Please indulge me a moment of introspection and feel free to think along with me. Chances are what I am going to say may apply to you as well.
My family and I recently sat through a thorough review of my last will and testament. It was a surreal experience, listening to my friend and attorney, Bill Merritt, read out loud the words that will be attributed to me when I am no longer here to speak them for myself.
Much of what will be said in my name when I am gone is as foreign to me as Swahili slang. It is designed to satisfy the legal hoops one must jump through in order to leave one’s heirs what one rightfully worked one’s buns off to earn. I love my country and the Great State of Georgia, but I don’t love them enough to give them one penny they don’t deserve.
They certainly didn’t earn it. I did.
In some cases, the government made it difficult for me to do my job because of burdensome laws and weird regulations. Besides, if the politicians and bureaucrats got their hands on my money, they would probably spend it trying to create more burdensome laws and weird regulations.
As I listened to the therefores and wherefores, I suddenly had a staggering sense of my own mortality. I realized that I have lived more days than I have ahead of me. I am not just in the September of my years; I am edging toward the first week of December. Fortunately, I’ve got the financial part — such as it is — figured out, thanks to Mr. Merritt’s expertise. But what about the rest of it?
Sadly, I have come to understand that I have wasted a lot of my time on this earth fretting over things that today look pretty trivial. My mentor, the late Jasper Dorsey, who was vice president of Southern Bell Telephone Co., taught me a lot about being a manager but he taught me also about life, including the obligation we have to leave this a better world than we found it. I haven’t always done that.
In my younger days, I knew that I could always clean up tomorrow what I messed up today. Today, I can’t be sure there will be another tomorrow. I have only this day to try my best to be my best. Sometimes, my best won’t be very good but it should not be from a lack of trying.
Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National, is one of the special people to pass through my life. He was the visionary who had the idea to bring the Olympic Games to Atlanta. A lot of people scoffed at that idea, including me. That was before I got to know him. The man walks his talk. Working with him during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games was a great experience and a lesson in the pursuit of excellence.
Payne was a scholar-athlete at the University of Georgia when that term meant something. He was an “A” student and never played in a football game for UGA in which he didn’t start. Watching him perform each week was his father, Porter Payne, himself an outstanding football player for the Bulldogs in the mid-40s and good enough to be drafted by the New York Giants football organization.
Billy tells of talking with his father after each game and asking his dad to assess how well he had played that day. Porter Payne’s answer was always the same, “It doesn’t matter what I think. The question is what do you think? Did you do the best you could do?”
The younger Payne would have to admit that perhaps he could have done something a little better and would vow the next week to improve. Every week, the same conversation between father and son, the same answer and the same resolve to do better in the next game. His father didn’t have to push Billy to be the best he could be. He was teaching his son to do it himself.
Maybe this is a good time for us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves: Have we done the best we can do today? Have we made the effort? Or will we put things off until tomorrow while we strain at gnats today?
I now know that tomorrow may never come. This is the only day guaranteed to us. It is a precious gift. Don’t waste it.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.