How would you change your life?

The big tree at Big Tree Park, Glendora, CA. CarolAnn and I lived half a block away. Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

How would you change your life if you could have a total do-over?

The idea of going into the past to change history is science fiction meat and potatoes. It teaches us the time travel paradox: if you went back in time and killed your grandfather you would no longer exist and therefore could not go back in time to kill your grandfather.

Let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Just ask yourself, what would you do differently if you could?

I wouldn’t change a second of my childhood. It was a wonderful childhood. I loved my parents deeply and they loved me. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s was the ideal age of innocence, security and adventure.

I wouldn’t change my first marriage, either. Yes, we got married too young but if we had waited chances are it wouldn’t have happened at all and our son would not have been born. That would be a terrible loss for us and for the world he grew into. Besides, we were young and in love, each of us for the first time. Who would give that up? Would you erase your first love?

I have many fond memories of that time in my life. Our marriage didn’t fail, it just ended so we could both move on.

Between marriages I lived life large with a million laughs and many friends.  I had those so-called wild times that people usually have when they’re ten years younger than I was. It wasn’t perfect but it was a lot of fun. I was catching up on my life lessons. I wouldn’t change a moment.

The wild times led me to CarolAnn. We met in a honky tonk. She likes to emphasize the fact that we met on a country swing dance team but the fact is if I hadn’t gone into that bar for some beers, neither knowing about nor interested in a dance team, I would never have met the love of my life.

I’ve had pain and sorrow, disappointments and screwups. Those things are important. They teach us perspective and push us into the next phase of our lives. The decisions we make, the choices of whether to turn left, right or go straight are what matters. Those decisions are informed by our experience.

If I could do it all over again I’d change just one moment. I wouldn’t climb up on that roof December 13, 1990.  Falling has given me 29 years of pain and denied CarolAnn the opportunity of dancing with her husband the way we used to.

I’d change that in a heartbeat but nothing else.

What would you change if you got a total do-over?

 

Cough drops

by Dave Williams

I’ve had a chronic cough since just before Thanksgiving, 14 weeks to be exact. That’s a long time for a cough to linger and I’ve not ignored it. After two visits to my doctor, a chest x-ray (turned out clear) and a passel of expensive steroidal and antibiotic prescriptions and inhalers, to say nothing of a hundred bucks worth of over the counter cough syrups, suppressants and antihistamines, I’m still coughing. My doctor is a learned and experienced man but he’s stumped. He’s talking about sending me to a pulmonologist. (I had to look it up: that’s a specialist in respiratory matters.)

I’m not writing this because I’m worried about my cough. I’m just taking note of this moment in my life. At 67 I’m experiencing something totally new: the unexpected idea that I may be entering an age of increasing infirmity, of nagging pains and niggling problems that I might have to drag around to the end of my days.

I rarely get sick, not even a cold, but suddenly I’m starting to feel a bit frail for the first time. Coughing wears you out and makes you think.

Roughly 40 years ago I suddenly realized that I would never play baseball again. Real baseball, I mean. Unwillingly I made the transition from hard-breaking fastballs to the high arcing lobs of a bigger, softer target. Slow-pitch softball is fun but it’s not baseball.  Now, a couple of decades later I miss them both.

About 20 years ago I was suddenly relieved of the daily responsibility of parenting. Our oldest son was married and our youngest son had just moved out. CarolAnn and I celebrated our freedom as new empty-nesters. We loved it yet we missed having children in the house. Family time became the two of us time, which is wonderful though still bittersweet. We will always miss our boys.

There have been other life transitions of course, less notable and too numerous to mention. The thing is, after nearly 70 years of living I’m starting to see a pattern, a constant ending and renewal of a single life’s experiences and perspectives. In 1984 author Gail Sheehy kicked off her enormously successful series of books about the subject she called Passages.

