Two dreams dreamed Within my mind, One at the fore And one behind and Being unable to realize two dreams at one time, I Put my efforts into dreams Of the working man’s kind.
These dreams fulfilled, I set them down as is Tradition when you wear That stately crown of silver hair, And as I looked around I saw growing from the ground These tender shoots of That sequestered dream, And heard the sound Of the blue jay’s call, and Gazed upon the sunlight beam, And marveled at the many Dreams yet to be found.
I go by the moniker of “Pop Pop” to my grandchildren. A badge of honor I inherit from the man above. He was one of my favorite people in the world, second only to my sainted mother. I am “Pop Pop” now, and have modeled myself after the original. Here I appear, not quite “somebody” yet. The “rebel” hat one of my earliest expressions of self-directed style. I had no idea what a rebel was, really, nor the Civil War, its meaning or consequences. I named my gray cat “Rebel”. It seemed like an “intelligent” name for a gray cat. One with secondary reference, an almost double-entendre, had I known what one was. Rebels wore cool hats that didn’t look like everyone else’s hats. And they had guns over the brim. Yankees were a baseball team.
My life was vicarious then. Indeed, it was hardly “my life” at all, but an existence moving through a world that was showing me, in myriad ways, what a life may be. Perhaps what a life was expected to be. Parents taught me to mind my manners, respect elders, brush my teeth, ride a bicycle. To clean my room and clean up my grades and live a clean life without swearing or alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. To snuggle on the couch watching the embers die in the fireplace. To hold hands in crowded places. To not talk to strangers.
Teachers taught me that we are required to learn and retain every fact and date in recorded history, to read every classic novel, poem, play, short story, sonnet or opera ever penned and be prepared to discuss them eloquently. In front of an audience. That everyone must know every detailed nuance of mathematics, algebra and cost-accounting. All the basics of biology, astronomy, geography, auto shop and wood shop. To be complete one must learn to play the clarinet and square dance, join the basketball team or the chess team or the ski team, sing in the chorus, march in the band, act in the senior play.
From this maelstrom of unlimited possibility one is expected, at the tender age of seventeen, to choose a college major. A career path. The Thing that you Want To Do With Your Life.
This is the jumping off point. I would call it the jumping in point, as this is when you jump feet-first (or head-on if you were on the swim team) into that Great River of Life. It can go a lot of different ways from here. For some, which I imagine to be the rare few, most everything will sail right along in order, based on the lives they have acquired through parents, teachers, college and love. Success in well-chosen careers, a fulfilling family life, all the comforts and joy one might wish upon a fellow. Losses and pains endured in due course, we pray.
For the rest of us, we dive in and are quickly swept along by the swift and insistent current. The bends in the river often lead us to new vistas, new horizons, and our lives begin to grow. New angles of light shed deeper understanding. Experiences along the way forge our hearts and souls. Some may arrive at a comfortable or even insular place. A day-to-day routine that never changes, security in the known.
I often think of myself as having separate contiguous “lives” that strung together chronologically, but were reiterations brought about by change. Childhood is Life One. Happy as a clam at high tide, and a sponge for the world around me. Young adulthood is Life Two. When I began to discover likes and dislikes. Things I would like for myself. Things I would like to feel about myself. Things worthy of pursuit. Life Three came and went quickly, and was my brief bachelorhood. Single and working, doing as I please with my time and money. Taking up arts, playing in a band, living with house buddies in our own young adult playground.
Life Four was the biggest. Marriage, children, buying a home, building a career. Sounds simple condensed to one sentence, but it filled thirty years with bedtime stories and trips to the zoo, lawnmowing and leaf pile parties, birthdays, graduations, Thanksgivings, and thirty Christmas trees. Weddings and baby showers and trips to the emergency room. Plumbing emergencies. Heat emergencies. Broken teenage heart “emergencies”. Driving lessons and tire-changing lessons. Fishing, camping, stargazing.
