As a tumultuous 2016 comes to a close, I find myself looking to the work of Charles D. Hayes, a retired, largely self-educated writer and moral philosopher whose books and essays on living our lives are singularly wise, humane, and insightful, especially for those in the second half of their journeys.
In September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life (2010), he offers a unique mix of philosophy, values, homespun wisdom, deep reflection, and full throated embrace of lifelong learning, all designed to encourage readers to enrich our lives and make genuine contributions to the world around us. For those who are trying to define their work lives, it helps to provide a context for thinking how our labor contributes to our own fulfillment and to the greater good. His Preface, which you may access online, explains the idea of September University:
September University, in concept, is a metaphor for intellectual maturity and represents an ambitious quest on behalf of future generations. September University, the book, is a call to action, a social forecast, and above all a passionate argument that a bright future depends upon the experiential wisdom of aging citizens. The exploration you’re about to begin has the potential to transform your worldview, heighten your aspirations, and elicit reflections about your personal legacy and the spiritual meaning to be derived from the last season of life.
If you want a sense of where Charles is coming from as a writer and thinker, this passage from the Preface offers a clear look:
Many people experience lives today steeped in such seething mediocrity that the beast-ridden savannah of our ancient past seems inviting by comparison. Whereas life may have once been “nasty, brutish, and short,” these days it can be confused, pointless, and headed toward a disaster that most people don’t have time enough to recognize is coming. Never before has reading the signs of the times been more essential, and never has it been so imperative that the concept of wisdom be a holistic notion favoring humanity over the special interest of some excessively needy individual, group, corporation, or nation-state.
Charles is no ivory tower kind of guy. His vocational history includes, among other things, service in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Dallas police department, as well as decades spent working in the oil industry in Alaska. I’ve been reading his books for years, and during the past year I’ve enjoyed conversing with him on Facebook. His voice is real.
I praised this book when it first appeared in 2010, and I believe its lessons are needed now more than ever. Though written especially for those of middle age and beyond, September University will resonate with anyone who is eager to move past the superficial trappings of contemporary life.
I’ve discussed Charles’s writing in previous blog posts, including:
…on”mainstream indifference” (2015)
…on the lessons of nostalgia (2011)