Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Five Years in the Wilderness

Whether we were aware of it or not, many of us had our lives mapped out pretty clearly from the beginning. Growing up, most of us followed a pattern of education, social engagement, romantic venturing and finally settling down into a routine called married life. It’s all very conforming, comfortable for the most part and expected…..for most folks but not all of us.

When my buddies and I were young and dumb, the world was a rainbow landscape full of wonderful adventures and opportunities. Each of us set out to become whatever we thought we could/should/would become at the time. The world was our oyster and we meant to have it all…and we did. One a doctor, one a writer, and one a priest.

Fast forward five or so years and a great number of my high school classmates were gett-ing married, having kids and settling down into a lifetime of work and routine. Not me.  I was still ruminating over career choices that involved creativity and was about as far from a 9-to-5 existence as I could possibly imagine. Unlike a lot of my friends, it took me about five years wandering and wondering until my focus became clear…that is, what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

My five years wandering in that proverbial wilderness (1966-1971) began right after the service, continued while living in Europe and culminated in circling around life choices that began as avocations and ended up becoming my career. Along the way, there were plenty of stumbles, detours, hurt feelings, high expectations, false hopes, and blind ambitions to fill each day.

One thing that fortified me on this journey were the friendships, abet seldom lasting, that I made along the way. These were fellow wanderers who were as confused yet hopeful as I was. It was an exciting time to be working in public television, hanging out at the Triangle Bar and tasting the silliness that only bachelorhood can provide.

A lucky encounter one evening at work signaled the beginning of the end to my wandering.

Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying that life is like a bank account. How you use it is solely your determination. You can withdraw it in a hurry and live a very short life. Or you can be diligent with your withdrawals and live, hopefully, much longer.

It’s been forty or fifty years since many of us turned twenty-one and shed our cloak of anonymity to adorn ourselves with the costume of adulthood. Now we’re at a point in our lives where reflection is more than a glass of chardonnay framed within a sunset or a cold brew among high school buddies.

We’ve let life’s ebb and flow (call it our gypsy muse) guide us in this rhythm of life. For most of us, the process was organic and without a lot of thought. Life investments were made, squandered, lost, accumulated, divested and set aside. Some things worked out and some things didn’t. Now we have the residue of our wisdom or luck or mistakes to live with for the rest of our lives. And most of those life steps are now just a memory.

One regret is that my bank account of friends isn’t the greatest. A reluctance to make an effort back then has left me lacking in that area. Yet what I do have in the vault is now priceless. One of my aspirations is to mine those rich veins of past friendships to see if I might unearth more nuggets there. Occasionally I’ll strike gold and rekindle a long lost almost forgotten friendship from the dusty archives of my past. It’s a blast. And immensely satisfying.

Those random discoveries got me thinking about other friendships; past and future, strong and vapid, present and omnipresent. I thought about the friends I’ve had over the years. Some of them shared isolated points in my life; high school, college and work. Some were but fleeting incisions in the tenderness of my youth. Others were shared experiences like the military: isolated, vacuous, and destined to crash with each discharge celebration where inane behavior in the barracks seemed to make perfect sense back then.

The cliché that you can never have too many friends dissolves over the pages of Facebook where collecting friends can be a cyber-game for some folks, devoid of meaningful contact and concern. Having friends on Facebook isn’t the same as having real friends who care and share and actually want to be somebody in your life. Big difference there!

I am in a good place in my life now. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore! As an artist, I love creating stories in many different genres and I intend to continue writing until my pen dries up or I go blind. I’d like to take folks along this discovery of self and life and whatever else comes my way just as it began during those five years in the wilderness.

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