By Mike DuBose
One day in the 1980s, I was wondering about my future life. As a young entrepreneur with a growing family, old age seemed very far away. To help preserve all my cherished memories, I decided to create a personal time capsule to be opened on the distant date when I was ready to apply for Social Security. Now, as I near 70 years old, that time has finally arrived!
There was no official dedication or burying ceremony for my time capsule. I chose a more informal way of capturing my memories, saving every special card I received from my employees, friends, and family. Thank-you notes; hand-drawn Father’s Day messages from my two sons; and heartfelt cards commemorating anniversaries, birthdays (especially those notorious 40-, 50-, and 60-year landmarks), and major life events like open-heart surgery all found their way into large shoeboxes to form my private history. My wife, Debra, unknowingly became my historian because she always dated her cards to me, creating a time-layered stack of events with her loving messages as reference points.
It’s been three decades since I started my collection, but in 2016, the time to open the capsule finally arrived. My New Year’s resolution this year was to read all the contents and then throw them away with my past, keeping their precious thoughts in my heart. I set aside a few very special cards and notes to retain for the rest of my life, and gave some to my children to remind them of fun times we had together when they were young.
As I read each card—more than 500 in all—30 years played out in front of me. Few of us realize how fast life passes, and then we wonder, “Where did all the time go?” Most mornings, when I drink coffee from a special “Happy 40th Birthday” mug, it feels as if I have just received it as a gift. But suddenly, now I’m a senior, thinking about my final quarter of life. My friends and I spend our time talking about the price of gas and groceries, Medicare, and our medical appointments, prescriptions, and aches and pains—and trying to avoid the subject of politics!
The hundreds of pieces of paper contained in my time capsule brought memories to life, both good and bad. Some took me back to a time where I prioritized success, money, and possessions over my marriage, children, and happiness. Although I’ve since changed my ways, I see plenty of individuals and couples still on this dangerous road, chasing what they think is vitally important and earning themselves a first-class ticket to disaster. It’s no wonder that the divorce rate exceeds 50%, most people are stressed, many of us can’t sleep, and unhappiness is rampant, even in our wealthy nation! Fortunately, I had an epiphany one day after temporarily going blind. I turned away from greed and bitterness and haven’t looked back since, but seeing cards from that time period reminded me of how I once traveled down the wrong path in life.
On the other hand, reading notes from my grandmother brought back warm feelings of love and recollections of the good times we spent together in my early years. I was special in the heart of my grandmother, who lived next door while I was growing up on a dirt road in rural Darlington, South Carolina. She made a positive impact on my life that I will never forget, something that my wife, Debra, and I are striving to do for our grandchildren. Grandma pampered me with home-cooked meals and quality time, and her face lit up with a smile whenever she saw me. She loved me for who I was—a feeling that presents and money cannot provide! My grandmother has since left this Earth, but whenever I hear her name or see her picture, I feel her loving spirit forever sealed in my heart. I hope that my children and grandchildren will feel the same when I am gone!
One of the most rewarding results of my project was to feel the love and affection radiating from my sons’ cards and notes. They expressed appreciation for me coaching their sports teams for ten years, and they explained how much I meant to them as a father, and now, a friend. My wife and I had always agreed that we would make our children’s lives very important to us, providing them with firm, consistent love and making them feel equally cared for. We viewed them as an investment for the future, applying what we learned from our parents’ and others’ mistakes in the hopes of raising them into good, happy, and loving people. It was fascinating to relive their development as I sorted through their writings. It wasn’t the store-bought cards that really meant something to me, but their handwritten notes with expressions from the heart that touched me the most. Some made me laugh, too. On several occasions, one of my sons was restricted to his room because of some deviant behavior. He built paper airplanes out of apology notes and sailed them downstairs begging for forgiveness. His clever attempts to defuse the situation were priceless! How could any parent not relent when faced with an “I’m sorry” sailing in out of nowhere? He really knew how to get to our hearts!
Then, there were the notes from my wife, Debra. Some reminded me of when we were first married and were dirt poor, lacking in everything except love. It was heartwarming to read in her cards how she considered me to be her best friend; someone who she could confide in and share her deepest secrets with; and a person who would encourage her and make her laugh when she was down. It brought tears to my eyes when I read, “I’m so thankful you came into my world, for if you hadn’t, I’m sure I never would have known the kind of happiness you’ve brought into my life.” While we are imperfect as individuals and have faced our own trials and failures as a couple, I smiled as I read one card after another that reflected our love for each other. There is great joy in a happy marriage! I think that if every couple would try a little harder to be forgiving, accepting, and loving in their marriages; to spend more quality time together; and not to give up when the tough times appear, fewer couples and children would suffer the pain of divorce (a genuinely lose-lose situation).
Looking over the physical records of my life spread out before me reminded me that this chapter has been the happiest yet. I’ve heard people wishing they could go back and relive “the good ole days,” and they clearly bear many regrets. Many folks focus so much on the doors that have closed behind them that they don’t see new ones opening up straight ahead! Personally, I’m really excited about looking through the front windshield and not the rearview mirror. I also know that the end is in sight, but I have no fear of death. I am preparing for my next adventure in Heaven while doing my best to help others with my remaining time on Earth. I’ve had a good life, and I thank God for it!
I experienced a lot of mental and physical pain over the years (and some days are still downright bad), but I’m thankful for everything and everyone who have made me who I am today. I appreciate knowing that I have finally “grown up” and have turned my wounds into wisdom. No longer do I seek to impress anyone or worry about making just a little more money, obtaining fancy titles, or trying to make others think like I do. I know and accept that I’m imperfect, and I seek different opinions amongst my friends and employees to help me make better decisions. I have finally learned that it’s OK to fail, make mistakes, and be in a position to earnestly say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” I have also recognized that in order to be happy, one must truly let go of the painful past. While it took some work to reach this level of acceptance through forgiving others or asking for their forgiveness, it’s now refreshing to only remember the good times. All the bad memories are gone!
There’s a lot of perspective to be gained over several decades! If someone were to ask me what I would tell 21-year-old Mike DuBose, it would include:
The bottom line: More than thirty years have passed…fast! Over the decades, I had some great teachers, the primary ones being “mistake” and “failure!” The stupid errors, agonizing defeats, dumb things I did and said, and occasional successes are all parts of my life that have taught me great things. Even if I had the opportunity, I would not change a thing! I value both the good and bad experiences I’ve had, for they created who I am. I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to look back on them using my personal time capsule and simply say, “Thank you!”
About the Author: Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, research, experiences, successes, and mistakes. You can e-mail us at [email protected].
Mike DuBose received his graduate degree from the University of South Carolina and is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. He has been in business since 1981 and is the owner of Research Associates, The Evaluation Group, Columbia Conference Center, and DuBose Fitness Center. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for a free copy of his book and additional business, travel, and personal articles, as well as health articles written with Dr. Surb Guram, MD.
Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.
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