the voiceless, and more disposed to recognize and fight a corrupt or obsolete organization, believing that destruction can be a creative act, a forest fire that can give rise to a new, fertile ground. Often the voice of conscience, they are forever pushing us toward a more perfect union, and we are better for it.

Do not vilify whole groups of people: People have reasons for their actions. Maybe they adhere to a faith or set of values you can’t comprehend. Maybe they need to provide for their family. Maybe they are choosing the least-bad option among terrible options. Before you condemn, try to understand, and remember: there are good, kind, considerate people everywhere.

Be in relationship with people: Real leaders work on real problems, and you three are shaping up to be real leaders. If you are trying to do noble work and solve a big hard problem, resist easy explanations and tidy theories. Spend time in relationships with people you are trying to serve, people affected by the big hard problem. Go to where they are. Listen to them. Try to be worthy of their trust.

Keep an eye out for depression: It didn’t hit me until my late 20s. It may never hit you. But it does run in our family, on my side. Do not mistake it for sadness, which is our regular response to pain or loss. Depression is more sinister, a dark, heavy fog that covers your mind and mutes joy and laughter. When it gets bad, and it might, your regular ways of coping might not work: the friends, the exercise, the sleeping-it-off. Like me, you might benefit from medication, a sun lamp, vitamin D. Being outside. If it hits, reach out. To me or Mom. To Grandma or Auntie Em. We understand. We can help.

Begin it now and people want to help: Goethe was right when he said: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.“ I’ve found a related truth: most people want to help, if you just ask. Our neighbor Ron, Oma and Opa, Grandma and Grandpa, your Uncles and Aunts. If you are working on something important like a big hard problem, you’ll need help. I always have. Get going and ask for help, and you will find Good People.

When you get older, don’t forget: call or text your Mom a few times a week. Come by. I promise I won’t talk about my colonoscopy. I’ll buy us some ice cream. You can choose the flavor.

Love,

Dad

Cory Armstrong-Hoss is nonprofit guy, father of three, and below-average woodworker. If he offers you a cutting board or decorative box, it’s best to politely decline and quickly change the subject to his kids, his pick-up ultimate Frisbee game or the best new sports documentaries.

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