Life’s Too Short: The Sad Truth that the Past is an Imaginary Place We Can Never Return To

About a year ago I was watching American Idol and Simon was interrogating one of the male contestants on why he wants to become a professional singer. The man explained he has a wife and a kid and he wants to be sure they’re taken care of financially. Simon asked the man again, “I get that, but WHY do you want to be a singer?” The man again explained it was because he has a wife and a kid… then Simon (who was obviously looking for an answer involving the man’s passion for music, etc.) cut him off with, “I get that, just sing for us.”

We focus so much on “right now”. Chances are, you’re never going to have enough money. Because once you do, you’re going to buy a bigger house or find a new way to get yourself in debt. Money is never enough.

Chances are, you’re never going to have enough time. America has set so much pressure on its people to be thin and in shape, yet it remains one of the most overweight countries in the world. We’re too busy to eat the right foods and to exercise, so instead of making time to be healthy, 74% of the population is overweight but carries the heavy burden of wanting to look like Jennifer Anniston or Brad Pitt, two people who are paid to make time to live healthy lifestyles. So obviously if we as a nation don’t have enough time to be healthy, we’re never going to have enough time.

Maybe I’m weird for not questioning the meaning life, but it’s never really been an issue for me. I’ve just always kind of known. I’ve understood since the age of six that this life is barely a speck of dust in comparison to the life after this. I’ve understood that God has blessed us with friends and family and we need to value them like the precious a gift they are. I’ve understood, more importantly, that God loves us and what it really comes down to our relationship with Him.  Even that goes back to loving people.

I subscribe to a magazine called Details. The thing I like most about it is its unique, random, and yet relevant articles. I realize as someone who earned a degree in English that quotes are only supposed to be a few lines, but for this I will cheat:

“…I climbed eagerly abroad this one-way rocket to Death in Adulthood and left the planet of my childhood forever in starry wake. I know this. My grandparents, my boyhood bedroom furniture… I will never see those or a million things again. And yet, lurking somewhere in the back of my mind is the unshakable, even foundational knowledge- for which certainty is too conscious a term- that at some unspecified future date, by unspecified means, I will return to those people and those locales. That I am going back. No, that’s false. The delusion is not really that I believe, or trust, that I will be returning one day to the planet of childhood…”
– an excerpt from “Time Bandits” by Michael Chabon

my Italian grandfather, Albert Metallo

Only a few weeks after I got married last July, my Italian grandfather died. He is the only one of my grandparents I have lost. Only second to my dad, he had the most influence on me as far as what it means to be a man. I know a lot of the reason I randomly talk to strangers in public is because of him. He always did it. I learned from him that much heaven can be found in spending hours working in a garden and then being able to enjoy the beauty of it. (Even though I don’t yet have a house with a yard.) It was because of his decision to move from Buffalo, NY to Fort Payne, AL in 1973 that I am alive. Otherwise my parents wouldn’t have met.

Like that article reminds me, all those weekends I spent at his house in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s as a kid are only now a memory. He would push me and my sister down the hill in his front yard in barrels. Then when we got too dizzy, he would get in the barrel and make us push him down the hill. We would do that for hours it seemed.

Then he would take us to Burger King for lunch. We would sit next to the window right by the drive-thru and he would make funny faces at the people waiting in the drive-thru. It was hilarious to see a man in his sixties being so goofy in public.

We would go back to his house and he would watch taped professional wrestling from the night before (WWF- Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Vince McMahon… the whole gang) and we would get out the toys (which were Styrofoam blocks). After about 15 minutes of my sister and me playing, and him watching wrestling, he pick up some of our Styrofoam blocks and throw them at our heads. Which would start an all out war in the living room. Then we would sneeze for 15 minutes afterwards from all the dust in the air from those blocks.

He had a bathroom closet full of nothing but bars of soap. And a freezer full of freezer-burnt TV dinners and ice cream bars, which were a treat to us. He wore a flannel shirt, navy pants, and black shoes no matter the occasion. Except for my sister’s wedding, which he wore a tux and sunglasses. He really looked like he was part of the mafia.

And all these strange and funny memories make up who he was to me. There is a major importance to “showing up to life”. He definitely did that. He was always there for every family get-together and would look for an excuse to visit our family, like bringing over a junky knick-knack he bought at a yard sale the weekend before. He knew what life was really about.

I was watching my favorite movie, Garden State, recently and though I’ve seen it probably at least ten times, I heard (and finally processed) what is one of the major themes of the movie:

“You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.
…It just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y2snCNXT2k

I’ll always have that sense of “home” when I think of my grandfather. I still have a lot of family and friends whom I still have that sense of home with. Despite whatever shortage of money or time, despite whatever amount of stress or chaos calls for, life is too short to worry. And if you feel you must worry, pray instead.

Classic song…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6xMqo3wFxw

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The Realistic Fear of Being Awkward in Public

 

Growing up in a relatively small Baptist church, I know that overwhelming feeling of awkwardness I would get during at least one Sunday a month when the “special music” (the solo) is sung by someone who causes a deacon to utter “bless ‘em Lord” instead of “Amen!”. The kind of soloist that makes you look around for Simon Cowell to save the day. The kind of song that has a weird flute solo after the 2nd verse, and painfully ends with nothing but music for a full minute after the singing part is finished, leaving the soloist to either engage in a staring contest with the congregation or recite a somewhat related Bible verse to fill the gap.

I think I was scarred psychologically from it. My hands would always start shaking and my sister would have to whisper/shout for me to stop before I realized I was beginning to make a scene. It is very, very difficult for me to deal with situations like that.  Recently watching Clint Black auctioning jewelry on The Apprentice on Sunday gave me a fresh image of this kind of awfulness.

Maybe I’m just too empathetic. Maybe more than the average person, I too easily put myself in other people’s shoes. Maybe the reason this situation makes me so nervous is that I have a hidden fear of being in front of people with nothing to say or do. Many people have this nightmare that they are naked in public. But it’s the fear of public awkwardness that terrifies me.