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No such thing as a wrong code

Last week I had a chat with my friend "B." I'm not using an initial to shield his identity. That's what I call him.

He'd just returned from San Diego and his annual Marine Corps reunion. B's in his 70s now, but once a Marine, always a Marine. And he sometimes comes back from those meetings with bittersweet feelings. I asked him about that.

"I guess," he said, "when I see those guys I realize they've managed to live their lives by a code. And I haven't done that. I've been all over the map."

It's true. B has been all over the map — he's hiked Machu Picchu in Peru, fished the waters of New Zealand, scaled cliffs and rafted rivers. And it's true many members of his family have lived their lives by code. They're very religious and often plan their days around their spiritual duties.

But not B. Yet he's also far from being the slacker and renegade he sometimes paints himself to be. I think B, too, has lived his life by a code. It's not a written code — the kind found in scripture or in the manuals of the Armed Forces — but it's a code nevertheless.

And if he were to jot that code down, I think B's code would probably read something like this:

• Take interest in a variety of people. Expand your life. It will help you expand the lives of others.

• Make good use of humor. Use it to take the top-lofty down a notch, but also use it to take the bite out of disappointment and the fear of the unknown.

• Feed people. Have them over for dinner. And when they arrive, feed them in other ways — with a sense of worth, community and belonging.

• Make good use of your imagination. Stay young by being inventive. Sometimes an old dog is the only one who realizes a trick is really not new, it's just an old trick all dressed up.

• Test yourself often. Stretch your abilities. That way if someone else ends up testing you, you'll know exactly what you're made of.

• Stimulation is important, but don't confuse it with fulfillment. Stimulation is good. A sense of fulfillment is better.

• Think in human terms. Don't worry about humanity in general, worry about the feelings of humanity in your children, in your friends and in yourself.

• Prize friendship above accomplishment.

• Dance until you get a knee replacement. Then dance inside yourself.

• Fly to New Zealand to fish each winter and — when the snow melts in Utah — fly back home and fish here.

I don't know if B would jot those same things down about himself. But it's what I've observed in 25 years of friendship. The problem with B — and with most of us — is we think the way we see ourselves must be the definitive version, because we know ourselves so well. But the truth is the version others have of us can be just as real and valid.

And my version of B is not like his at all. As I see him, he might not live his life by the Marine code, but he has no reason to feel glum. The code he lives by trumps most other codes I've read.

And he lives that code amazingly well.