March 27, 2019

What We Are Not Now

Six decades is a long time.  I know this, having lived a little bit longer than that now.  Well, it is and it isn't.  60 years is certainly long enough to have been through a lot of things that are well back in my yesterdays, and to have been a lot of things that I am not anymore.  I was young once.  Energetic.  Bright.  Thin.  Poor but not impoverished.  Practically everything was a first.  Life was exciting and interesting and new, and I had time enough and hope enough to think I could conquer the world, or at least a little part of it.

Whatever hasn't been conquered, well, to hell with it.  Just give me a cold beer and a place to sit down.  I'm not dead yet, but I'm not what I used to be.  Crosby Stills & Nash used to sing: "Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now."  But really, until we are also plagued with dementia, how can we not?  

Don't misunderstand me, I am not complaining.  I have nothing to complain about.  Life is good.  My life is good.  I have been very blessed.  Still, one thinks about the ironies.  Like, once I spent a lot of time chasing after money on the theory that having money would make me happier.  And I am happy to have some money, but looking back on it, the happiest times of my life were those days before I had any money.  And now?  Like so many others, I'd gladly trade some of my money to get back some of the time I spent chasing the money.  The good years.  The healthy years.  The by-gone years.  Huh?  Talk about post-purchase dissonance.

Fishing has been an important part of my life, and an important occupier of my time.  So I like the fishing metaphors.  Like, if you spent the whole day fishing but didn't catch any fish, was it time well spent?  Did you enjoy it?  You know, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.  But you know, the best days of fishing were the ones when you caught a lot of fish, and the super special ones when you caught  a monster!  

It makes me tired to think about how hard I used to work to get to some of the best fishing spots.  Hiking in the mountains for days with a 50 pound backpack.  Crawling through brush on my hands and knees.  Hauling boats and gear to hard-to-reach water.  Shoot, I can't even lift the 50 pound pack anymore without getting a hernia.  I ain't crawling through brush to get fish! And I ain't sitting squished all day in a tiny boat smaller than my bathtub. We can just buy some fish at Alioto's or Stagnaro Brothers or Save Mart or Long John Silver's, or wherever we can get fish without hauling or crawling or squishing.

I am reminded of a time, about 15 years ago, when I was fishing at Huntington Lake with my late father-in-law.  He was about 75 years old, then, but not in good health.  When the pole I set up for him started bouncing with a Rainbow he got up from his lawn chair to go reel it in, and I stood with him because he wasn't too stable on his feet then, and the ground sloped pretty steeply toward the lake.  When he reeled the fish up to the edge of the shore he started to take a step forward to go get the fish, and would have fallen if I hadn't grabbed his belt loop and pulled him back.  

So this is what I see: I am headed inexorably down this slippery slope, from 50 pound packs to 50 extra pounds; from crawling through brush in the wilderness to limping around the house wishin' I was fishin'; from sitting in small boats hard-hauled in to exotic waters to sitting in lawn chairs by the road around the lake with the rest of the ho-hum crowd too lazy or unable to work for it; from let's go catch a big one to lets go get some Long John Silver's fish and chips from their drive-through.

Sixty some years gone by and, for sure I am not now what I used to be.  Of course, I never was, and probably never will be.  I finally see clearly that I am headed down the slippery slope of decline into the abyss, and today I have decided to  answer one of the age-old questions that occupy the minds of philosophers:  Why Are We Here?  Or, more personally, why am I here?

Aw hell!  Just rushed into the kitchen to get something, then stood there for a minute trying to remember what, couldn't remember, and came back.  This figuring and philosophizing is too much for me now.  I think I'll just go throw my lawn chair in the back of the truck and head out to the fishing hole.   You know, the one by the road.

March 10, 2019

Not The Ideal Man

I am not the ideal man.  Not even close.  It has taken me years of self-realization and gradual attitude adjustment to come to this awareness and to be able to come right out and say it.  But there it is.  I said it, and I meant it.  Whew!