From toddler hood to old age we who are lucky enough to live long lives are constantly saying goodbye to one time of life and entering the next with some trepidation. That’s the excitement of the journey. With great luck, or by design if you prefer, life is a very long road of wondrous yet worrisome discovery.

I feel like a slow student, coming to this realization as recently as I have but I’ve been too busy living to take notice of passages. I’m just now beginning to understand something that should have been obvious:

Lives are lived as chapters of precious stories belonging to the world and yet as unique as ourselves.

I don’t miss baseball as much as I did 40 years ago. And frankly, though I will always enjoy memories of having our boys at home, I’ve gotten over wistful nostalgia pretty well and cherish my daily solitude with CarolAnn more than ever.

This cough is forcing me to hire a younger man to do my yard work. I hope that’s just temporary but the fact is I may never mow a lawn again. That seems trivial but I’m starting to miss trivial things as well as the big, profound stuff. At the same time I’m learning to shrug off the life I’ve known for whatever surprises come next. We all are.

Life is a kaleidoscope. Every slight turn brings a shift in perspective and a dazzling new view of the world we’ve always held.

If this all sounds a little loopy, just blame the meds.

Sunrise and old men at McDonalds

by Dave Williams

Sunrise at McDonalds. Burkburnett, Texas.

You see them in every city and country village. As sure as the birdsong of morning sunrise brings old men to McDonalds restaurants all across America.

Before he passed away my dad was one of them. Most mornings he’d get on his bicycle at daybreak or hop into his old truck if the weather was bad and travel about a quarter mile to the nearest McDonalds. His buddies arrived about the same time and together they would grab a bite and drink coffee while solving the world’s problems for an hour or two.

That’s what Dad told me, “We drink coffee and solve the world’s problems.”

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.
— Mark Twain

If you know me at all you know I have a deep respect and love for old people. I’ve been that way since I was a child and asked my grandparents to tell me about their lives when they were young. Most of the time I got a quick smile and a dismissive comment like, “Oh, that was a long time ago. It don’t mean anything now. Go play.” Occasionally I’d get just a tidbit of information like, “We didn’t have TV” or “We didn’t have money for toys”. That’s not what I was asking but I got the idea they didn’t want to talk about it so I left the room to play.

I’ve written often about how old  people are overlooked and disrespected these days but as I get older myself, a month away from 67 as I write this, I’m beginning to understand there’s more to it. Sometimes old people just seem to lose the need or desire to be heard. I shouldn’t assume their silence is a sorrowful response to being ignored. Sometimes they’re just satisfied to keep their thoughts to themselves.

Solving the world’s problems.

A couple of days ago at work a colleague in her late thirties said something to me about how America has changed for the worse since her childhood. She’s entering the age of nostalgia, I guess. I was about to just agree but instead I told her, “Maybe, but I’m not so sure things were all that great 60 years ago when I was a kid. They were probably bad in different ways. Things are a mess now, that’s for sure, but I have faith in my grandsons. They’ll fix the problems we’re handing to them while they create new ones.”

My colleague gave me a look I gratefully accepted as a sign of respect. So, I added:

“The nice thing about being my age is I don’t think these are my problems anymore. I did what I could to make the world better. I tried to help. Now I’m retiring from all of that.”

She smiled and said, “Must be nice.”

“It is,” I assured her. “You’ll get there but not yet. If you retire from all that stuff now it’s just giving up.”

This is another reason people don’t talk to old men, except other old men.

We get philosophical.

A note to my grandsons

Dear Isaiah and Tyler,

I’d like you both to know that though I don’t get to be with you very often I think of you every single day. I really do.

When I wake up in the morning my first thought is to be grateful for a new day. I thank God for it. If you don’t believe in God that’s your right but you should give it some serious thought before you dismiss the possibility that you are alive for a good reason, not just by accident.

Either way, you should start each day happy to be alive. Be grateful for sunrise, blue skies, cold rain and for puppies and bugs.

Be grateful for the people you love.

That’s when I think of you, first thing each day.

Start your day happy.

