To 26

Hey buddy. I decided to write this to you even though you have been gone now for 30 years. But I thought, what the hell. Why not write a letter to you, now long gone. Myself 30 years ago. I wish I could have told you then the things I know now. Would you have listened? Probably not, but maybe. Maybe the fact that it was really coming from you might have cracked through that actually thin veneer of confidence and certitude. Maybe it would have led you to some different decisions.

The funny thing is this: at 26, time, which seemed like your friend, was really your worst enemy. Time seemed to stretch out before you like a lavish buffet of delightful unending options and choices. That was an illusion. A siren’s song leading to the treacherous shoreline of the fast approaching future. Now, time is more precious, and, while certainly no friend, it is at least more honest. Now time eases away from me like an embarrassed companion at a cocktail party disturbed by an unfortunate crude remark. No, time is not an enemy, but it certainly has not been kind. You will find out, 26, when you see time for what it is: the illusion of possibility.

So, 26, I remember you sometimes when I look in the mirror. You were in the middle of undergraduate school after a four-year tour of duty in the Marine Corps. You were still a fit and healthy young man. You were in love and recently married. You wanted and expected so much out of life. Position, money, power, recognition, and, most elusive of all it turned out, happiness. They all seemed just within reach. 26, if you knew that these would always be mostly out of reach, what would you have done differently? Would you have not dropped that Italian class and taken the B and learned a new language? Would you have been a B student in general and been happy and engaged, instead of calculating and recalculating your estimated graduation GPA every week? 26, I want you to know something. You will never be asked at a job interview for any job you will ever do after you graduate, “What was your GPA?” You won’t get into the graduate school of your choice, not because of bad grades or ability, but because of chance.

26, change your degree focus right now! Take that teacher’s advice and study kinesiology instead of political science. Coach and be a teacher. You won’t be able to escape it. So you might as well be better prepared. You will be sorry for a long time when you don’t take this advice.

26, tell the woman you love how wounded you are inside. She won’t love you less. Don’t be afraid. Be honest. Be real. Be vulnerable. Be happy. When you don’t take this advice you are going to live most of your life hiding your insecurities and pain from the only person who can help ease that pain. I grieve for your lost opportunity, 26.

26, care about yourself a lot more. Stand up for yourself. Demand more for yourself. Expect more for yourself. Don’t be surprised when you succeed and worry about having it taken away. When you do, that it is the same as giving it away. 26, be ok with your own abilities and talents; otherwise you will always devalue them and never really be able to enjoy doing well.

26, 30 years will pass and you will think it was a blink of the eye. When you get to be me, you will live in a world you can’t imagine, and mostly because why would you want to. A lot of people will really enjoy telling others NOT to follow their passions when you get to where I am waiting. But they are wrong. 26, follow your passions: do what thrills you! You won’t be any poorer in money or material things and your life will be ever so much richer for those bold choices!

26, good luck as you move forward in life… you’re going to need it…badly.

Sincerely, 56.

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The Not Too Distant…: Part 6

So time has been lost. Years have passed. Only the slowly diminishing future lies ahead. How does one live in the light of the not too distant? Since, admittedly, I lack experience in living life well, how do I chart a new and better course for the future that I have left? Lacking the kind of navigational skills sufficient to the task of traversing well this life’s ocean of decisions, what will be my hallmarks for finally making good choices? Choices that are both healthy for me and those I love? What will be my touchstones for deciding, “Am I making a good choice or just another misguided one?” Well I have reached a few decisions in this regards.

First, close the circle. Seriously consider who should be allowed in the circle and base that decision person by person. Because some have a name: cancer. Their presence in the circle, no matter what they seem to bring in terms of resource or supposed benefit, will suck the life from you. They will appear to promise much. It will be a lie. They will try to kill your soul and the soul of anyone else they touch. Like a slinking succubus they will suck life from the very air you breath. Don’t let them in.

Second, build a boundary of protection around yourself around that circle. You will need it. Guard the walls with vigilance. Many will call you selfish. Ignore those voices and focus on your own self-care so that you can care for those in the circle.

Third, love deeply and give generously to those in the circle. These are your people. Love them. Give to them. Do everything you can for them. They are yours and you are theirs. Embrace this and live fully into it.

