Track 16 216 My first Monday morning after college graduation I laid in bed staring up at the ceiling—–there was a thundering silence inside my head that exploded and made its way out over the roof tops, across my hometown and then wayward into that great beyond. For the first time in a long time, I had nowhere to go, no appointments to keep and nothing to do—-I felt myself thawing out. I was filled with a strange comforting warmth that radiated from deep within my chest. All those lost and anxious feelings from my past gave way to a giddy simplified sense of being alive. And, I remember the sound of birds singing outside my window and there was nothing more, or nothing less to consider about this day or any of the others that were to follow. I was happy for no particular reason. I propped myself up on my pillows, wiggled my toes and smiled. It’s funny how such a little thing is remembered and carried across a life time.
A couple of days earlier my folks had arranged a little graduation swaray in my honor. All the relatives and family friends were there and everyone wanted to know what my plans for the future were to be. I said I had some possible opportunities working for the government in the city and that I had several resumes accepted by some promising start-up companies——but that was a lie—-I didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to do. I did my best to assemble an expression of steely confidence on my face. I sipped my highball as the red-faced old men took turns patting my back or putting a firm hand on my shoulder as they dispensed tips about business, women and how to make the world spin on the tip of my finger. The combined years of life experiences being offered by these old fella’s totaled over three centuries. The oral tradition of passing on knowledge from the elders to the next generation filtered through my ears and echoed about in my cocktail drenched brain. These poor old farts were out of touch with today’s world, hell they knew nothing of computers or today’s technology. I nodded back at them as I struggled to stave off a yawn of boredom.
As they spoke about their experiences and life lessons, their eyes seemed to peer inwardly as much as they did outwardly. The sins and follies of youth follow us into old age with the vengeance of unappeased ghosts, “Never buy a car built on a Monday.” “Get to work before your boss and stay until after he leaves.” “Invest in your health, not the stock market.” “Never drink at a company party.” “Its legal if you don’t get caught.” “Find something nice to say about your wife’s appearance at least once a day, and mean it”. There amongst the wrinkled brows, age spots, gin blossomed cheeks and jiggling jowls was a road map of life’s detours and destinations.
The old women with their clown like rouged cheeks gathered around, engulfing me in a cloud of overpowering perfume. They took turns hugging and kissing me. They said I was smart and handsome and that I reminded them of my father when he was young. There eyes twinkled as they schooled me in the matters of love, “Find a nice girl who’ll watch the ballgame with you. Someone who’ll stand by you even when the home team is getting the hell beat out of them.” “A woman that knows how to dance will make a good lover.” “Learn to cook, women these days don’t know how cook.” “Have children, they’ll keep you young.” “Remember to make a life, not a living”. My favorite aunt discreetly slipped my a twenty as we hugged and then gave me a wink “Go show some lucky girl a good time”.
I didn’t know it at that time, but this would be my last opportunity for the next twenty-five years to be off work for six months in a row—-I wish I knew then what I know now. Life is funny that way, you get so busy thinking about what you wanna do or what you’re gonna do that you forget about living in the present—-and this is where life exists, on the surface of each eclipsing moment. That summer after graduation, I walked barefoot and shirtless through the midday deserted city streets, mindlessly whistling melodies to myself.
Everyone was in a hurry to get to work, to get off work, to get home—-to make it through another week—-to the oasis of the next weekend. I moved in slow motion as the world spun around me. I sat in the park during the morning rush hour watching the manic faced drivers whizz past me. My dog and I would go down to the river and I’d spend the afternoon exploring trails, skipping rocks and swimming. I had no goals, no ambitions, no thoughts about making a difference in the world. I was a happy underachiever.
One breezy September night I got drunk and fell asleep in a tangle of woods and weeds by the river. I abruptly awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of dry leaves rustling in the tree’s, crickets chirping, buzzing cicadas and croaking toads. A lone dog howled in the distance and the odor of damp river sediment hung in the air. The voices of the old men from my past blended into a chorus of babbling nonsense until they reached a crashing crescendo——-and then an unsettling silence—–no bugs chirping or buzzing, no barking dogs, no rustling leaves, just stillness. For a moment I wasn’t sure what time it was or how I’d come to fall asleep here. The chill of autumn wrapped itself around me, September 21st, fall equinox—-the change of season had spoken.
My days as a freeloader had reached a crossroads. Dad had taken to providing me with a written list of daily chores to complete. The longer I’d languished living there, the more demeaning the chores became. I went from doing the basic duties of taking out the garbage and making my bed to more revolting tasks such as digging up the septic tank in the backyard and prying open its tomb like seal. Dad knew that words without action is like choices without consequences—-if you choose to walk in the rain don’t complain about getting wet. If I was going to live out my fantasy of becoming a carefree Bohemian, I would either have to live under a bridge or find a rich girlfriend—Dad had taken my umbrella.
Success is a tough thing to measure. Success is like wisdom. Neither is based on modern technology or the trends of popular culture. They are the byproducts of making mistakes and having a willingness to change course. They are the personal dividends earned from a life well lived. I didn’t realize it when I was twenty, but this life goes by pretty damn fast. Every decade of my life has held its own challenges and rewards. The things I thought were important at twenty changed when I reached my thirties and so it goes for all the following decades and phases of my life. Maybe this is why it’s so hard for old men to advise young men. No one can live your life for you but yourself.
There would be numerous “me’s” that I would try on and play though out this unfolding life. “To me, or not to me, that is the question.” As ole Shakespeare the great teacher revealed to us, it is only through adversity that we come to know thy self….
Mistakes are never shy, dreams neglected fade, love can’t be borrowed and time plays no favorites, we’re consumed by the days and years—-it’s only within each fragile moment that we are alive and breathing————awake!
I thought I had life figured out at twenty, but I was a prisoner of youths swaggering bravado. I was yet to learn that financial gain never triumphs integrity, that perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds is the norm when fighting to make dreams a reality, that personal sacrifice is where self discovery begins, to not allow difficult circumstances or the obstacles placed in my path dictate my faith in a higher power, to invest my energy in changing myself rather than trying to change the world, that there is a difference between being right and being honest, that compromising my aspirations is more important than compromising my principles, to respect my body and treat it as if my life depends on it (cause it does) and to surrender my ego in order to gain compassion. Through humility and servanthood, I learned that family, friends, health, empathy, faith, kindness and love are the greatest treasures in life——-and maybe this is what those old guys had to tried to convey to me all those years ago.
My first Monday morning after retirement and I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling—–and there is a thundering silence inside my head that explodes and makes its way out over the roof tops, soaring above the mountain peaks as it makes its way to the Pacific ocean. And right outside my window I can hear birds singing. Isn’t it funny, the little things you remember and take with you throughout a life time.