“Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!” –John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
I recently celebrated what many in our culture may call a “milestone birthday.” Though some of my acquaintances may as well have called it a “mill-stone birthday”—a heavy number hung upon my personhood, just before being cast overboard into an ocean of time.
After all, a well-rounded age certainly should beckon us to pause, at least just a little, and encourage us to not only contemplate the number of years we have experienced in our lifetime, but how well we are prepared to live that experience going forward.
While celebrating this particular anniversary of my birth, what was once a group of abstract words by a bard named Keats, who had written about some ancient bird being timeless while sitting in a plumb tree signing some abstract melody, finally became clear to me.
We are mortal; our work is temporary, because we live with a knowledge of the past—a time when we did not exist within our organizations—a time when we did not exist at all. And yet, in the very same breath, we cannot help but hope for a better tomorrow, because we think forward toward a time when we may no longer be able to contribute as effectively as we can today. “Life is a very special occasion,” as Ken Blanchard would say.
The truth is, our work, as well as our lives are made up of thousands of moments, within thousands of days, within a host of years. However, our personhood is not defined as a number, nor is it simply a climb toward some peek whereby we reach the top only to rapidly descend down the other side.
If anything, it is a canyon full of wonder and mystery, adventure, discovery, and eventually we will get to it’s core, it’s source, and we will drink from it, and we will rise, because we were meant to rise, up the other side to graduate into glory because of what we discovered within it. And down there, within the canyon walls, we will have left a worthy legacy for our friends, our family, our clients—and perhaps even for a person or two who may not have understood us.
We were not meant to flippantly celebrate, nor are we to adamantly deny the number of years we have lived—but rather we should embrace the capacity to transcend time and sing a melody we were always meant to sing before human notions of time existed. Songs of a worthwhile project at work that has the potential to change a client’s life for the better, songs of a tender moment with a child, or a chorus announcing the discovery of some great idea or purpose that will make things more productive for a greater good.
So sing immortal birds, for we were not born to die, but rather to live beyond the boundaries of time and leave a legacy that cannot be defined by a number!!