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More past than future

There are so few days left.

That’s the feeling I get when I meet with my compatriots. Some are my age, or almost. Others are much younger. Either way, my mortality shifts before me like a vision. When they are as old as me or older, I’m reminded how little lies before us compared to what’s behind. I meet with younger people and I remember where I was at their age. And then I realize it wasn’t that long ago.

This isn’t like watching movies set in other times, past or future. The illusion of timelessness that living in the moment creates can’t stand up to the memories of what once was. I’m overwhelmed by memory. My past inundates me. I regret the shortness of temper I used to have. Misplaced words and inappropriate behavior sting me.

But I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made. I could have done some things better. I might have made better choices. Each decision, however, put life on a new track. And since I’m in a good spot right now, I can’t say to myself that I want to redo something.

On that same note, I don’t want to go back and relive any of my life. My childhood was too arbitrary. I recall the uncertainty and anxiety of youth, the way I could depend on nothing, not parents, siblings, relatives, friends. To be fair to them, I realize now just how much they had to face. Fear, worry, indecisiveness plagued them. They had enough to deal with to have to wrestle with my need for security and comfort, stability.

I think, too, about the weighty years of my 20s. I did a lot, saw more, traveled much. Those years produced the personality I have today. A decade of drunkenness forged my hopeful nature, wide-eyed wonder, and love of my fellow human beings. It should have worked differently. I know people whose pasts in their drinking and drugging days, whose addictions produced cynicism and lack of hope. But for some reason, the self-degradation and self-destruction gave me a cheerier outlook. Maybe, my experience formed an understanding for the foibles and failings of others.

Certainly, when I came out on the other side of addiction, I found the capacity for forgiveness. After all, I needed clemency for the many relationships (and cars) I wrecked. A drunk leaves behind a wake of detritus in hurt feelings, bitter people, and broken associations. I did all that. I hurt people with my own selfishness. I left heartache and woe behind as I pursued my addiction with the kind of single-minded obsession peculiar to the substance abuser.

I certainly don’t want to relive the first years of sobriety. I hold a certain nostalgia for that time. Things were simple. Get up. Go to work. Go to meetings. Don’t drink. Life had a direction born of years of wandering one thing to another, one grand scheme to the next. But it was hard. To come into the world a grown man with the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old was one of the greatest conundrums I ever had to face, and I have no desire to do it again.

Since that time, there’s a continuum, a kind of order to things. Career decisions made in the spur of the moment have had life-long consequences. I’ve bounced from one thing to another like a pinball in a pinball machine, outside forces determining what my next move would be.

Or was it really like that? Maybe, I’ve gotten into one thing and then another because something interested me, kept my attention for awhile, and then faded from view when my interest failed. Yes, I think that’sit. I’ve made my choices. It’s not that they have been the right decisions or that they were meant to work out. Rather, I find myself adapting to the changes my decisions have wrought.

That’s what I see when I get together for people older than me. They have adapted well or not, depending. They often see themselves in the right. Sometimes they believe the world has done them wrong. Frequently, they believe the problem with the world is younger people who just don’t respect their elders. They understand somehow they know more than anyone else.

This mental ossification has skipped me. Perhaps, the young people who surround me in my work have delivered me from such hardening of thought processes. I treat them as adults, not as a superior would. I listen to their exigencies and hopes and dreams. Facing young people who really believe they can save the world or change it in ways I failed at refreshes me. Who knows. They may just be able to pull it off.

At the same time, the vagaries of the 20s plague them. Broken down cars, grandparents dying, parents separating. They have to work two jobs to make school work, and, somewhere, find the time to study. I can well see myself in their shoes. I used to wear those same shoes. I’ve been in their positions before. I find myself empathizing with them and offering my experience. That’s all I have. It’s all that works. No one likes being talked down to.

In these young people, I also understand the vagaries of aging. They remind me what I faced when I was their age. I never say, “Had I known then what I know now . . .” I appreciate the great range of possibilities once presented to me and how my life narrowed over time. I don’t regret any of the things I shied away from. Instead, I say to myself, “Hey, I didn’t do that in the past because I was scared. I’m going to give it a shot.”

I just turned 56 a few weeks ago—still young in the eyes of many people. But I have been to more funerals than I would have liked. Objectively, my age gives me about twenty good years. Two decades ago, I was newly married, working my dream job and at the height of my success at that job. We had no money. We watched every penny. Much has changed. Now, we don’t have to struggle, at least not like we used to. We have one grown kid who’s doing well for herself. We have another who’s growing into a fine, self-sufficient person. He has a long way to go, but he will be fine.

Will the next twenty years bring us as much change as the last two decades, I wonder. I have already bemoaned on this website the passage of time and how it speeds up the older I get. It happens to everyone. When I think about it, the shortness of time causes melancholy. It’s not sadness but a contemplativeness. Then, it’s puts me to the mood of getting busy with what’s in front of me.

My daily challenge: Can I make the most of what’s left?

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