It’s late October, 2017. I have nearly completed my seventy-second October, twenty-six of which have been spent here on the Farm amid our fields. All Octobers are watercolor landscapes, but no two are alike. As with any watercolor of a similar view painted from a slightly different perspective by another master artist with a keen eye, this one has its own unique feel and message. Each October is as different and as good as a piece of any one pumpkin pie taken from among an array of them on a holiday sideboard will be from that of another.
This one is somber, but joyful nonetheless. It is the first October in which my mortality has played a central role. Until this one, my mortality has been an inconvenient fact to be worried about some day or other, but not today. But, following my stroke, I realize that someday has come. Once death’s hovering presence reached out to affect my balance and ability to walk, I could no longer ignore it. Death has given me a none too subtle poke in the ribs to suggest it will no longer countenance a blasé attitude toward itself. It’s no longer an elephant in the room; it’s a full participant in the conversation.
I get it. Really I do. I am fully aware that I am much closer to facing death than ever I was, and not just at sometime in the distant future. It’s hovering around some bend in the road that I can at least sense, if not see. If the long years I’ve lived weren’t enough of a clue, the stroke surely was. It’s time to contemplate what it all has meant.
But don’t worry readers. While my subject may be somber, my reaction to it is not.
I’ve always told my sons that a man must like what he sees when he looks in the mirror on his last day. In this regard, the stroke was fortuitous. It has allowed me to spend many hours contemplating the subject when I only thought I’d have seconds. And generally I am happy with what I see. I am pleased that I’ve lived with my foot on the gas pedal, giving life all I had, chasing my dreams, and accepting the consequences of my follies with relative equanimity. I intend to keep on doing the same during my final leg, stroke and death be damned alike.
Yes, I have regrets. Many in fact. But apart from complete narcissists, who doesn’t? I won’t go into specific regrets about failing specific people other than to say that I’m keenly conscious and embarrassed by the failures I’ve yet to rectify. I had hoped my intellect and courage were strong enough to correct my embarrassments, whether big or small, as I went along or whenever an opportunity occurred, but I’ve come to understand that it is a condition of humanity to be unable to correct them all despite the best of intentions. So I will just have to utter prayers for forgiveness into the aether in hopes that some of them will be heard by the affected parties.
As for one great overarching regret, it is the time I’ve failed to spend with my immediate family – sons and Helen. As with all failed good intentions, there is an explanation. I was raised in an isolated eastern Washington valley in a time when communication was both difficult and expensive. To generate the necessary escape velocity from that valley I had to focus and charge ahead as furiously as I could, seeking a path among the obstacles I could see or anticipate and bouncing off of those I couldn’t or didn’t. This mode of acting became my lifestyle; one that took many years to overcome (assuming I have), and it left insufficient time for family since I had to provide for myself and for them while knowing only one speed. Starting with nothing other than genetically donated brainpower, I had a long way to run. I knew I could never quit running.
My family can decide about the sufficiency of that excuse. Like any excuse, it is both true and untrue. I know that. I always have. But at least I’ve always held true to form. I’ve been a long distance runner. I do realize that who I rejoice in being is the obverse side of my overarching regret. But every choice has a cost. I can only pray that Helen, Don, and Peter know that I wouldn’t be who I’ve become but for them and for their love, support, and involvement in my life. They are the essential elements of my storyline. The run would have been for nothing without them.
Many others, including my parents and siblings, have helped me at critical times and played important roles in my life. I’ve tried to repay all of those who helped me by passing what I’ve learned along the way on to friends, colleagues, and acquaintances whenever I could. I hope I’ve done enough to satisfy my promise to Professor Paul Kauper all those years ago to mentor others when I knew enough and had the experience to do so, but, if I haven’t, there is still time to do more. If I keep trying, I might make at least a dent in my collective debt to those who helped and watched out for me as I passed through their lives.
Any single October’s summation of life’s bounty is nothing more than a tableau of those unique lives, large and small, available to it whenever its annual turn on the wheel comes around. I eagerly await yet a few more turnings. I won’t be running through each tableau quite as fast as before, but I’ll be trying as hard as I can. Look for me. I’ll wave.
And I promise to spare Helen from rabbit ears for the rest of my run.