Fourth, make sure you are the most important person in the circle. If you don’t you will regret it. You will fail everyone in your circle because you will be a shell of what you could have been. You will be unable to help, encourage, love fully, anyone in your circle. You will be unable to maintain 1-3 above. The boundaries will erode and the dike will fail and you will drown in the demands of those who are professional “takers”. Don’t let this happen to you. It will hurt not just you but those you love, and should love, the most.

Fifth, defend the circle and everyone in the circle against the whims and demands of those outside the circle who lurk like the vultures they are. These are boundaries worth defending. Every decision you make runs the risk of giving ground or the reward of standing firm. Your circle is where you can be the person you were meant to be. Have the life you always could have had. Every surrender is a night waking, life sapping, breath gasping, dread filled moment that will come back to endlessly haunt you and rob you of real rest.

Do NOT surrender now! Because if you don’t you will begin to become fully aware of your self worth and it will become increasingly difficult for you to yield to the voices, both the internal voices and the external ones, of criticism, ridicule, and doubt. And then. Finally then you will begin to have and live the life you were meant to have. In the not too distant.

The Not Too Distant…: Part 5

One startling discovery that I have found in this past couple of years of deep soul and life searching runs counter in many ways to what so many try to sell us. And that is this: I wasn’t selfish enough. And just so I am clear. I don’t mean just taking adequate care of myself emotionally, spiritually, physically, materially… I mean selfish. I don’t mean selfish to the point of narcissism but a hell of a lot more selfish than I was. I mean the kind of selfish that might have at least considered my own best interests in my calculus of decision making. The same kind of selfish that creates a decent foundation and at least a hoped for preferred future for myself and my loved ones. You know the ones who actually really love you back. Because I wasn’t selfish enough I ended up drained and at the end of my own emotional rope. I found myself staring into the not too distant end and wondering, “what the hell was I thinking.”

For a long time I trusted all the wrong people. And quite frankly all that got me was screwed. And that is a problem on many levels. But most of all because it made me increasingly fearful of being open and sharing. Which is not who am or was meant to be. Because I love, hear this, I love giving to others. I love giving of myself to others emotionally, spiritually, physically, and materially. But when you give too much to the wrong people you won’t be able to give to the right ones. Jesus referred to that kind of activity as giving pearls to swine. And Jesus didn’t seem to think it was a good idea. After considerable thought and the weight of observable circumstances in my own life I have concluded that Jesus is right. Go figure. And so, to all those people who took advantage of my lack of healthy selfishness and gave nothing in return…

Well, “____ ___ …and the horse you rode in on too.”

The Not Too Distant…: Part 4

Time and love, or the illusion of the same, and what, in the end, is really the difference. How do you begin to say you are sorry to those who gave you their time and their love? How do I say sorry to a young woman who probably, no, certainly, gave me more of each than I deserved? How does one apologize for not loving her enough in return? We all spent time in our youth as if time could be drawn from some inexhaustible account. So how do I say am sorry? Simply, I suppose. I am sorry for the love and time you gave so willing to me: undeserving as I proved myself to be. I hope your life was rewarded for your gentle tenderness which I failed to value.

How do I say thank you to another young woman whose own brokenness and lack of self worth so mirrored my own that the wisdom of her decision to “break things off” actually saved us both. Well, at least, my life? How did she in her own brokenness sense the dangerous precipice to which we had so perilously ventured? How does one reconcile the time given to another who turns out not to reciprocate the love you feel that you feel? For me it has finally occurred to me that she and I were far too close to our own demons and lack of self-worth to ever make a future with one another. The personal demons that brought us together would have eventually consumed us both. And so I must thank her for having the courage I lacked to end the certain tragedy that awaited us had we forced ourselves forward. Which would have only resulted in compounding the lost time each of was destined to expend in meaningless ways. So I simply, say thank you. Thank you for listening to some inner voice of pleading that said, “Don’t do this!” Thank you for both of us. For those two young desperate creatures. Thank you for the years we would have almost certainly wasted in a futile effort to salvage something that was so clearly doomed from go to end very badly.

