While driving around Newport Beach recently I noticed an automobile that had the word “FLUENT” on its license plate. The more I reflected upon it, the more I thought that this was neat. In fact, I wish I had been able to talk to the owner to ask what the word meant to him or her.
A dictionary would say the word means to flow or to be spoken or written with ease. But to me the word “fluent” means more than that. To me, it means you are living your life at peace with yourself, in a meaningful and gratifying way. Maybe that is not what the owner means, and maybe it would be best that I never find out. Nevertheless, that is what the word means to me.
All of this started me thinking about a quote I saw from two extremely well-known sports figures in one of last week’s newspapers.
The first quote was from Tiger Woods, who announced that he was taking a leave of absence from his sport of golf because “I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father and person.”
The second was from Johnny Wooden, the famous and highly respected UCLA basketball coach who will be 100 years old on his next birthday, and who said: “Make each day your Masterpiece.”
No one needs any more comments from or about Woods and his sexual escapades. I acknowledge that the pressure upon famous men who are deeply in the public eye must be appreciable when attractive women throw themselves at them sexually. But if people are married, they have made the choice that they will be faithful to their spouse. So this whole subject simply reduces itself to a matter of integrity.
Wooden also was faced with that choice, and he was completely faithful to his wife and best friend for their more than 50 years of marriage before his wife, Nell, passed away. And now he says he can barely wait to rejoin her. So think of what Tiger Woods has been missing!
When asked about who the heroes of my life are, I used to say that I had three: my wonderful father, Gary Bellows, who was a professor I had at the USC Law School, and President John F. Kennedy.
But when I found out about Kennedy’s private life, I removed him from my list. Many celebrities have shown their integrity by resisting the temptation to give in to these sexual advances, including, to my knowledge, Jimmy Stewart and Alan Alda.
Similar to Woods, Kennedy was involved with serial sexual affairs, which is quite a bit worse than what other famous people like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and even Guinevere and Lancelot in “Camelot” were involved in. So Kennedy may have done some good things and been a symbol for some other ones, but, in my view, he was a person without integrity.
Therefore, he can no longer be a hero or role model.
That also reminds me of a story I heard about a man named Amazing Johnson. This fellow had lived a long life, but when he saw that his time to leave the Earth was approaching, he told one of his friends that he did not want his name to be placed upon his gravestone because he had been teased enough already.
Instead, he said that he wanted his marker to say: “Here lies a man who was faithful to his wife throughout all of their 57 years of marriage.” When asked why he wanted his gravestone to say that, he responded: “Well, people will walk by, and when they read that comment they will say, ‘My goodness, that’s Amazing!”
Well, it shouldn’t be so amazing. Time is racing onward. In fact, just as I am now finally ready to face the “Y2K Problem,” we are almost into the year 2010.
So we should use this time remaining to us to reflect upon what is important in our lives, and what is not.
Integrity? Certainly. But Wooden gave us some additional assistance that will help us in our reflections about the direction of our lives when he said, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
So maybe you will want to join me this New Year’s Eve in reflection, when I ask myself whether I have been a man of integrity, and whether I am achieving success with the short time I have left upon this Earth. In other words, am I fluent? Am I really living my Masterpiece? And do I actually want to lead my life that way? In fact, do you?
If you do, then my New Year’s wish is that your life in the days and years to come may be fluent. Happy New Year!
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website at www.judgejimgray.com .