by Mark Heckler
(Cambridge, Maryland)

Winter in Maryland. I call it the “gray time” because that’s what it is much more often than not: GRAY.

That desolate time between December 21st and March 21st when everything seems dead, not least of which my spirit.

This is my second winter as a retired American, meaning that basically all of my time is now spent as I wish, or not.

After 50 years in the work force (yes, I was working for slave wages when I was only 10, ‘sweeping floors and packing cores’ at my family’s auto parts business) it is poetic justice that I now get paid to do nothing.

That aside, I have approached the current gray time more philosophically than the last, for I believe I am truly one of the lucky ones. About a year before retirement I identified my true and undeniable purpose on this earth, and it was a life-altering event.

Three short months after retiring I fulfilled that purpose, and now every additional minute of my life is mere icing on the cake. The freedom that it garnered I can only equate to one other experience in my life: the same joy of absolute freedom whenever I rode my motorcycle.

Perhaps by now you are curious about my purpose. I can completely understand that, as I suspect 99% of people stumble through their lives without knowing or even particularly caring what theirs may be. In light of my experience I find that very sad.

Ironically, I had actually been living my purpose since June 3, 1979, the day we brought our first-born son home from the hospital. My wife had been given a beautiful, leather-bound journal as a baby shower gift. I doubt that the giver’s intention was for the expectant father to claim it, but claim it I did.

And completely unbeknownst to me at the time, there began my journey of self-discovery and ultimately, my purpose. As the pre-printed dedication so eloquently stated, the journal was to become “one special way in which I can inscribe my love and affection for you…in it I shall record my thoughts and feelings about you, about our family and about the times in which you were born and grew up…it is my hope that when you are older these thoughts may add dimension to your recollections of childhood.”

But how did I come to know writing that journal was my purpose? Simple: because thinking about your purpose makes you cry. And after more than 35 years, 547 pages, 173,000 words, every time I picked it up to read a passage, I cried. Big tough guy, all teary-eyed and slobbering.

I started writing the journal before the advent of the PC, so it was mostly hand-written. As my retirement loomed ever closer I challenged myself to create a full and complete digital version of the epic so I could print copies to give our son and daughter for Christmas, 2013. And when our 35-year old son told me a few days after reading it cover-to-cover that it was the best gift he had ever received in his life, I knew.

My mother died in 2008 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. My 87-year old father is now a resident of the Alzheimer’s wing in a local nursing home. By the grace of God he still knows most of our nuclear family.

The experts tell us that some form of regular physical exercise is critical to longevity and good health. I also believe that daily mental exercise is just as critical to our prolonged wellness. As retirees we certainly have the time to do both.

The past excuses of work-related obligations are no longer valid. So if you are not currently exercising your brain with regularity I suggest you consider the following as the perfect way to begin a new and exciting habit. And by all means take your time.

In fact consider it a two-week challenge: a question a day for 14 days. Reflect deeply and honestly as you formulate your answers and like me, you just might discover why you are really here.


1. What makes you smile?
2. What leaves you awestruck?
3. What were your favorite things to do in the past? What about now?
4. What activities make you lose track of time?
5. What makes you feel great about yourself?
6. Who do you admire most? Which of their qualities do you admire?
7. What are you naturally good at?
8. If you had to teach something what would it be?
9. What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?
10. You are now 90 years old sitting on a rocking chair outside on your porch; you can feel the spring breeze gently brushing against your face. You are blissful and happy and are pleased with the wonderful life you’ve been blessed with. Looking back at your life and all that you have achieved and acquired, all the relationships you’ve developed, what matters to you most?
11. What are your deepest values?
12. What were some challenges, difficulties and hardships you’ve overcome or are in the process of overcoming?
13. What causes do you strongly believe in and connect with?
14. If you could get a message across to a large group of people, who would they be and what would you tell them?


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by: Linda C.

I loved reading your post ;) I think it's wonderful that you have kept that journal! What a gift that is!

To "WOW" by Wendy
by: Mark In Cambridge

Thank you so much for your kind words Wendy. I have been trying to get a novel finished for far too long. So long that I fear the passion I had for the project has waned beyond redemption. But to your comment about Kindle, I have in fact published a short work there titled "God Within: A Chautauqua Into Personal Spirituality." You should be able to find it it you Google "Mark Heckler God Within."

I second the "Wow!"
by: Nancy

GREAT questions. While I was reading your post, I was thinking my purpose in life is quilting. I've been quilting heirloom quilt tops from my great aunt and giving them to family members. But your post gave me some ideas about journaling.

BTW, like Wendy said your writing is very good.

I never journaled when I was in Peace Corps Morocco from 1975 to 77, but I have all the letters I wrote to my parents and could type them up in the form of a journal.

I was also in Iran during the overthrow of the Shah. My letters to my parents documented the increasing turmoil in Iran.

Also, I have my Grandmother's journals. I could type them up and give copies to her grandkids. I have a couple of cousins who lived thousands of miles away while they were growing up and didn't have the opportunity to be know my Grandmother like my sisters and I did. They would probably love to get a copy of Grandmother's journals.

mental decline help
by: Anonymous

Please consider adding turmeric to you your diet frequently, it seems to have helped me some to avoid mental problems.

Next for your family
by: Betty Audet

I suggest that the next work for your family is a family history.

IF your family is only a generation or two in U.S. it may not be long but if they arrived before the American Revolution you have several years of work.

Get in touch with your local genealogical society and your local archives to get some help to get started.
Community history may also be of interest to your family.

In my community history work I worked on two volumes of barn history for our township.

by: Wendy

Love your questions for visitors to this site.

Truly hope some of you will put time and effort into this exercise, it really could open your eyes to new possibilities in your own life.

Thank you, Mark, for sharing! What an amazing gift for your adult kids...

p.s. Since you are quite obviously a writer, maybe Kindle ebooks are in your future?

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