Part of my recent issue with the passage of time is the time that I have lost with the one person who, as it turns out, was and is and always will be the love of my life. I sometimes find myself lying awake at night desperate to calculate some way to live the rest of our time together well while simultaneously mourning the loss of how we might have lived out our lives had our choices been so much better so much earlier. How do I adequately savor the remaining years we have in a way that honors her and reveals the depth of my love and appreciation for her and all that she has been, meant, and done for me? How do you say thank you enough for being and meaning so much? I don’t really know how to say that well. Merely saying thank you seems like such an insignificant gesture in response to so much for which to be grateful. And yet, there it is, thank you.

The Not Too Distant…: Part 3

When I was in the Marine Corps and stationed on Okinawa I, like many of my fellow Marines, had a picture of an airplane taped inside the door of my wall locker. It was a rough sketch of a passenger airplane. Inside the outline were little numbered squares. Above the airplane was the slogan “Freedom Bird.” The purpose of the sketch was to allow you to countdown the days until you would ship back to the U.S. Oh, to have just one of those days back. To once again stand on the seaside cliffs looking out across the immense beauty of the East China Sea. Oh, to once again stand on those same cliffs as a typhoon draws near and to feel the awesome power of this planet. So many single memories of that year in Asia but the most terrible memory for me is one of waste. Of failing to recognize that great gift of time and place that I had before me and squandered in the looking toward the future when the present was so wonderful and yet overlooked.

Exchanged for coloring in little blocks of numbers… like sand through an hourglass.

The Not Too Distant… Part 2

Before cancer drained the life from my grandmother she was an avid soap opera watcher. When I was a child I lived much of the formative years of early childhood in her home. I can still conjure up detailed images of her sitting in her chair working crossword puzzles and chain smoking her Winstons. Among the pantheon of daily dramas that captivated her one, in particular, never failed to capture my attention. It launched each episode with the startling image of an hourglass with the sand slowly draining to the bottom as the sonorous voice-over intoned, “Like sand through and hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” I did not know then why that phrase caused me such a sense of near panicked and breathless urgency. But I do now. There was something in that, now recognized, warning that even my child’s mind and limited experiential vantage could detect as the deep and enduring value of time. Time made more precious by its passing. A commodity that like a vintage wine becomes more valuable with the passing of years coinciding with tentative reluctance to consume the contents of the bottle.

Time. Oh, how wonderful and yet bittersweet. How much of my life have I wished away waiting for that next big thing? Focused so tragically on what was to come next rather than savoring each moment’s now. Looking past the present instead of sweetly lingering over each moment as if nothing else quite mattered at all because, as it turns out, that is actually the truth.

You cannot un-live a passed over moment just as you cannot live in advance a moment that may never arrive. Now is your life.

The Not Too Distant…: A Series of Meditations

I haven’t blogged in just at a year. But I have spent a great deal of time considering many things. This is the first installment of a series of blogs that are a reflection of my thoughts of the last year. I don’t really feel like I have worked anything out yet…but I am in process.

Part 1: The Not Too Distant…

My wife has a fascination with the Obituaries. I have always found this morbid and for the most part uninteresting. Until recent days. More recently I have noted that men and women whom I admire have died at ages not too distant from my own for my own comfort level. As a result of these observations I have recently begun to ponder my own mortality with an uncomfortable frequency. I wonder when is my own “Best By” date?

I can count and so I know with a kind of distant coolness, whatever that unknown day may be, that each day that does pass draws me closer to that looming date. I have also given a great deal of thought to why this has gained an increasing amount of my attention. Why my thoughts seem to linger on my own sense of mortality whenever the latest announcement of someone’s demise hits the news.

Is it fear of death that drives my concerns? I have considered that and while there is always some fear of the unknown, and death is certainly an area of great unknown, I sense that it is not primarily fear of death but rather a far more insidious terror that lurks in the recesses of my thoughts. This quiet terror creates a far more soul disrupting anguish than the mere fear of mortality. It is the heart rending fear of regret. The darkening sense of a looming failure to have lived life well and the impending sense of the sands of opportunity quickly gaining in velocity toward the bottom of life’s hourglass.

I have hit a point in my life where I find myself questioning nearly every choice I have ever made. And I must admit that the tally sheet isn’t pretty.