Life Five slipped in through the back door when the last fledgling left the nest. Now it seemed we had drifted into a gentle eddy beneath a cedar tree. Life coursed briskly down the river beyond, but our lives became a little slower, a little simpler. There was a subtle awakening to the realization that this was a place we expected to come to, yet were almost surprised to arrive at. A melancholy nostalgia was mixed with excitement for new opportunities that may await. Slowly we grew into this life, paring down rooms of furnishings and adapting to meals for two. In many ways we had the freedoms of Life Three, to come and go as we pleased. By now it was lunch out or browsing antique stores instead of rock concerts and late nights.
We were no longer the young adults of Life Three, however. Life had taken its toll on the flesh and the spirit. We languished in the eddy at times during those years of burying parents and lifelong friends. The treadmill of the working world chasing the ethereal “someday”. The times when lunch and antiques were just not enough substance to define a life. Who are we now, to ourselves and to each other? What do we want or expect of life during this time? What is “This Time”, how long will it last? What’s next?
I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but this was an intensely introspective period of my life. Now I had no parents to hold my hand, or teacher to tell me the bell rang. No professor to grade me. There were no excuses about having no time because of work and raising kids and keeping a home and the Spring Recital and the County Fair. It had been forty years, and it felt like revisiting Life Two, when I was choosing likes and dislikes. Going back to the drawing board. Redefining the way I wanted to see and feel life. Yet it was unlike early adulthood in that the sense of invincibility had given way to the common sense of certain mortality, and in fact gave rise to the inevitable question, “How long might I have?”
I have no premonition in the matter, nor reason to believe my odds aren’t as good as (one hopes a littlebetter than) the next guy’s. It’s not so much mortality itself but the idea that the time is finite. The Great Cosmic Professor telling me I have yet to submit my final thesis. So I guess there’s a deadline after all.
Life Five vanished abruptly with the passing of my wife after thirty-nine years of marriage. This on the heels of my father’s death. It’s as if there was a void in time during this period. Like the darkness inside an egg. It was the embryo of Life Six.
Now I have hatched from my lengthy incubation. I find myself once again in the presence of this most precious gift life brings me; the chance to define myself. I rather like this gentle eddy into which I have been born, and it would be good to linger here. In fact, it’s a nice spot for a nest. I could use the peace and quiet.
I’m working on my Master’s thesis for my PhD in Life Well-Lived.
The act of composition forces my ever-whirring mind to slow to the speed of the pen.
This time warp allows me to see and focus on thoughts, which otherwise streak past like the blurry motion of a speeding commuter train.
Composition is the station and platform from which I can read the placards on the locomotives, and correlate them to the great galactic schedule on the wall.
I slow long enough to realize how, if anyone, I am positioned squarely for such life-changing events as those currently being navigated. I have prepared for many decades a heart and spirit that look to see beyond the occasional storms, grounded in the celestial and terrestrial. At once embracing the limitless cosmos and holding the delicate sparrow in my hand.
Such things are the farthest from transitory, and will carry me home.
p.s.: A special note to some special friends: I’ve been out of touch with a lot of things for a while, the blog community among them. I’d often wondered about the fleeting acquaintances one might encounter in such places. I’ve wondered at other blogs whose authors were absent for months. These boiling pot days spent forging the New Me brought scrutiny to this activity. Is it simply self-promotion? Is it conceit raised to new heights? Are all the brightly backlit names anonymous and as good as none? How could true bonds be formed within?
Then the notes trickled in. First from one and then another and then another. Sincere thoughts and well-wishing. Thank you Michele, Ellen, Justine, Leah, and a few other folks.
In the past I had likened life and time, a lifespan, my journey, to a trail. Many are the poets and songsmiths that have called it The Road. The Path it’s called in real Zen (i.e. not Armchair zen). So too, a voyage on a ship, charting one’s course, to set sail, all have found their proper places in the prosaic. These things rang true to me for my first few lives.
