It must have been when I received the last class reunion announcement when I started thinking more about the future.
It was last year sometime when an email wound its way through the ether, bouncing from inbox to inbox until someone ended up forwarding it on to me. I remember thinking, “how did they find me?” I then recalled that despite my best efforts a few years ago before the previous reunion, they managed to find me at that time as well. Although I contend that they cheated as they simply ended up mailing the invitation to my parents‘ house so the next time I called the folks, my mother had the pleasure of reading to me the plated menu on offer for the reunion dinner.
Perhaps it was this reminder of time pressing onward that spurred my mind to ponder my life in the scope of the grand scheme of things. That along with the physical reminders of my own mortality, which were manifested in the broken elbow of last autumn and the continued grey hairs, all brought the finite-ness of my life into sharp relief. It is somewhat difficult to take the long view when one’s time on this earth number a handful of decades, but a true attempt at reflection never hurt anyone.
However, I am not sure how true this reflection has been. It has mostly taken the form of brief memories and quick flashbacks between telephone calls, meetings, and catching the next train to wherever. As a matter of fact, I find myself composing this as I sit freezing on a platform, waiting for a train, and enjoying the complimentary diesel fumes provided by Britain’s fine National Rail Service.
I suppose it is only when my mind goes into an idle state that this idea of the passing of years comes back to me. When I am working I have a task at hand with which to occupy my mind, and when I am at home, I am able to engage myself in much more fulfilling enterprises. But when I am traveling for work, I have nothing but time. And the iPod only has so much charge.
At reflective times like this, I occasionally have a flash of a memory of when I was eighteen. In that year I was having the time of my life. I had a girlfriend, a job, a car at my disposal, and an acceptance letter from the school of my dreams. I was beginning to enjoy the freedom offered to a young adult and was enjoying every minute of it. I recall one night at work, I was closing up the shop and counting the minutes until I could drive home, shower, and then call on my lady friend. As with any group of teenagers, there was the epic battle in the shop regarding who would control the radio station that was playing. Growing up in a small town one either had country, the latest mass-produced, designed-by-committee pop, or classic rock. The classic rock camp was triumphant that day, and as the BTO wound down, they queued up Bryan Adam’s seminal work Summer of ’69. Although I had heard it before (it was probably played about five times daily on that station, funny how when given a radio station‘s playlist that “classic rock” seems to be distilled down to about two-hundred or so specific songs), something struck me about that song on that night. Mop in hand I began thinking, “you know what, these really are the best days of my life.” It was a typical coming of age feeling, I suppose. A young man who was finally starting to get a feel for himself and starting to control his own life after those awful, awkward early- (mid-, late-) teenage years.
What I have since come to realize is that those were the best days of my life at that time. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much other life upon which to look back fondly. I was eighteen and if at that time I had been longing for my He-Man figures and watching the latest Dukes of Hazzard, there would have been something seriously wrong with me (disclaimer: I do this now, though I consider it simple nostalgia). Beginning when I moved away to college I began to appreciate the wisdom that a bit more age gives a person. Okay, so wisdom is a strong word. How about less-than-ignorant? It seems to me that with the more knowledge and experience one has, the more enjoyable life can be. I have yet to understand the fallacy that is the wish expressed by so many people that if they could relive their teenage years they would do so all over again. I would sooner relive my broken elbow along with a kick in the ‘nads for good measure than have to suffer through those times again.
I certainly acknowledge the great times I had back in the day, but those were experienced within the context of being a young adult. I spoke of the sense of freedom and excitement that I felt then and that was certainly what I enjoyed in relation to the previous seventeen years of my life. But let’s face it, I had no skills, no experience, was working a minimum wage job, and driving a car that nearly killed me several times that summer. What I perceived was that I had a great life. What I really had was something else entirely.
I do not mean to belittle those feelings or make them sound as though they weren’t true or meant less than they really did. The emotions of youth can be some of the most powerful one experiences in life. And just because I think I know more now does not make those experiences any less valid or worthwhile.
However given the wonderful additional experiences I have had since then and given all of the knowledge that I have gained, why on earth would I want to turn back the clock? I would much rather go home after a long day of work and forget about my responsibilities until eight o’clock the next morning than worry about homework or studying. I would much rather watch my personal wealth grow and plan for the future than cash a minimum wage check. I would rather spend my days doing meaningful work, advancing my career than be occupied by some menial part time job twenty hours a week. Sorry mom and dad, but I would rather live by my own rules and build my own home before EVER living with you again. I would rather go home each day to the woman I truly love than pursue what I naïvely think is love.
But what about the freedom and carefreeness that a teenager enjoys? Being carefree is a sign of either being an ignorant youth or a vagrant. And freedom is the ability to look back on all of the bone-headed things one has done and use that knowledge to build a better future for one’s self and the people one cares about.
Still I find myself at times contemplating several what-if scenarios. I suspect it comes with the wisdom that growing older brings a person. I find that at times, given what I know now, I have a hard time accepting some of the stupid things I did as a youth. Things I should have said, things I shouldn’t have said. Opportunities I missed and things I should have never tried. When playing such mental games, it is at times very difficult to remember who that person was that made those choices. Would I recognize or like this person if I met him today? This is one mental game I do not like to play.
So I find myself wondering what would have happened if. At times I replay some critical moments of my youth and yes I am vindictive as well, imagining telling people off when I rightly should have.
Although I admit that this can all be very good and fun and at times cathartic, whenever it is over and my focus returns from being lost in the distant past, I think about how those decisions made me who I am today and how I am grateful for them. I have no need to relive these times again, much less change them, because I have the knowledge already of where they brought me.
And after all of this, I think about what the young man of eighteen would think about the man of today. It is then that I realize that he would scarcely believe what he would become. This is the reminder that I occasionally need to reflect upon how lucky I am for what I have had and be thankful for the blessings I have experienced. Thinking of where I have been and how far I have come, I think of the future and grow excited for what it might hold. Although dwelling in the past dooms one to never escape it, it is also only by looking back that one can see how far he has come.
As one passes into old age, I am sure that such reflections and reminiscences become more frequent, especially as one’s physical activity decreases. However I would still argue that by living a truly fulfilled life, there is no need to do it all over again, even as an elderly man or woman. And perhaps this is what Mr. Adams was singing about. Although I don’t really know. Truth be told I know little about Bryan Adams. Let’s face it: his music sucks.
Well said, my friend.