My imperfection, I have learned (or part of it, anyway), stems from having an introvert-oriented personality.  Being with other people, especially larger groups of people, wears me out.  Exhausts me, in some cases.  I have been known to disappear without explanation from parties held at my own house.  My own house!  Just retire to my own room and go to sleep without a word to our guests.  No good-bye, no good-night.  Now you see me, now you don't.

I used to have a sign over the door jamb of our front door which you would notice on your way out.  It said:  "All people bring joy to this house: Some bring joy when they come; Some bring joy when they leave."  I used to think of that as generically funny.  But these days, no matter how much I like the people who visit me, I am always joyful when they leave.

This type of anti-social behavior tends to make people think I don't like them.  Most of the time, they are wrong.  I do like other people.  Strangers, even.  I even like to be with them, but I prefer them in smaller doses of group size and smaller doses of time.

This introversion thing has also made me less than an ideal Christian.  Frankly, I don't like to go to Church anymore.  I don't want to serve on committees or boards or teach classes.  I sure don't want to go door to door spreading the gospel.  Oh, going to Church would be okay if nobody tried to talk to me afterwards.  But they always do.  I have taken to sneaking in a few minutes late and sneaking out the back door while the last verse of the last hymn is still being sung.  God must be disappointed.

Additionally, as an introvert, my prospects of achieving great success in my several careers was severely limited.  You need to be outspoken and bold, engaging and engaged with people to rise up.  You at least have to answer the phone!  I did some of that, but it was hard.  Now that I understand some of my limitations, I often think I could have been quite successful if I hadn't been introverted.  Well, okay, and also not lazy and depressed and a rebel, but those are topics for another day.

According to author Susan Cain, who wrote the book Quiet, The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking, the American version of The Ideal Man (Person) has shifted.  We used to think of The Ideal Man as a person of strong moral character.  "What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private."  That has changed, and  now The Ideal Man is bold and entertaining and has a great personality.  An outgoing silver-tongued salesman, even one who stretches the truth (lies) is now valued more, and seen as both more intelligent and more powerful, than the quiet person of character.  Cain refers to this type of man as the "mighty likable fellow."

My late wife, Sue, and I both did not fully understand these personality "defects" that made me less than The Ideal Man.  Apparently, neither did our daughters.  When I started dating again after Sue's passing, I still remember my 20 something year old daughters telling my girlfriend, Cheri (now my wife of eight years), "he seems like a good guy, but just wait until you see what he's really like."  Really?  Their implication about me does ring a little bit true; I can be a "mighty likable fellow" for a while, anyway, but it can't be sustained.  Well, maybe I'm not The Ideal Man, but I'm not an ogre.

Over the years as I came to understand my tendencies toward introversion, I changed the way I worked and interacted with people.  I started a company and empowered my capable and extroverted employees to be the company's interface with the world.  Now they interact with the public and answer the phones and hardly anybody even wants to talk to me.  It's a win-win.  I know the limitations of my energy reserves when socializing or doing business with other people, and I do a better job of charging my batteries and not running completely out of people power.

I haven't finished the Quiet book yet, but I'm pretty sure Cain ends up saying it's okay to be an introvert and that we introverts have some valuable things to offer the world and our fellow beings.   I didn't really need Susan Cain to tell me that I'm okay, but I am reading her book to gain some new insights into my limitations and strengths. 

I have a really good life and I am comfortable with who I am.  I am grateful to God for what I have and what I am, and for mercy for what I am not and where I fall short.  On this last point, I have always kind of thought that, if you do happen to think that you are The Ideal Man, maybe you don't really grasp the concept of the Gospels of the New Testament that we all fall short of the glory of God and require the mercy of forgiveness.  Perhaps none of us are The Ideal Man?  Just a thought.

December 1, 2018

The Loneliest Road(s) In America

For Thanksgiving 2018 Cheri and I took a little road trip to Denver, Colorado.  My/our youngest daughter, Valerie, and her husband, Matt, moved from Dallas to Denver last year.  They have a nice house and a nice life.  My/our other Harper daughter, Jessica, flew in from Idaho.  She has a nice house and a nice life in Idaho, but more on that below.

