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The next right thing


A little while back, something brought this memory to mind:

During the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years my father decided to assign me three summer reads with book reports. From the list he gave me, I first chose Cyrano De Bergerac. Having always been a fan of witty repartee, I enjoyed it immensely. And I’m sure I enjoyed the triumph of the clever and mostly good, if homely, protagonist.

The second book I chose was The Bridge Over San Luis Rey. I suspect that the moral and ethical complexities of the characters, and the place in time that they found themselves in, was beyond my scope of understanding. So though I got the point intellectually, the story didn’t resonate emotionally.

The last book I chose was The Old Man and the Sea. I don’t know if you know the story, and that summer is 30 years gone, so I may get the details slightly off but essentially:

The old man goes out in his boat and hooks the biggest fish of his life, a monster of a fish. For days he struggles to reel it in until finally managing to kill the beast. But the fish is too large to bring on board so he straps it to the side of the boat. Then the sharks start circling. And though he fights them off as he heads back home, they manage to eat so much of his prize that he returns to shore with only the skeleton. I’m not sure, actually, if he drags only bone up onto the sand or if he actually beaches a rotting corpse, its flesh not fit for consumption, a corpse that he must watch decomposing until only bones are left to bleach in the sun. I’m curious as to which scenario occurred. There would certainly be symbolic significance to the either.

But what I do remember is coming down the stairs, distressed and a bit pissed off and railing (delicately) at my pops…”This book is horrible! Horrible!” And he looks at me and asks me in his measured engineer’s way…”What is the theme of the book?” And still sitting in the morass of the unfairness of it all, I tell him…”I have absolutely no idea!” And he says to me…”It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

If you work that hard, if you are that dedicated, if you have tireless purity of intention, then life should just not kick you down.

Over the course of my life this memory has had occasion to return to me. And each time it has, I have failed to fully accept my father’s explanation. Again, intellectually, I can see his argument. But my soul has rejected the notion. If you work that hard, if you are that dedicated, if you have tireless purity of intention, then life should just not kick you down. But this last time the memory returned to me was different. I still wasn’t quite at the point where I could proclaim the truth from rooftops, but it did hit home.

I suspect this new found resonance was due, in no small part, to a singular, and yet not uncomfortable, realization that had come to me a couple few weeks prior, which is—likely as not, I will run out of time before I run out of dream. There’s no defeatism to this statement. It is just math. Given my personality and my circumstance, each phase of my dream takes 3-7 years to roll out. And at 42 I have fewer of those chunks of time available to me than I did when I started dreaming this dream. Also, it’s possible that I might not want to work forever at this dream as hard as I currently work at it. I might, instead, like to learn welding so I can make Calder-esque mobiles. I’ve always had a hankering to do that, too.

The end-goal part of my dream isn’t the important thing.

Perhaps the correlation between the theme of the book and my realization that I will run out of time long before I run out of dream is not perfectly obvious. But, to me, it seems a fairly direct connect. My dream isn’t the important thing. What I mean is, the end-goal part of my dream isn’t the important thing. Some days I feel I’m closer to that goal that I might could be. Some days I feel I should be closer to the goal than I actually am. And if that was all I focused on, I would oscillate between joy and agony on a fairly constant basis.

But what I have accomplished is a result of passion, belief, dedication, hard work, natural talent and a bit of luck...or divine providence...in action. And that is a lovely way to spend one