Beau (my 4 yr old lab mix dog) and I did a 9 mile run this morning. It was a great run. One of the things I will miss terribly about Denver is its immense trail system, most of which is fed by the “Highline Canal Trail” (which is where we ran today.) The “Highline” runs a total of 66 miles from the south-western metro area (Waterton Canyon) to the northeastern part of Green Valley Ranch in the northern metro. I’ve run all of it at one time or another. The northern part is concrete and not a good place to run, but I digress. This trail system is a beautiful place to run, hike bike and ride horses (you have to pick up after your dog, but its ok to let your horse shit all over the trail (?)) This morning was incredibly gorgeous, and the prelude to a really hot sunny day. I’m not sure how far beau can go, and I hesitate to take him much beyond 9 or 10 miles, but he LOVES it. He sees me putting on my shoes and he goes nuts. He’s really become a good running buddy, leaves people and most other dogs alone, and just runs in front of me at the end of the double length leash. Great morning, and the beginning of what was really a great day.
Melissa and I were talking about life the other evening. It’s those conversations or times similar to those that make me look inward and examine what really drives my feelings and my fears and my enthusiasms. I realized, the other night, that from the time I graduated from high school, and maybe before then, I spent my life building a wall around what I had, what I was acquiring in life and what I wanted for myself. I fought hard for an education in college and two graduate degrees, something no one else in my family had ever had. I went to work during law school, working as a “Legal Assistant” doing grunt work and lining myself up for a lawyer job when I was legitimate for such a position. I fought hard to get that position, and fought hard to advance in that profession so that I could reach the highest level possible in the shortest time possible. I left a good job, at which I had been working and advancing for seven years for a more prestigious position at a fledgling company. Man, I was there. I had a six figure salary, a huge office with fifteen feet of window that looked out over the Rocky Mountain front range, an administrative assistant, a paralegal and a lawyer working under me. I had a health club membership, drove the car of my choice, and had stock options that were just about to mature and vest. I had savings and investments. I was on the top of the world for a “bottom third of my high school class redneck from Arkansas”, and I was reaching for the top of the universe. And I was as discontent as I thought I could ever be. Nothing was enough, nothing was good enough, and I wanted more all the time. I thought that what I had was mine forever, and that more and better was the only direction I had to go.
You see, in my mind, these things weren’t things about which to be proud. They were all ways of isolating myself, securing myself and my family, against all of the many vulnerabilities that might lie in wait out there in the world. Those vulnerabilities that would gobble up other people, but not me. With money comes security. With a powerful job comes assurance that there were other powerful jobs out there just waiting to be had. Being vulnerable was something that scared the hell out of me, and I was doing everything in my power to secure myself against it. I assumed that if I ignored possible pitfalls and just worked as hard as I could toward building my walls, nothing could get me. I was working furiously to build the city walls to keep the barbarians at the gate, and away from me and mine.
Naivety is a great grease for the slippery slope of life’s potential pitfalls and setbacks. Naivety is one of the easy causes of disaster when coming from the country and moving into and up in the big city. And man, was I naïve. My hording, wall building life-concept is also one that can, to some extent, be explained by an OCD/manic nature, but I won’t try to lay it all off in that direction. I would only be kidding myself. I have no idea where to draw the line, if a line exists, between where my “personality” ends and my “illness” begins.
I had this concept that I could work and buy my way to happiness with a perfect family and enough money to secure my future and barricade myself from the pitfalls and potholes of life. I had the concept that it didn’t matter “who” I was, but rather, “what” I made myself to be. Maybe in what “costume” I dressed myself, ignoring the fact that the same old, country boy, “me” was still driving. It didn’t matter how I treated people, but rather, it was all just a big competition to see who could get the highest, farthest, and become the most “successful”, defining “success” with material things. And let’s just say that I wasn’t the nicest, most altruistic, compassionate and caring person. It was all about me. Altruism flies in the face of hording and wall-building, a dead-on conflict. And I boosted my own ego, compensated for my own short-comings and allied my own fears about failure and the pitfalls I was desperately trying to avoid by minimizing, laughing at, and mocking those less fortunate than me. I made myself believe that I was bullet-proof, while building a karma-debt that I was unaware that, someday, I had to repay.
There is a song (about which I can’t remember the artist or the song title) with lyrics that talk about life being a liquid running through your hands, not a solid that you can have and hold. I knew when I heard the song, I should have written down the title, artist and exact lyrics, because I knew I would want that info at some point. Anyway, the lyrics are very poignant. I thought, at one point, that I had “life by the horns” and was in control of my destiny. I thought that I had secured my future, and built the city walls. And then came my son, Mic, and his mental illness. And then came my own mental illness, and then came those walls, crumbling at first, and then crashing down. As I look back on the rubble that were my city walls, I see that the foundation and structure is all still there. The things that were real, the things that really matter, haven’t gone anywhere. Melissa, my wife, is the foundation upon which the walls were built (albeit, I didn’t recognize this fact for many years), and I was lucky enough to build a solid foundation (from a bad foundation can only come a bad structure.) At the time Melissa and I got married, I had no idea that I was putting in place a foundation upon which the rest of my life would be built. The foundation and structure is all still there. But it’s the fascade, the filler, the part that I fought so hard for and was sure would keep the bad guys out that has eroded, betrayed me, and fallen around me as life has progressed.
I guess the lesson is that all the hard work, money, and material things in the world can’t secure a future of happiness and contentment. Its only those things that make you “who you are” in your community and in your family and in the world that can bring security. Everybody needs someone to lean on, someone’s help, at some point. Needing someone else is a vulnerability that has made me uncomfortable. Having someone there to help has been a life-saver. Those things that you do for others, the compassion and altruism and help that you give to others in need and the love that you have for those around you is what keeps the wolves at bay in times of trouble. Those things are either “re-paying forward” the help that someone has given you in time of need, or building that karma investment account for use later, when you need help. Melissa and I are in different places in this context. She’s always been building the karma account, and is now drawing on it. I’m building a debt that I will be paying forward in the future. All of this has been a hard lesson for me, and one I’ve had to learn the hard way. Melissa seems to have learned it much sooner than I, and her practice of that lifestyle is what has kept me alive long enough to begin to understand a better way of life. Taking it as it comes, being there for others, and living the moment to its fullest, taking advantage of what you have now, instead of always longing for what you want to have in the future.
Live life as it comes, and enjoy every precious minute. Later.