Our road trip to Denver took us from the San Joaquin Valley of California to Lake Tahoe, over the I-80 to Reno, across Nevada and Utah to Salt Lake City, and partway to Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Snowstorms closed the I-80 and we had to backtrack and take a different route.  We ended up forging our way on a snowy and icy two-lane road (Wyoming 430) wending through some of the loneliest parts of Southern Wyoming south of Rock Springs.  Cheri's all-wheel drive car was up to the task, but I could imagine sliding off the road, being buried by snow, and not being found until some cattle rancher found us at the spring thaw.  At the border of Wyoming and Colorado, the road became a dirt road (Colorado 10 North) wending through some of the loneliest territory in Northwest Colorado.  We made it back to civilization and on down to Denver.  Along the way we saw some really beautiful country we did not expect to see, and would never have seen but for an unexpected road closure.

Including Cheri's three kids (and their families), our blended family now boasts five "kids" in five different states -- Pennsylvania, Indiana, Colorado, Idaho and California.  We both love all five of our 30-something kids and their families and are glad to have them all in our lives.  The circumstances that brought Cheri and I together and blended our families was something like the road closure on I-80.  The way we planned to go was blocked, and a new way had to be found.  The paths of our lives are not what we intended, but we have experienced unexpected beauty along our new paths.  

Some of our friends have all of their family surrounding them within a short distance.  They needn't plan so carefully or spend so much time or money to get together, so they see each other often.  This is how it was with my parents and siblings for a number of years, and I imagined it would be this way for my family, as well.  Perhaps it would be this way if Sue hadn't died from complications of cancer in 2010.  Perhaps not.  The last book Sue read was by Maya Angelou, and I love the Maya Angelou quote on the page I found marked:  If you don't like something, change it.  If you can't change it, change your attitude.

 Five kids in five states is an opportunity.  We also love the beauty and diversity of the lands of these great United States, and having five kids in five states gives us more opportunity to see more of what's out there.  Denver and Boulder boast some of the finest scenic mountain environs, and while we were out there visiting we got out and reveled in some of the beauty.

Sue has a cousin, Chris, who lives in Denver not too far from where Valerie and Matt settled.  Both of my daughters, Valerie and Jessica, have enjoyed getting to know their 2nd cousin, Chris.  Chris had a road-closure-life-detour experience himself recently when his wife also passed from cancer.  Chris is a gem of a nice guy and a long-time professional chef.  He, along with his good friend, Madeline, cooked Thanksgiving dinner, and Madeline hosted us at her beautiful house.  King Solomon, in all his glory, never "ate so good!" (Cheri made three awesome pies to close the evening.)  Madeline is a gracious and accomplished person, ironically an oncologist, and it was a pleasure to meet her.  We enjoyed several fun outings with Chris and Madeline while we were in Denver.

Speaking of road closures and detours in life, in the summer of 2018 Jessica's husband of 8 years decided he didn't want to be married anymore.  This had the potential to be a crushingly lonely road for Jessica.  However,  since she couldn't change the way things were, she has changed her attitude beautifully.  She has a good teaching job in Idaho with great co-workers, good friends in Idaho, a nice house in Idaho, and supportive family and friends scattered around the country.  And a cute little dog named Rico.  While it is not the path she planned, the detour will take her many beautiful places she never expected to go, and would not have gone had the road not been unexpectedly closed.

Our journey home to California from Denver put us onto U.S. Route 50, a road Time Magazine described as "The Backbone of America."  We were on the stretch of U.S.Route 50 running through Nevada, which is known as "The Loneliest Road In America."  We stayed on Route 50 all the way to Carson City, Nevada, and then to Lake Tahoe.  And, in places, like some unexpected and unwanted moments of our lives, it is a lonely road; but my goodness, it is beautiful.