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Sunday, June 7, 2009


J. Grant Swank, Jr.

When cartoonist Al Capp no longer tossed Moonbeam McSwine and Fearless Fosdick around Dogpatch, he dried out his pen in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

No more surprise antics from Lonesome Polecat and Joe Btfsplk. Gone was Li'l Abner chasing Daisy Mae. Pipe-smoking Mammy was silenced, even in the face of Pappy.

Abruptly, Capp quit. He became a hideaway, racked by emphysema and discouraged by changes in the culture around him.

In November l979, this genius died at age 70. In his last years, he turned so inward that it became alarming to others.

On the other hand, that same year a congressional committee listened in fascination and admiration to a panel of eight centenarians. Some of them were in wheelchairs. They were gathered to pass along their secrets on how to live beyond age l00.

Their remarks focused on two principles: stay active and have a worthwhile purpose.

"Teach people to have a hobby," advised Harry Lieberman of Great Neck, New York. He started oil painting at 80. His work was then exhibited in l0 museums around the world.

Mr. Lieberman warned that without something productive to do, people would become bitter. He himself almost fell into that trap. After retiring, he spent six years idle. He had been in the confectionery business. Then he stopped at age 74. "Those were the worst six years of my life." In year seven, however, he came back to life by viewing his future differently. He willed life to change for the better.

And it did.

Representative Claude Pepper, Democrat from Florida and committee chairman, stated that the purpose of the hearing was to look into the "centenarian explosion." People were living longer!

Pepper, at 79, was then the oldest member of the House of Representatives. He told those present that when he was born, life expectancy of children born that year was only 49.

Dr. W. L. Pannell, 100, still practiced medicine in East Orange, New Jersey. With conviction, he told the congressmen: "Try to keep up activities. Exercise your mind and body."

When comparing Al Capp's reaction to getting older with those over l00 before the House Select Committee on Aging, one realizes that it comes down to the human will. One wills to give up or one wills to go on--with gusto!

Mrs. Winona M. Melick lived in Long Beach, California. When interviewed by the press, she was l03. Though hard of hearing, she had a keen mind and her voice was energetic. She told the press that she enjoyed visiting friends, reading, writing voluminous letters and exercising daily.

On Saturdays, she had her hair styled. She also admitted to having it dyed brown. "That helps. If I had gray hair, I would look older. I feel like I am about 65."

She had wrestled with three bouts of cancer and won out each time.
She walked seven blocks to and from church every Sunday.
To hear her speak, one knew that she was overcome with a strong will to live.

When maestro Eugene Ormandy reached his 80th birthday, he was treated to an elegant dinner where he was toasted by close to 400 friends and members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The All-Philadelphia Boys Choir sang in his honor. Fireworks lit up the sky over the city's waterfront. The white-haired conductor and his wife, Gretel, beamed.

Birthday greetings were given him from all around the world.

"If this is 80, then it feels very good, but I only feel half as old," he said.

His blue eyes were as bright as ever as he took in the large violin-shaped birthday cake delivered to the head table.

How many people do you know who are old in their attitudes? They may be young chronologically; but they are worn out in their minds.

Yet how many people of years have you come across who are bright and effervescent? They are bubbling over with enthusiasm. They enliven the room when entering it.

Mary Hammond was one of those bright stars. She was legally blind but she saw through everything. And how! No tricks got past her.

When she was in her 70s, she started to attend our church. She was at every service. I noted that when she was ill and could not get to church, the service was not the same. There was a spark missing.

We let her know that, too.

After I left that pastorate, I often wondered what that congregation ever did for "living it up" before Mary came along. She was one of those marvelous additions to any group.

I think that overcoming troubles, getting on top of things, always resides in the human will. It is not the emotions nor the intellect as much as it is the will.

One can be low emotionally, but then when the head talks to the will about looking up, getting on the move, the emotions change for the better.

When one is confused in mind, a person can will to get out, change the scenery, be with happy people, and in short order the head is

These are simple games to play; but they work. Scores have proven them to be true.

I know a friend who lost his wife in a tragic auto accident. His loss was felt deeply for that couple was very much in love. They adored one another.

Yet, facing reality head-on, Alby trusted his wife to be with God. He believed that at sometime in his future, they would be reunited. In the meantime, he also reasoned that his wife would want him to get the most out of every day.

Down through the years, Alby had never been a quitter. And so he was not about to change his attitude. In the years which followed his wife's death, Alby lived out his characteristic zip. He woke up every morning with the will to enjoy that day more than all the days that had gone before. Most of the time he won the game of life superbly. His friends watched on admiringly.

Our family friend, Kathy, has suffered from lupus for years. Most of the time her body is ravaged with pain. She is under doctor's surveillance continually. Her husband left her. She had to bring up her two children practically alone.

Yet Kathy is an active member of her local church, president of the mission society, board member and secretary of the state lupus chapter, editor of its newsletter, a free-lance writer and counselor to others suffering terminal illnesses.

A highlight of any of her friends' days is to go with her to the local coffee shop. She is the life of the party.

"I am determined to live every day to the limit. God has given me this moment. I give it back to Him for whatever He desires. Most of the time I have discovered that He wants me to use this illness to bring hope to others. That is my fulfillment," she says.

All of these successful people are winners because they have locked their wills into overcoming problems. They may be getting older, but they are not old.

Take a personal inventory right now of your outlook on life. You are either purposefully willing a positive attitude or lapsing into a negative attitude.

Upbeat attitudes do not just happen. Downbeat attitudes DO just happen. They do not need forethought nor ambition. They come about simply by "letting down." They
sneak in when you are not aware. They can overcome your mind when you are lazy in thought, lacking motivation, not thinking through your reason for living.

Yet when you determine to think about human existence, then it is that you can will to be positive. You size things up. You take stock of why humans are on the planet. You then look about you to discover what God has in store for your productivity.

This need not be outlandish. Most of us are here to do good in the unknown ways. Our deeds do not make headlines. They do not bring you attention.

This in itself is a blessing. The best acts are those done anonymously.
Therefore, ask yourself the following:

(l) Do I wake up every morning with a positive outlook?

(2) Do I filter negative terms out of my talk?

(3) Do I seek to help other people?

(4) Am I happy within?

(5) Am I a pleasant person to know?

(6) Do I laugh, smile, convey a cheerfulness?

(7) Do I refuse to give into discouragement?

(8) Do I have a practical faith in God?

(9) Does my faith play itself out in everyday life?

(10) Are others attracted to God because of my faith?

(11) Does my faith really make a difference in my outlook?

(12) Can I find faith in God in the face of death?

(13) Do I adapt to complicated situations?

(14) Am I basically a positive thinker?

Life is what you make it. Untold numbers have had to confront poverty, sickness, disaster and the awful surprises of everyday. Many have been buried beneath their circumstances. However, scores have faced the most difficult situations and proven that God can provide previously unknown resources. Their practical testimonies underline that the invisible heavenly powers are available to those who believe.