Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All Things (Re)Considered

It seems to me that no matter who we are and no matter what we do, the history of our life is shaped in equal parts by who we are and who those who interact with us perceive us to be. Joe DiMaggio nailed it, I think. At or about the beginning of what would be his final season with the Yankees (1951), DiMaggio - commenting upon why he played as hard as he did in every inning of every game of every season - was quoted in The Sporting News as saying, "There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best." DiMaggio's point, left unstated, is a telling one. Regardless of how we perceive ourselves to be, we are assessed, rated and judged by those with whom our lives intersect by how we do on their watch. They judge us by the successes and/or failures to which they bear witness.

Even when we live securely within our own minds we do not live in the abstract. Nature abhors a vacuum. It does all that it can to prevent a vacuum's existence. It is assisted in that effort - in great part at least - by us humans. All but the most anti-social among us is in fact a social animal, even if simply for necessity's sake. Even if our interaction appears for all the world to be something we do grudgingly and with an abject absence of enthusiasm.

The tricky thing it seems to me about all of this human interaction jive is that all we can hope for on any given day is that we know where we are at in our own heads. We cannot possibly pretend to know where the rest of the world is at day in and day out. So we do not know if while driving home from work on what has been the best day of our professional life we will encounter someone who is heading home from his or her worst. The world moves pretty fast. We seemingly need to make a million decisions a second and have only a fraction of that amount of time in which to do so. We intersect with one another at a point defined solely by its intersection. All other variables remain unknown.

One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams. I often wonder if one of the reasons I like it so much is because the first and only time I saw it "in a theatre" it cost me nothing. During my senior year at CU-Boulder, whichever studio released it had a free preview screening of it at the UMC. The promotional poster had caught my eye and I walked over to the UMC - prepared to pay two times the price of admission if necessary - to check out the movie.

If you have seen the movie then you know it is a baseball film that is about penance; not pennants. Costner's character - Ray Kinsella - is an Iowa farmer, a husband and a father who is more troubled than he apparently realizes at the beginning of the film by his estrangement from his own father, which began when he was a teenager and continued unabated up to the time of his father's death. At the end of the movie, Ray Kinsella finally realizes that the person for whom he had been told to build the field, the man whose pain he was to ease was not his father's all-time favorite player Shoeless Joe Jackson after all. Rather, it was his father. As the players leave the field and head off into the corn one final time, we see the catcher remove his mask. When he does, Ray Kinsella recognizes the face of his father John - at a time in his life when his father was still a young man. At a time in his life before his father became his father. In his amazement, Ray exclaims to his wife Annie that he is looking at the face of a man he recognizes but who he never knew. His father's face is that of a man who had not yet been broken down by life. It was the face of a man who still had his best days ahead of him.

We all live our lives, confronting and hopefully overcoming most of the adversities and obstacles that we encounter. Unfortunately, we are not all able to do so. And even those that we can surmount exact a price from us in the process. We leave a little bit of ourselves and a little bit of our soul right along side that patch of skin from our knee or from our elbow every time we rattle off a hurdle or strain to clear a bar. Life is a one-way ride. More is taken from us than is given to us and if we are not resilient and we are not resolute, living can descend into merely surviving. And that changes everything.

Once that occurs it impacts the prism through which we see the world, the prism through which the world sees us and the manner in which the two of us interact with one another. Even though we may not mean it to do so, the jading of our souls stays with us much like a splotch of indelible ink. It is impossible to erase. We hope merely to fade it.

If life came with a rewind button or with an eternally renewable pass for rides on Professor Peabody's WABAC Machine, then we could all avail ourselves of the opportunity to go back to the moment before the jading started. And if we could do that, then as we progressed on our journey along the big blue marble we would always be able to be at our best for everyone we meet; regardless of the point along the path at which me met them. But it does not. And we cannot. We can simply soldier on, making the best of our situation and doing what we can to not fall victim to life's circumstances. Oscar Wilde said, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past." Left unsaid is that every man spends his life trying to pay down the debt.

We lose someone we know - someone we love even - and because the point of intersection between our life and his occurred at a point in his life after the glint had already been taken from his eye, which always had an effect on how he interacted with us, we wonder - at least for a moment or two - how he felt about us and how we should feel about him.

How do we know how we are supposed to feel ultimately? I am compelled to report that I have no idea whatsoever; having myself wrestled with that question for most of my life - twenty nine years in fact as of May 31st of this year. My inability to comprehend it notwithstanding, I suspect that the answer to the question is as personal to each one of us as our DNA or our fingerprint.

Or as personal to us as whether we shall let bygones be forgotten.


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