Aging into the wisdom of knowing the difference

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By Arlene Jones


This month, this year marks my official entry into the retirement years. Because I am turning 66, I can collect Social Security, Medicare and retirement benefits. 

How did I get here? It seems like only yesterday I was a 6-year-old kid sitting on the curb by the white wall in Cabrini Green making mud pies as I pondered a concept known as the future. I actually remember thinking about the year 2020 and being unable to imagine myself at that age and what it would be like. I can still recall being in wonderment at the notion that one day it would occur and in awe of what it would be like should I live to see it.

I haven't had a perfect life. But I am content with the life I've had. I have been the captain of my own ship, steering my life for the most part in the way it went. There is a famous Serenity Prayer on which I have based my life's journey. It goes: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

One of the most compelling things about that prayer is the determination and acceptance of what cannot change. I learned many years ago that I cannot control someone else's behavior, but I can control my response to it. That's a lesson applicable to the majority of us, and especially within the black community. An obvious example: Racism exists. But it should not be the singular limitation determinant of what one can or cannot do. Sadly, with so many opportunities available today that were not there 60 years ago, I am concerned seeing so many young people today who bandy that word about, and thus limit themselves because of a perceived hindrance. 

In a lot of ways, I embraced the courage to change things. When my daughter was a toddler, I was given the opportunity to go back to school tuition-free. Even though it meant I literally lost a year of her life, working eight hours and then dedicating another six hours at school, I did it. That decision and that education was a major game-changer for me. I took on the professional work environment which transformed me from the mindset of an hourly worker to the freer environment of a salaried worker, where bosses didn't get upset if you were 10 minutes late coming back from lunch, and a simple phone call to let them know you would be in late was met with understanding as opposed to stern admonishments.

I have aged into the wisdom to know the difference. It is a learned experience to know that there are some battles worthy to take on, while other battles just aren't worth it. Cleaning up the black community is a battle we need to take on. 

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