Saturday, January 16, 2010

"A Few of Life's Regrets"

As I begin writing yet another epistle, I am not entirely certain as to where this is taking me. However, as I always do, I will give it a shot and hope for the best. As I enter a new year, however, it seems like a good time to embark on a few personal reflections.

When I started writing this blog just over two years ago, I did so because I had a lot of free time on my hands and a great many unsettled feelings about a variety of issues. I sought neither fame nor fortune but, rather, to see what if any gems might be buried within the vast labyrinths of that gradually calcifying cranial tissue residing within the limited space allocated to it within my skull. I was writing for myself but thought there was no harm to be done by sending it out to the far reaches of cyberspace, leaving the merits of my efforts to be determined by the wisdom of others. I found I touched the lives of some, pissed off some and inspired a surprising number of others along the way. So, it was not altogether in vain. I filed the beginning of this and a few random thoughts away and, frankly, forgot about them. For some strange reason, I just happened upon these words on, of all days, Thanksgiving. Perhaps there is something prophetic about that.

The prose and ideas may not flow with the fluidity of professional writing, but that is one of the attendant hazards of this type of writing, particularly when one treads on those aspects of his being that may not be terribly easy to face nor to articulate. Is it just a personal catharsis or does it serve a greater purpose? I really don’t know.

I have developed a passionate interest in politics and government in the United States over the past several years. Young though I might have been, I was inspired by the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt when he declared war on Japan, reassured by the steadfast determination and uncompromising honesty of Harry S. Truman, the inherent dignity and wisdom of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the sheer inspiration engendered by John F. Kennedy. Each had his own unique brand of greatness in my view. Real leadership seemed to have died with those few, only to be followed by the golden age of the slick politician as each pursued his own avaricious agenda at the expense of the common good.

Then along came Barack Obama in whom I saw a new ray of hope for us all. Perhaps, I thought, the flagrant wrongs of the past could be righted and we could enter a new age of statesmanship that would appeal to the finer aspects of our nature. I soon realized that all we got was just another politician. To be sure, although very charismatic and mesmerizing, in reality simply another opportunistic patsy for the special interests that have a stranglehold on this fragile republic aka democracy. I have concluded there is, essentially, no difference between the two major political parties. They just serve the same interests in different ways. Our vote every four years, at best, is tantamount to little more than changing the draperies at the White House. The life blood and decency of the American people are sapped from their very being by Wall Street, Corporate America, special interests and a military-industrial complex that is completely out of control. None of them share a common bond with those they exploit at will.

I have come to the conclusion, because of the excesses of avarice and greed by the exploiters, compounded by the enabling complacency and self-imposed ignorance of the exploited, there simply is no hope. We are on a downhill trajectory, moving at meteoric speed, towards our own demise and, indeed, that of the world. When we have passed the point of no return, we will predictably rise up in desperation, demanding instant solutions to very complex problems in order to turn the ship of human existence away from the iceberg looming on the horizon, only to realize we procrastinated much too long. There is no turning back. Our common date with destiny is no longer a possibility, but a certainty. Our human proclivity to pursue pleasure and “things” has finally caught up with us. We slept while Rome burned and greed played the fiddle. No one paid any attention to the alarm bells that have been sounding for decades.

Given that rather ominous and bleak outlook for the future, I reflect on my own life and often ask, “What are my biggest regrets?” That is a fitting question for a man in the twilight years of his life, but not one that is easy to answer.

I regret the crippling effects of an ingrained fear of being poor again. It caused me to constantly doubt my abilities and myself. It led me to compromise my principles for the sake of survival. It caused me to be overly cautious about human relationships, holding back trust and rarely, if ever, revealing the person I really am. I lost a lot of life because of the stranglehold of fear that gripped my every waking moment. The price that I exacted from myself and imposed on others is incalculable; a treasure, the value of which I realized much too late in life. It caused me to be overly concerned about safety and certainty when risk would have yielded ever so much more of real value.

I regret that I was too rigid during the early years of my adult life, which cost me dearly in terms of friendships offered and never accepted, in kindness and understanding that were never seized upon. I consigned myself to being a loner when that was, in reality, the last thing in the world I really wanted.

I regret that my own imperfections caused me to insist on standards of perfection from others that were out of reach from our common human nature. I hurt people who only asked to be respected and trusted. That is a terribly egregious thing to have done to any human being. Sadly, the key players in this tragedy are now gone from this world. When I am alone I often wish I could have one more brief bit of time with each of them. I would tell them how sorry I am for what I did, how much I lost because I never had the courage to be open, vulnerable and authentic, and how I robbed us both by not telling each one how much they had enriched my life.

Two of the greatest regrets of my life are (a) not pursuing a career because of its compatibility with my natural talents, interests and ability, as opposed to gaining success as quickly as possible for the sake of staving off another epoch of poverty in life. In the end, all I really accomplished was squandering the few valuable human attributes that might have brought me years of pleasure, satisfaction and, probably, the security that comes from pursuing that which is a burning passion of the heart and an ambition in the belly. The greatest cost of all was my early transformation into a consummate professional huckster who was oh so willing to sell what I had to offer to the highest bidder. In virtually all of those instances, I set myself up for failure, but it can be said that is the one thing I seem to have done rather well.

There are a whole host of other regrets, minor and major, that are too numerous to belabor here. However, each of them robbed me of so much of the finer side of whom and what I am and never was. In the end, they add up to quite a chunk of life wasted that mattered little.

Why does so much of the world revere characteristics of the human condition that only detract from the finer facets of our human nature? What does competitive obsession do for the world? Why do we manifest disdain for the more noble attributes of our human nature? What is wrong with being gentle, kind, caring and generous with our fellow human beings? Would we not be infinitely better off if we didn’t have to win every contest and just naturally accepted defeat as, at times, the best outcome with the most valuable lesson? After all, more often than not, it isn’t the contest that really matters but, rather, as Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers so poignantly said, “It isn’t whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.“

I think fathers should seize every opportunity to hug their sons and really let them know how much they are loved and cherished. Shaking hands may be the “manly” thing to do, but it sure is a poor substitute for the warmth and reassurance that only comes with the real deal. Personally, I believe men are the more fragile and lonely because of that mistaken notion of what it stereotypically means to be a real man. A goodly number carry the emptiness and pain of a lost relationship with their Dads that so many secretly yearned for but never had. Not every boy is destined to be a football player so his Father can vicariously re-live the days of his youth and glory at the expense of what might have been a rare and gifted talent that the world may never know. That may well be one of the root causes of the aggression and competitiveness manifest in the masculine mystique as one reaches and lives out maturity. When the head and hormones overrule the heart, I think we need to pause and ask ourselves if we are giving enough time to the finer aspects of our human nature.

When I was just a boy, I vividly recall my Dad saying to me, “Never forget what I am about to say. The saddest thing any man can ever say is, “If I only had it to do over again.” How true.

Looking back over more years than I care to acknowledge, there are four aspects of our nature that, I believe, should be manifest in our person and remain inviolate pillars of our character throughout our lives; (1) unconditional acceptance, (2) unconditional love, (3) unconditional understanding, and (4) the most important of all, unconditional forgiveness. With those as the cornerstones of our earthly journey, I just don’t see how we could possibly go wrong.

In the final analysis, the most sobering realization is, when a person reaches that later stage of life, the reality sets in that you can never really go home again. What is done is done, and we can only hope there really is yet one more phase in the life process, and it is there that redemption awaits us for every regret we ever carried in our hearts.

Have a good year.

Cowboy Bob
January 16, 2010