Similes to ships seem fitting in so many ways. One is the captain of one’s own ship, and one needs to set one’s heading and plan a destination. The boat can represent a physical body or a spiritual vessel in or on which you transit cradle to grave. It can be used to illustrate tremendous responsibility, and demonstrate what it means to let it run aground or to be asleep at the wheel. It can exemplify perspective, delineating the perimeters which should never be surrendered, simultaneously reminding us that a great wide world exists just on the other side of that thin hull. A world considerably larger and more powerful than you and your little boat. One does not sail through a hurricane. One prays through the tempest, and lives or dies at the mercy of Mother Earth and the ancient oceans from which we emerged. “The sea is so large, and my boat is so small.” There are a few other useful lessons available under the boat-driving brand of philosophy, not the least of which is (depending on what kind of boat) that under some circumstances, it is difficult or impossible to run the boat alone. (And under almost all circumstances, sailing is better with a mate or two.)
Most of the boat-speak still suits my taste. Particularly the part about the sea being several million or billion or trillion times your size. A tiny iceberg sank the infamous Titanic. I mean, it was as big as the Empire State Building, but for icebergs it was a bantamweight, and if you calculated its size as a percentage of all the glacial masses on Earth it would be a hundred zeroes followed by a one.
Now here’s where my divergence lies within these philosophical premises. The ideas about being the captain and responsible for your boat and your crew and setting your course and all that. Well, the Titanic had aboard a well-trained and skilled crew, and a seasoned captain. No knock on them. It was an accident, and that’s why we have the word. But even a full and skilled crew cannot ensure protection against every threat the world might send your way. And sailing a ship on the high seas or the great lakes or the reservoir is a deliberate act within your control. You can set a course, turn the tiller, raise the sails. You can monitor the compass and the wind. There are forces like Trade Winds and ocean currents with which you must deal, but pretty much you sail across the pond, large or small.
As my philosophies aged like cheeses and fermented like wines, I began to understand that life is much more a river than a sea. (I did sneak in a couple of good similes there.) And we don’t so much pilot a powerboat on this river, but rather sort of raft down it. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as something of a Tom Sawyer, poling my way to adventure. There are, of course, responsible adult ways to ply the river in canoes and kayaks. The point is: the river is always moving.
Yes, you can argue that there are currents in the oceans, or that there are tidal rivers which flow back and forth in opposite directions following the tides. But if you go around with that kind of attitude I bet you won’t get invited to a lot of parties at my house.
My metaphoric river carries me. If I stop paddling, I keep moving. I can zig-zag across the river. I can paddle with the current and move at twice the speed of the water’s flow. I can fall asleep, or daydream, or faint or even die I suppose and that river is just going to keep on flowing isn’t it? Now you’re not ever going to get that from a path, road, trail or anything else that you are required to follow and physically pursue.
I can rest. I can heal. I can be sick for days or go on a drunken binge and that river is going to keep right on carrying me. And whether I paddle with zeal or sprawl in a stupor, I will be brought to the places where the river chooses to flow. Brought to the places the river needs to bring me. Buoyed and wrapped in her caress, the moving water will bring me to where I need to be.
Since clearing the ice pack, we’ve had fairly good sailing to the south. Inspections revealed some considerable damage caused by being iced in, but nothing that will sink us. Moored several months for repairs, the crew was eager to be underway and have benefitted greatly from the warmer air and sunshine. Still encountering a lot of fog this far north, but currents bear us for now toward more favorable climes. It is in the hearts of the crew the greatest changes have occurred. Frozen in, there was nothing to do but pass the time, and soon they fell into their own doldrums, making the motions of the living, but with the eyes of zombies. For a considerable time after we were first underway, they were compelled to keep looking back at the sheet as if it were stalking them. It was out of sight more than a full day before the light returned to their eyes and they could finally believe that one of the longest and most arduous times of our sojourn was truly over. The following day they lingered in the galley and drank too much, and sang. It is the first in many, many months that I have heard voices lifted in song, merriment and celebration. I was moved to tears to hear their joy. “What were they celebrating?”, you may ask. Life.