Three Life Truisms
At least they have been for me. Some of you may say they sound like the babblings of a cynic. But I feel strongly they’ve grounded me as a realist.
The first came when I was eight and my sister was three. At the time, my mother worked in a cookie factory, and one of her co-workers offered to pick the three of us up for a Saturday romp to Seaside Heights on the Jersey Shore. How I, even more than my sister, looked forward to that day. So that morning, with sand pails and shovels and blankets and beach chairs in tow, we trotted down to the pre-designated spot where Mom’s friend would swing by and pick us up. Only she never came, and after an hour of our futilely waiting and me counting cars as they whizzed by, Mom forced us to face reality and turned us right around for home.
What I learned that day I never forgot and has, rightly or wrongly, guided me throughout my life: never count on other people unless you have no choice; always rely first and foremost on yourself; and always, always have a Plan B.
A second truism was told to me years later during my college years from a fellow English major at the commuter university we attended in North Jersey. His name was John Homer, an artistic type and the more flamboyant member of the coterie of gay guys I came to know there, though none of us officially came out to one another. After all, it was the mid-sixties and things hadn’t exploded yet. I did admit my secret desires to one of them, Robb, who I had a crush on and who, while accepting of my admission, denied he was gay; two months later he moved in with the class queen.
Anyway, it was John, a minimalist when it came to stuff, who said to me once, “We don’t own our possessions, they own us,” a realization that comes to me every time I take my trusted car into the shop or my smartphone acts up. But the bigger reality is most of us don’t own our possessions at all; the banks do. And think about your home our condo – we don’t own them even once the mortgage is paid. They’re on temporary loan to us. After we leave, or die, someone else takes them over, and after them, someone else, and someone else, and someone else …. Hell, when you count all the mortgages on a typical house over one lifetime, a place valued at a couple of hundred thousand dollars actually generated millions. For the banks.
The final truism hitting me painfully of late was uttered to me by one of my hospital colleagues a few weeks before he was fired, the victim of a hostile takeover. A year later, a survivor of the same corporate bloodbath, I decided to resign and move to Fort Lauderdale, insistent about going out on a high note, not pushed out when I was deemed no longer valuable.
Kevin’s words as we contemplated our prospective retirements: “It’s not how many years we have left, it’s how many good years.”
For an aging fuck, I’m as heathy as a horse – no hypertension, cholesterol issues, diabetes HIV-negative – but I’ve become increasingly plagued by osteo-arthritis for which modern medicine offers little.
Thinking back on Kevin’s pronouncement, I wonder if my “good years” are reaching their expiration date.