Just because this old tortoise has been on the planet for, well, let’s say five decades, doesn’t mean he can’t recall his twenties. Oh, I can recall them and my thirties, too. In one of those periods I resolved to never reject a new experience in order that I would never regret a road not taken. That’s how I decided for one summer to work in a German tire factory and hitchhike across Europe, to become a Naval officer, to drop a corporate management training program and go to grad school.
Like Huck Finn I lit out for the “Injun territory.” In my case it was for Idaho State University and a fellowship which required that I tutor Indians on the Bannock-Shoshone reservation. I found the flyer on a bulletin board at Cal State Hayward where I was making up an English major. “Why not?” I said aloud to the empty corridor.
I loved Pocatello, the Gem State, big skies and high elevated desert. On a good day I could see the Lost River Range — or I thought I could anyway. That’s what really mattered in those days: imagination; and literature studies reinforced my drive. That year in Idaho was the most halcyon time of my life — better than sandboxes and childhood. It was also the second phase of a rebellion and I did it at the disgust of parents and my first spouse. When I pulled into Pocatello, “Revolution” was playing on the juke box at the Pizza Hut and I was 27.
But something like regret came later, but not regarding Idaho, the choice of grad school or the post-graduate study. No, it was more like sorrow, yes, that’s it, sorrow after my defeat by the PhD Octopus which conquered this hero. I was sorrowful over realities encountered and truths needed to be understood and then accepted. Of course, denial and rationalization, even some blaming set in.
My resolution to never hesitate to take a new road was fine. What I did not take into account, because I could not at that age, was the infinite number of roads there are. A man cannot take them all and he must choose. As my stepmother said, “Trim your wicks, add to your talents and get moving.” That was good advice and I hated her for it. But the denial and the blaming went on and for too long. I wish my recovery had not taken so long . . . nay I have not totally recovered an earlier state of innocence. I have been changed forever. One cannot regret such change anymore than an oak can regret the last year of acorns. To do so is not regret. It is denying life itself and that I will not do.
You see, the gods ensure that we are heroes in youth. They give us adequate reason and the ability to accumulate ideas, facts and dreams. They make us fighter pilots and put us like George Custer in front of a cavalry unit with courage and yes, foolhardiness, to attack the enemy — just enough broiling brine inside to get us in deep trouble. And that’s it then, isn’t it? Youth act without much reflection and they’re often very useful in that capacity. If you should be Keats or Shelley, you produce beautiful, sensuous poetry before you’re thirty. If you’re as good as those two, you are a kind of god, at least immortal in memory.
But the gods hold something back. No one gets discernment when he’s young. Again from my hundred year old Webster’s dictionary, I’m writing about the “power of viewing differences in objects and their relations and tendencies.” Like the ultimate taste of a fine wine in its time, this power comes with aging. Sorry, it’s a rule.
A young woman or man can view differences in objects and even take notes, but they will be superficial like physical attractiveness in a potential mate, the size of a house, the sportiness of a car, the glamor of career and the titillation of life itself. Understanding of relations and tendencies of objects starts in the merest apprehension of clues and proceeds onward to comprehension. How long does it take to learn that the handsome or pretty can mask meanness; and oh so very long to learn that the homely can hide unique beauty.
It’s a cliche, I know — too soon old and too late smart. On the half-full side of things, can it not be a kind of promise. Heaven for me would be as when I was a child and could take endless rides on the merry-go-r0und, each round being as exhilarating as the last and as promising as the next. Why all this unfinished work? Why all this late life wisdom so boring to youth, if not to go around again. I believe it. Nothing is lost in Nature.
Steadfast and cautious,
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