My brain doesn’t slice things up that way. But there are road-markers and crossroads along the way for each of us, moments in time where we can remember minute-by-minute how our lives changed. Betcha a fiver you can remember at least a dozen right this minute. For Pam and me, the past few days have been a mega crossroads. No one planned or expected it. We didn’t even see it coming.
But maybe, just maybe, what triggered it was the reality of my 50th high school reunion taking place. By the way, we didn’t go, nor have I gone to any reunion, high school, college, military…ever. I’ve always had a dystopian view of reunions, especially ones that go back decades.
Joe Walsh (Eagles) wrote a snarky but humorous assessment of his life in the song entitled: Life’s Been Good to me So Far. One of the lyrics is: Everybody’s so different…I haven’t changed. And that’s how I imagine most reunions: people walking into some old haunt from 50 years ago and thinking, “WOW! I can’t even recognize most of these people… We were all just kids then and these people all look so old.” Guess what: They’re all thinking just about the same thing. Each of us is used to looking at ourselves in the mirror over the years. No…we haven’t changed at all, but they sure did. Yeah, right, sure…
And in a circuitous way, this brings us back to the title of this essay. It was written by Socrates who drank the hemlock 399 years before Christ was born. He said, “A life unexamined…….is not worth living.” Now, I think he was a bit extreme, but he had a point to be made. As sentient beings, we are born to this planet to do…something. It may be to procreate and create the next Nobel Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner. Or, it might be to make the best apple pie in Pennsylvania, or maybe your raison d’etre was to protect your buddies, your fellow soldiers in a strange land…but we’re here to do something, hopefully something honorable and of value.
(Okay, here’s where things might get a little complicated, convoluted. I said this was a crossroads weekend. It was.)
For the past three months, we’ve been working on Dragonfly, our new place down in the Asheville area. We spent a year up north making plans, and in typical fashion, we hit the ground running from day one. Why? I’m not even sure.
Yesterday, we’d gotten most of the bases covered: We now have a 40 ft. arched wooden bridge going out to a little island in our pond. We have made a cozy site next to a big waterfall and set up a big sculpture garden. And then, yesterday, we finally sat down by the falls, glasses of wine and chocolate chip cookies in hand and toasted our efforts.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Barely a minute had gone by when Pam said, “What’cha thinkin’?” I said, “I’m thinking of how we can improve the walkway back to the house, and what color to paint the bridge,” at which point Pam started laughing. I looked question marks at her and she explained, “You just summed-up what we do. We improve stuff as far as we can…and then we move on.” It took a tenth of a second to realize that she was right. It had taken us decades to finish CrossBow, our last place, and it was GREAT! Had a beach, ponds and a tree house for parties. But the moment it was finished and the challenge gone, we realized it was time to move on. Is that good? Is that bad? I think it’s neither one. It just is.
Way, way back, there was a TV add for a company called Beatrice. Remember? We don’t make TVs. We make them BETTER. We don’t make plastic. We make it tougher. We don’t...and on and on. The heart of everything we’ve ever done goes back to curiosity about how we can make things better…improved. For others, it’s how to be the best teacher, grandmother, or father, or the best singer, or marksman or pilot or…whatever.
Night before last, I was drawn to picking out songs on Spotify. I didn’t see what the pattern was for a while but it finally hit me over the head. I was picking out the pivotal songs in my life, the crossroad songs if you will. One I mentioned last week, by David Bowie: Changes. Another: The night I met Pam at Centenary College. Buffalo Springfield (precursor to CS&N) the song: Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say it?” (superlative old song). I think that song planted that first seed of love…magic. Credence Clearwater Revival: It’s Just a Thought. It came out during the first weeks of my first command duty in the Air Force. Had to grow up a lot and really fast. Most recently, a throw-away song by Tracy Chapman that summed-up my ethical questions over the years… entitled “Would You Change?.”
Back Pages: A couple of years ago, I gave a lecture to a mature audience at a university in PA. It was pointed toward artists and writers…accomplished, creative people and I slaved for weeks over the thing, just in case of a brain freeze. Then the night before, I threw the whole thing away, notes and all, and did two hours “without a net”. I kicked off with a song/video called Back Pages by Dylan. The key lyric was: “But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.” What I was hoping for was to deliver a kick-ass (pardon the French) lecture. I succeeded in that, but soon after, I realized that the concepts I’d discussed came back to change my life as well. And it’s been that way for two years now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGEIMCWob3U
The concept of aging is physically very obvious to all who observe. The concept of youthening (not sure that word even exists) is much rarer, but not impossible. That’s what we’re exploring now. Many of you are writing in to share your own life-examined and the observations you’ve made, the wisdom you’ve acquired.
It’s fascinating stuff and what’s more fascinating is that like snowflakes, no two of us accumulated wisdom, enlightenment, as well as our bruises and disgruntlement the same way. A billion different paths ending up at much the same places.
What changes us, what teaches us, is completely different. I have about 20 books I have read that utterly changed the paths I’ve taken. I bet you have as many or more……….and I bet you then thousand dollars your books are different from mine. Isn’t that a bit mind-boggling?????? Because I write these essays, I have only my own music, books, anecdotes to fall back on.
Please, if you have a particular, book, song, anecdote to add to the Collective Wisdom, write in and I’ll post it.
The accumulation of wisdom should always be a never-ending process.
P.S. Friends and Hard-Core! I’d truly like to hear what song or book took you on a new road untraveled: It’s my life (Animals)? Louie, Louie? or Purple People Eater meets the Witch Doctor?