When you’re happy it makes everyone around you happy. It’s contagious. They spread their happiness to other people. We need more happy people in the world.

As you get older you will learn a great many things about life. You’ll learn most of them from experience but you can get a lot of good tips from your parents, grandparents and other people who are older and carry your life in their hearts.

I’d like to share some of my life lessons with you. I’ll just do one at a time.

My dad taught me what I think is the single most important thing in life:

  1. “If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anyone else.” – Don Williams, 1981

If you can’t love yourself, who will?

I’ll have some more of these from time to time. You can take them to heart or just consider them and decide later what you think.

We never know how much time we have left so I’ll give you the end of these lessons here and now.

This is the point and purpose of life, in my opinion:

“We are game-playing, fun-having creatures;
we are the otters of the universe.”
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

With much love,
Your Grandpa Dave

Copyright 2018, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.

Great Minds

I don’t write as much as I used to. When I was young I was much smarter. Wisdom came to me so fast I couldn’t explain it all. But, over the years I’ve come to realize the older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

Me, thinking deep thoughts.

That was an original thought when I thunk it. Nobody enlightened me. I had never heard or read anything like it. It was a brilliant and original epiphany. But now we have the Internet and ego crushing reality is just a search away.

A minute ago I typed “The more I learn…” into Google and here’s what popped up:

“The more you learn, the more you know. The more you know, the more you forget. The more you forget, the less you know. So why bother to learn? — George Bernard Shaw”

And…

“The more you know, the less you understand. — Lao-Tse”

And the real stunner…

“The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know. — Socrates”

Socrates had my original thought 2,400 years before I did and said it more crisply!

AND, in ancient Greek!

Socrates had nothing on me.

I suppose having an idea expressed by one of the great thinkers in history come to me all by itself is cool but there’s no point in my passing it along. It obviously occurs to everybody eventually.

Plus, if we all regurgitated every brilliantly mundane original thought we have what would become of the poor philosophy majors who have nothing else to do with their educations?

The other reason I don’t write much anymore is because Americans don’t read much anymore.

We Tweet. We text. We spend our days expressing every banal thought that crosses our mind in such a way that we don’t have to bother hearing or reading a response.

Maybe we don’t want response. We’re just spewin’.  Maybe we’re just trying to shut off the noise and hear ourselves think.

I could be wrong about this. Maybe, but how can I know?

I’ve learned so much, so fast, I’m rushing toward total ignorance.

Emily’s Gift

CarolAnn and I just sent a birthday gift to our daughter-in-law, Emily. Took just thirty seconds to pick it out and ship it. ?

Gift giving isn’t what it used to be and a lot of us old geezers are highly annoyed by it. Back in the day we’d think about it a lot and then head out to the mall to find the perfect gift for that special someone. Then we’d go home and gift wrap it. If that person lived far away we’d package it and take it to the post office. The whole process could take half a day or more but it was gratifying. It was fun to think of our loved one opening the pretty package and being surprised and delighted by what was inside.

Sending a gift card via email as I just did takes no time at all. No thought. The efficiency of it is undeniable and that doesn’t mean we love our daughter-in-law any less, of course. It just means another tradition has fallen to our modern addiction to efficiency.

We don’t write letters anymore. Heck, most of us don’t even bother with email anymore. We text. We tweet.

Occasionally we use our phones as phones and actually talk with each other but that’s starting to seem like a special occasion these days. I’ve even started texting people to make an appointment to talk with them on the phone. No kidding.

Here’s what I think:

I think adapting to change is difficult as we get older but our only alternative is to refuse to change. Those who do that just sit on the porch and watch life pass by without even bothering to wave to them.

I think wistful longing for the past is natural and fine in small measure. Nostalgia is warm and comforting but it’s no way to live.

I want to keep learning to keep living. These days I find I’m constantly learning from my children. And why not? We taught them the ways of the world with hope they’d make it better. I think they’re doing that, even if we don’t always understand or like the changes.