Echoes of the Heart: Staying Grounded

Religious By Dr. Jeffrey Frantz, Special to The Miami Laker Wednesday, October 30, 2013

(Contact Dr. Frantz on the web at 

Staying grounded in life. While it is important to live in the present with an eye on the future, it is helpful to have a sense of our life story. An awareness of our life story helps us stay grounded in light of the larger picture of our lives. 

It helps us appreciate our past and those who have gone before us, upon whose shoulders we stand. The truth of our lives is that we all have a story to tell; we all have been nurtured, supported, and mentored by others along the way. 

Alex Haley, the author of Roots, has an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It is a picture of a turtle sitting on top of a fence post. When Haley is asked, What's that about? What's up with the turtle? His answer is revealing. 

Every time I write something significant, he says, every time I read my words and think how wonderful they are, and begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fencepost and remember that the turtle didn't get there on his own. He had help. We have all had help in our lives, to whatever extent. 

Recalling this truth helps us stay humble and grounded. The teacher or coach who took us under their wing, spending extra time with us, offering us that extra word of encouragement. The neighbor who always had a friendly word for us; the family member or friend who helped us financially when we were working our way through difficult times. 

We all have a story to tell. In my own life story, my mother died in 2007, my father in 2008 – each of them having lived long, good lives. They never had an opportunity to go to college; yet, for me and my three siblings, education was always a top priority in our home. As I think about my two daughters (each in their mid-thirties), both of whom are very successful university professors with Ph.D.'s in political science – one in England and one in the Boston area, it is good for me to remember the employment track of my parents. 

In her late seventies (1996), my mother wrote down a list of the different jobs she and my father had through the years. With no vivid memories of much deprivation as a child, I had not remembered how much they had struggled to make ends meet. 

My father worked on a farm as a hired hand, tried a number of start-up businesses that never panned out, drove a truck for a few years, and knocked around as a sales person for two or three years until finally landing a productive job selling storm windows and doors to housing contractors, after which we were eventually able to own our own home. 

My mother, valedictorian of her high school class, made aprons which my brother and I sold door to door back in Aurora, Illinois. A short time later, she worked part time for the local newspaper in the classified and accounting departments. Following this she spent sixteen years working as a kindergarten assistant for the local school district. 

In retirement in her late fifties, she eventually became the artist/painter she had always wanted to become. 

Remembering and looking forward. Re-reading my mother's account of my parent's work history is a humbling experience. It is like Alex Haley looking at the picture of the turtle sitting on top of the fencepost in his office. We all have our personal life stories. And when we look inside and underneath our stories, we are reminded just how much help and support we have had in our lives. We are reminded of the blessings that have come our way in our life-journeys, and the importance of staying grounded and grateful. 

My daughters, along with my ten nieces and nephews, have all made us proud. They have worked hard, achieved much already, and are well on their way to a life of continued fulfillment and well-being. They all knew their grandparents, of course, and they have great respect for their life-story. 

The turtle on that fencepost invites us all to look backward and forward in our lives with a sense of gratitude and humility. While it is a humble reminder of how far our family has evolved over the years, it also reminds us that we all have a life-context and that we are inherently social creatures, each of us the recipient of the help, encouragement and support of countless family members and friends along the way. 

With the season of Thanksgiving on the horizon, it is good for our spirit to take time to reflect, remember, and give thanks for the many blessings that have come our way in life.