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.
In an effort to frame concisely a brief outline of my love affair with words, I came to this journal.
It lay open and empty many long hours as I contemplated superlatives And conjured cogitations, As writers often do, Seeking the ideal phrase, Painting dream and glory In comma-specked soliloquy And stunning summary.
As I tried to determine where the lines should be drawn Between raw truth and exaggeration, Fiction and mythology, I realized
This post first appeared in 2013. Since that time, my dad has passed. My wife, too. The baby in the photo is now an effervescent 9-year-old with a 7-year-old brother. The son is living with me while the parties of the wedding in the photo sort out their divorce. Last year, Christmas came just 11 days after my wife died.
This Christmas, I am supremely grateful for every day I live, and every day I have lived prior. I feel I’ve had an easy time of it, these 62 years, and have been blessed with something of a charmed life. Perhaps it’s just an average one, or maybe below average. It is the only life I have ever known. Simply knowing a life puts me ahead of some people already.
“When you wake in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food, and the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”
Joy to the world. Joy to you, my friends. -Paz
I had in mind to write a post called “Last Christmas”, and (not unlike some previous posts) talk about how we’d feel if we found that this had been our last Christmas. If we got the news in January or February or May, that we would not be likely to see another Christmas. Would we be pleased at the way we spent our days?
The post, however, is aboutThis Christmas. Really, this philosophy is always about “this”. This day, this month, this anniversary, this birthday, this autumn, this season. It’s not so much the old “living-in-the-now” as much as it’s carpe diem, seize the day, make your life, in this moment and the next, the life you imagined for yourself.
This Christmas bears the most special and wonderful gifts for me. More than I deserve, I am humbled.
The photo above is taken at my son’s wedding in October. That’s Ryan at the left. Next is me, beside my Dad, and this year’s Christmas gift, my new granddaughter Ellie.
It’s a rare fortune for families to be able to gather four generations together. Turning 83 in January, every Christmas with my Dad is precious, invaluable.
I’m not trying to be particularly Dickensian or dramatic, but must reveal something I usually keep to myself.
Whenever I am recounting joys and fortunes, sadnesses and hardships, there is a bar, a benchmark, that is never out of my consciousness.
For me, no matter what occurs I compare the situation. We don’t like to talk about it, but we are patrons, “Partners In Hope” they’re called, of St.Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Here, children stricken with life-threatening cancers are cared for, and research is ongoing to combat this deadly foe. Families of these children are never asked for a penny in payment. Don’t we think they have enough to deal with without monstrous medical bills?
My heart and spirit are tied with strings of tears to these children, and their families. Some of them are just babies.
I can’t single-handedly save the whole world so I searched for a place I could do my best work. What could be more important than helping to save the lives of children?
I will listen to your troubles and woes. I will console, cajole and support anyone that comes to me. I will offer opinions colored as advice if you ask.
I will feed you, I will offer you a bed in my home. I will sit silently and hold your hand.
When it comes to an assessment of our troubles—yours, mine, the next guy’s—you will be given perspective.
You see, in Memphis, I have a lot of kids. We’re not hoping they get “what they want” for Christmas.
Every day, throughout this rolling year, our hope for them is simple.
We hope they live to see This Christmas.
May the peace of the season reign in hearts everywhere, and last throughout the year.
It occurred to me just how much I admire Frosty The Snowman, and his philosophy on life. Well, life as it is to an inanimate object, or in this case a fictional character who is also an inanimate object. This is personification at it’s best, I suppose.
If you’re not familiar with the children’s tale, here are the Cliff’s notes:
Kids build a snowman and find a silk top hat to put on his head. The top hat has some magic in it, and this animates the Snowman, whom the kids have named Frosty. He springs to life exclaiming “Happy Birthday!”. Yes, it’s a Christmas-season tale, but it is Frosty’s birthday, after all.
Frosty plays and has fun with the kids until he begins to melt. The story is based on the song, I think, and the animated cartoon special picks up the story where the lyrics left off.
In the song, Frosty waves goodbye as he melts, says “Don’t you cry!” to the kids, and “I’ll be back again someday.”.
In the TV special, one of the children is heartbroken at the thought of Frosty’s departure, and adventure ensues as the little girl tries to get a six-foot snowman to the North Pole before he melts.
In the song, the lyrics state “Frosty the snowman knew the sun was hot that day. So he said ‘Let’s run and have some fun now, before I melt away.'”
Now there’s the spirit I admire. Frosty has this little window of life, knows he’s terminal, and instead of spending all his time worrying about how he can be cured and prolong his life, he decides to enjoy it before it’s gone.
Fishers of Ice
Max at West Creek
Lizzy & Chuy
The cartoon special takes it further, as the little girl becomes obsessed with “rescuing” the snowman from his natural demise. He’s fine until the human tries to “save him”. Only when pitted against or seen from the human girl’s perspective does Frosty’s limited existence become viewed as problematic. They spend their last days together in agony. Problems getting transportation, a magician trailing them, trying to steal the hat, the girl starts suffering from hypothermia following the snowman into the arctic. Ultimately, circumstances conspire and the girl is forced to watch Frosty’s destruction before her very eyes. *
I’m adopting Frosty’s original spirit. Life will come and go whether it’s on a snowman’s timeline or a human man’s time line.
I say let’s run and have some fun!
Before I melt away.
* Calm down. The girl isn’t real, she’s in a cartoon. And Frosty is magic. Before the kid stops crying, a freezing wind blows Frosty back together and he comes back to life, exclaiming “Happy Birthday!” once again. Happy ending, although it does prove the fruitlessness of the child’s work and worry.