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Life's Lessons
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2000

I am a 43 year old guy who chooses to write for no particular reason, in spite of the fact that I have no particular qualifications. I am a single parent with four children, ages 14, 6, 4 and 3. We have a home in Naples, Florida - the extreme southwest part of the state. Things are happy, healthy and hectic here, except on alternate weekends when my eldest son and I share an otherwise empty house. For me, writing makes time pass that is otherwise hard to kill.

I claim neither credentials, nor expertise with regard to personal relationships - my track record is abysmal. Nevertheless, as a federal agent and a private investigator, I have spent a lifetime mucking about in the lives and affairs of others. I've seen a lot of life and I have paid attention.

Among other things, I have learned that it is a wonderful thing to love another human being; most people never in their lives actually have that experience. Having never known what it is, they accept what they have and don't miss it.

I have learned that love is not a fragile thing; it may be the most stable, dependable, reliable and durable of all things emotional. I suppose you can kill it, but it dies hard.

I have learned that while life can be beautiful, rewarding and wondrous, it can also be horrible, vicious and unfair. Someone, somewhere, today learned that they will not see their child grow up - someone, somewhere, learned that the baby they dreamed of and prayed for, will never be. With four beautiful, happy, healthy children, I realize how blessed I have been.

I have learned that children are best trained just as dogs are best trained; those who are offended by that statement know nothing about training dogs. Children, like dogs, respond positively to affection, discipline, patience and positive reinforcement. Beating a dog, like abusing a child, is ignorant, ineffectual and counter-productive.

I have learned that men possessed of violent, volatile tempers, who are uncontrollably driven to beat their wives, children and dogs usually manage to control their rage when confronted by those who can hurt them. While tough men can be mean, the fact that a man may be a mean son-of-a-bitch does not make him tough.

I have learned that children believe us when we tell them they are good, smart, pretty, handsome, talented, coordinated and loved; they also believe us when we tell them they are bad, stupid, ugly, clumsy and unwanted. We define our children's expectations of themselves and they develop accordingly.

I have learned that I can be whatever and whomever I choose to be so long as I am willing to do the work necessary to rise to my own expectations. I have learned that others are generally whatever they chose to be consistent with what they demanded of themselves.

I have learned that people of uncommon renown are rarely as great as they are reputed to be and people of notorious character are often less villainous than they are reported to be. People need heroes and villains; they often create them out of the materials they have at hand.

I have learned that the most intelligent and best educated amongst us can be evil. An evil man with outstanding credentials, impressive certificates adorning his walls, collections of letters following his name and a little gold star in the middle of his forehead is no less an evil man.

I have learned that the experts who claim to know everything there is to know about child rearing typically leave their children at home when they appear on TV.

I have learned that people often turn to others for advice when they know exactly what they ought to do.

I have learned that big companies don't do business via chain letters, there is no way anyone can track how many times an e-mail is forwarded or by whom, Bill Gates is not going to give those fools frantically hiting "send" $1000, and Disney is not giving them free vacations.

I have learned what responsibility is. I understand the basis of the philosophy that you are responsible for that which happens on your watch whether or not you could have controlled it. I adopt that, believe it and accept it.

I have learned that few of us have as many friends as we believe we have and I have learned how valuable the friends I do have really are.

I have learned that Hollywood has skewed our perceptions of others to the point that we associate appearance with behavior; pretty people are expected to be heroes and villains are expected to be unattractive. It is little wonder that ours is a society where men make the most important decisions of their lives based on hair color and bra size, even knowing that neither is real.

I have learned that there are men blessed with endless patience who can listen and look interested for hours in a bar when the idiot blathering inanities has big boobs, yet cannot spare five minutes for their own children who want to show them what they have colored when they get home.

I have learned to be careful what I ask for and seek to know; there are things I wished for I'd have been better off without and answers I sincerely wish I didn't know.

I have learned that people who tell the truth are a lot less easily confused; they have so much less that they are required to remember.

I have learned that personal qualities, like physical characteristics, are not uniform in their distribution; we are not all blessed with the same set of tools. In applying a more realistic standard when judging others, I have learned to be more forgiving of their faults and failures and less forgiving of my own. I have also come to understand that unless and until I can forgive myself, the forgiveness of others is entirely irrelevant.

I have learned to say no more than I have to when angry. Hostile, hateful, hurtful words linger and fester forever like the chimes of a bell that cannot be unrung. I am grateful for so many things I have not said.

I have learned that life often presents us with marvelous opportunities to mind our own business; I appreciate what a blessing that can be as I have often regretted my failure to take advantage of these opportunities.

I believe I have learned the meaning of life. Cast into a game that everyone tries to understand, nobody actually does, many people genuinely think they do and some people fraudulently pretend to, all we know for sure is, we have this moment, there will be a last moment, and when we go we take nothing with us.

The simple, gloriously elegant truth is, it's all about choices. This very moment may be your last - a cerebral aneurism and you won't even know it's over. Maybe you've got five seconds, or maybe fifty years. Your next words to your child, or your neighbor, may be the last you'll ever speak, or the last they will ever hear.

Conduct yourself well and use your time wisely; if we take anything with us at all it's our pride.


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