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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Who I am

by Mike Masterson | August 7, 2022 at 1:42 a.m.


"An unexamined life is not worth living."--Socrates.

Warning: I am far from a psychologist, but I've had time on my hands of late to better examine my life. Accordingly, I've spent more time in quieter moments, stretching my memory as far back as possible across 75 years.

Probably a good challenge for all of us. How far back can you recall after entering his world as a clean slate?

There's nothing I recollect before age 3. At that stage, I have only unformed flashes of home with family, hiding behind chairs and being fascinated by the small TV set and the sometimes disturbing images it displayed.

More than anything, I've tried to recall the seemingly endless stream of others who've come in and out of my life since childhood. Some remain faces without names, yet more names bubble up than I expected from the past.

Understandably, there are far too many to possibly remember them all.

Being the oldest of three siblings in a military family, we were destined to transfer from post to post about every three years.

A youth under those circumstances can accumulate a wide swath of friends, acquaintances and experiences.

There was a neighborhood friend named Curtis who taught me to play marbles when we were 7. Another whose face I recall, but name escapes, introduced me to a slingshot at about 10.

I recall the sixth-grade talent show before a cavernous auditorium of parents in Hot Springs when "Clyda Ann" and "Darlene" tap-danced alongside me on stage as I was tapped to emcee the event and sing "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," complete with a hat, cane and patriotic uniform.

It would, alas, betray what a shameless ham I was in those early years before Broadway wrote me off.

The number of those who influenced my life in large and small ways has grown through decades of continually relating with, then losing track of, so many who made a difference.

You undoubtedly have countless numbers. We all do if we live long enough to reflect on how much about life we learn from others who passed along experiences and lessons they'd been taught from others.

Sharing what we know is the way this endless web of knowledge and experiences we call life works.

Our lists of family, friends, teachers, mentors and acquaintances we accumulate become as distinctive as our fingerprints in helping determine who we are as adults.

After all, without each of their contributions to our lives, we naturally social animals would have been shaped into someone different than who we've become.

That is equally true of negative influences from others whose words and actions damaged and affected our well-being and psyches as we grew. Those who spent lives in prison will become far different people than do monks in monasteries.

Consequently it's been helpful for me to pause and examine how deeply interconnected we are in this web of common existence and how I am today because of those relationships that shaped me as I grew.

GodNod sequel

Last Sunday I told of my daughter Anna's GodNod immediately following the sudden death of her close friend and office colleague, 60-year-old John Courtney. Both were retired Navy chiefs.

Dragonflies had been among John's favorites, as evidenced by pictures of the delicate creatures he kept in his home.

So a freshly distraught Anna had been shocked on the very afternoon of his passing to return to her suburban Memphis home only to find only her front yard literally swarming with dragonflies.

Such a bizarre event brightened her spirits enormously at a time when shock and grief were so fresh. She interpreted this to be a definite sign from John that all was well with him.

After all, she hadn't seen a dragonfly in years, much less so many gathering nowhere in the neighborhood but in her front yard.

Flash forward a week. Anna organized and led John's memorial service at a large area Baptist church miles from her home.

She said that farewell could not have been more ideal as many speakers offered memories of what a kind, generous and thoughtful person he'd been. Anna told of one day during the height of covid when she watched John voluntarily cleaning the door handle of every office in their building trying to keep others safe.

Exiting the sanctuary, mourners were startled to be met with an enormous swarm of dragonflies covering the church lawn at that very moment.

"Coincidence, Dad," she said afterwards. "I think not."

Do I understand it? No, except to say I believe there is far more to our fragile presence than we can comprehend, especially when it comes to matters of spirit.

One reader asked why some people experience such events while others don't. I said that answer is well above my pay grade. Perhaps many who wonder the same thing aren't paying close attention with their limited physical senses when GodNods occur.

In Anna's case, few others knew of John's affection for these fragile insects and he knew she would be spiritually attuned to recognize his sign of approval.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


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