The Beatles song ‘When I’m 64” lingers long in the memory. I never thought I'd be marking off the calendar as having reached that age but Father Time has galloped on relentlessly and has rounded the turn for home.

What are the life lessons of being a boring old fart? I guess I’ll never make it in Hollywood, write the great American novel, climb the highest mountain, plumb the deepest sea or land on Mars.

That’s alright, with age comes realistic expectation. A beautiful summer’s day like May 18 in New York this year makes up for a lot. The anthem in my head has gone from “No Satisfaction” to “I’m Still Standing.” The woman at the movie stall asking if I wanted the over 60 ticket is still lied to even though it costs me more money. Mirrors catch the sorrows of a changing face, not the bright bath of youth. So be it.

So here are five lessons from an imperfect life.

1. Value the kindness in others

Strangers helped me keep my budding newspaper business going in the 1970s.

Strangers helped me keep my budding newspaper business going in the 1970s.

As a young Irish emigrant and newspaper founder in San Francisco in the late 1970s, the publication I started ran out of money after about six issues. A doctor called Michael McFadden and a bar owner from Limerick called Joe Finucane raised $15,000 for me and my partner and let my dream live. I hardly knew them but they loved what we were trying to do. Don’t ever tell me the Irish don’t help their own.

When we ran into financial trouble again, a former officer in the British Army, Bill Vincent, owner of Muckross House in Killarney, an amazing Anglo-Irish gentleman living in San Francisco reached into his own pocket and gave us $5,000 to continue. His only condition was I cut my shaggy beard and dress up when I visited his home for dinner! The kindness of strangers.  

2. Value integrity above all else

Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness

Years later I was involved as the intermediary between Sinn Féin and the White House in the Irish peace process. It was a fraught time where a man’s word meant everything as IRA bombs were still going off and a tough road to peace was being forged. Neither Gerry Adams nor Martin McGuinness ever misled, over-promised or failed to deliver. I am still in awe of them taking an armed revolutionary army and putting it on the path to peace and political success.

3. It is tough and courageous to get to “Yes”

When you have the FBI, State Department, House Speaker, and British government all screaming not to give Gerry Adams a visa, it took rare courage for Bill Clinton to do so. When Irish media swore he had lost the plot and was on a fool's errand, Taoiseach Albert Reynolds insisted on driving forward a path to peace and ending Europe’s longest-running war.

Both men could have easily said no. Almost all politicians do.

4. You have to earn respect

Respect the man not their position.

Respect the man not their position.

Just because you have a fancy title, a priest's collar, a judge's robe, a doctor’s white smock or a politician’s badge on you does not automatically mean you have my respect. We have seen too many charlatans don such accoutrements. Prove by your actions, not your title or dress.

5. There is nobility everywhere even in the worst circumstances

A doctor who gave it his all. "A chink of light on my darkest day on earth."

A doctor who gave it his all. "A chink of light on my darkest day on earth."

There is an Israeli doctor whose name I don't even know who tried everything imaginable to save my nephew Rory’s life when he died of sepsis at the of age 12 in NYU hospital. This man barely went home all that dreadful weekend and was as distraught as we were when nothing could be done. A chink of light on my darkest day on earth.

Finally, bless the day you were born Irish, or born of Irish roots: the music makers, writers, dreamers, poets, talkers, who never conquered anyone except with their heart and soul and gift of the gab. Erin go bragh!


Niall O'Dowd.