Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A semi-imaginary conversation

"People never die on schedule."  - Theodore Lorei

Unfortunately, he was right.  My grandpa Ted passed away when I was just twenty years old.  I wish his love of schedules, stemming from his German farmer heritage, would have kept him around a little longer so I could have had a real conversation with him.  The last time I talked with him was a spontaneous visit that will remain a fond memory, yet sometimes I wish I hadn't been so young and intent on talking instead of listening.
He had a wonderful (ooops, lazy writing - he wouldn't stand for that) - he had an intriguing tradition of birthday wisdom.  Every time is was somebody's birthday, him included, they would be required to share some philosophy from where they stood on the road of life.  He would usually stand up from the spaghetti dinner, wander to his bookshelf in the other room...and read the driest, most academic point that was probably quite deep, but always went over my head as a grumbling kid.

  Now, time has passed, and again, people never die on schedule.  As I sit here on what would be his 81st birthday, eating spaghetti with a few of his books on my shelf, listening to another German musician (J.S. Bach, to be precise, and one should always be precise), I think back to a few dreams I've had.  There he is, suddenly returned from the afterlife, just hanging out at a family gathering.

  My mom wrote a blog today about what birthday wisdom he might give today if he could return.  I'd like to put my own words to the idea if I may.  I'm not sure if he'd even say these things, but I've taken what I know of him, mixed it with the shadow of mortality (a bird looking over my left shoulder, if you're into the Carlos Casteneda sort of thing), and applied it to what I know of me.

I picture the two of us sitting in his living room, the freezing March day's gray sky filtering through the sheer curtains.  There he is, in a scratchy flannel shirt, sitting with one leg crossed over the other.  "Would you like a beer, Joshua?"  Walking to the kitchen, he reaches to the bottom shelf on the door of the fridge, where they always used to be.


I don't drink, but this seems like a good time to break that rule.  The smell of the Milwaukee's Best brew rises to greet my nose, as my thumb cracks open the can, and I settle back into the blue rocking chair, ready for a quick conversation - this time, to listen.

"Grandpa, it's your birthday.  That means it's time for birthday wisdom."

We talk and talk, and he laughs that glorious hissing laugh I was so fascinated with as a four year old.  A few sentences stand out.

On goals:  "The small stuff will get done.  Some people won't, but look, you'll pay your bills.  What's the point of what you're trying to do?  Seriously, what's the point?  You need to ask yourself that.  Does it stand up to the bigger plan?   Does it fit in?  How much time do you think you have?  Are you wasting it?  What is your bigger plan?  Does it matter?"

On money:  "It's almost irrelevant.  Once you have an adequate amount, it makes such little difference.  Has it ever brought you lasting happiness?  The pursuit of it can ruin you.  Pursue something else."

On fear:  "How much is fear distracting you from your plan?  Does it really help?  I used to be sure of it.  Now, not so much."

On control.  "Dale Carnegie told me personally in the afterlife that the energy spent on control can be channeled towards productive means that actually accomplish something - the irony is that letting go and refocusing actually empowers one more than trying to control."

On change:  "It happens.  Look what happened to me.  I see now that it can't be avoided.  And it's not so bad, after all."

On worry:  "Stop it.  Immediately."  He walked over to an electrical socket, and stuck a match in it.  "The ignition source has failed to ignite.  I've spent too long worrying about imaginary fires."  I sat, mouth slightly agape, rocked back in my rocking chair, and stopped swirling the half-empty beer can around.

On work:  "It seems that we were made to try and work as hard as possible, not for money, but for the sake of reaching potential."  "You mean like Bruce Springsteen Born to Run?""  "Bruce who?  "Uhhh...never mind."

  "Look, anything less than full effort means less than full potential, and potential doesn't equal money.  It's what we can do.  What can you do?  Again, how much time do you think we have here?  One must run at ...what's it called in mechanics, full throttle?"  "Yeah - yeah, I like that idea."

I had never had a conversation like this, although I can recall the uneasy feeling of being asked a question that I probably knew the answer to, but didn't like.  I had avoided it - and that one time I honestly didn't know where Afghanistan was when I was 7. (To be fair, he wasn't seriously asking, just joking around.)  But as I've grown older, I've realized that these are the questions to stand in the presence of, their light illuminating any weakness of ideas presented.  The substance that snuffs out the light is denial, and it snuffs out pretty much any chance for a real life, too.

My mind had grown too busy with my own thoughts, and I reluctantly bid him good-bye.  We shook hands - and then I pulled him in for a hug, his shirt scratching my face and smelling like a warm car in the summer one last time.  I drove away, and suddenly smacked the steering wheel.  "Man, I didn't tell him about all the stuff I've been doing!"  Glancing in the rear-view mirror, I saw him waving with one hand, standing in his slippers in the cold. That's funny - it's almost as if he was waving me forward.  Not away, mind you (although I'm sure he had a schedule to keep), but forward.  

  And it's forward we must all go - forward with the lessons, mistakes, triumphs, and experiments our ancestors make in this thing called life - forward we must go, to make our own.  I wonder what my grandson will blog about.  How about yours?  What would you say?  And most importantly - why aren't we right now?

Thanks, grandpa.  Happy Birthday.

- Josh(ua)  

1 comment:

terri st. cloud said...

i cried. but it was a good cry....