IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

The Class of South Pacific, by Rich Paschall

It seems like an odd thing to say to high school or college graduates, and yet we say it all the time.  Students are probably listening to graduation speeches in wonder, perhaps even shock at this notion.  There it is, however, an oft-repeated idea that older folks are selling to the young.

“These are the best years of your life,” some may exclaim.  Others may narrow it down to tell students, “You will look back on this as the best year of your life.”  The best year?

It was a long time ago, and I can not recall specifically what I heard at my various graduations, but I am pretty sure the idea was sold to me somewhere.  “How can this be?” graduates may ask themselves.  “What about the next 60 years?  You mean to say, ‘this is it’?”

Are these youthful years the best years of our lives?  Is this where we had the best times, best friends, best dances and concerts and music and well, everything?  The answer is a surprising yes, and no.

When I was in third year of high school I learned that DePaul Academy would be closing and we would all be shipped off to another area high school.  To be perfectly honest, I did not like this a bit.  Despite the tough discipline of my school and the fear of 4th year Latin, I wanted to go to a similar environment.  However, the school where I applied to go to for 4th year would not take any incoming seniors.  So off I went where they sent me, bound to make the best of it.

graduation

There were a few familiar faces at the new school, some were transfers, some I knew from grade school.  There were also dances and plays.  They had a fine arts department (something lacking at the all boys academy) and teachers who seemed to care about you as well as your studies.  I took drama, not fourth year Latin.  I came, I saw, I took something else.

The social activities meant more opportunities to make friends.  The interaction was an education itself.  Soon there was a group of us that hung together a lot, and some of us still do.

The most remarkable part of this transition was the “Senior Class Play.”  Yes, so many students wanted to take part, it was just for seniors, as in 17 and 18-year-old students.  I got the nerve to audition.  I have no idea what I sang.  Everybody was in the show so it did not matter that a hundred of us showed up.  We were going to do South Pacific.  I was rather unaware of it.

Aside from learning the art of theater (Project, Enunciate, Articulate, Stand up straight), I learned about the classic story of war, hate, prejudice and, of course, love.  Learning to play our parts was important.  We were commanded to be professional in everything.  We also learned a story that held a dramatic lesson in life.

I'm in this group, just left of center.

I’m in this group, just left of center.

When the movie starring Mitzi Gaynor, Rosanno Brazzi and Ray Waltson was re-released, we ran off to see it.  In subsequent years, we saw several community theater productions as well as professional versions of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical.  We grew to love the theater and the lessons that such musicals could bring to us.  We learned why fine arts were so important in the schools.

So we were fortunate. We had a positive experience and a good education.  We learned our lessons in the halls as well as the classroom, in the gym which was also our auditorium.  We signed one another’s yearbooks and held on to them like they were made of gold.  But was it the best year of my life?  If so, what about all the intervening years?

It is an interesting paradox that you can not adequately explain to an 18-year-old graduate.  Yes, it was the best year up to that point, and it will always remain so.  Nothing can ever take away those memories, so hopefully they are all positive.  Those lessons of love and life will influence everything from that point on.

While you are busy making new memories, a career, a family perhaps, and new friends, they will all be measured against “the best year of your life,” whether it is 18 or 21.  Some friends may be better, some lessons may be better, some experiences may be better, but they will all be measured against those moments in youth when you discovered who you were and where you were going.  The quality of future friendships must stand up to those already at hand.

South_pacific_bway_1949

If you have a South Pacific in your memory bank, you will tell people all across the (hopefully) many generations that come through your life how this was a great experience.  You may say it was best time ever.  If your younger friend looks sorry that your best times were so far back, remind them to enjoy what they have because it will be the springboard to everything else.  It will be their touchstone.

Every spring, without fail for these many decades, the change of seasons hits me like some great coming of age story.  My imagination calls up images of Bali Hai and I hear echoes of “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” in the distance.  I once again feel “Younger Than Springtime” and every night is “Some Enchanted Evening.”  Whenever I look back to the Class of South Pacific, I can also look forward with a lot of “Happy Talk” for everyone who will listen.

CONTEMPLATING AN ETERNITY OF YOUTH

Once again, WordPress is kindly offering to let me partake of a magical moment … in fact, magic itself. A drink from the very Fountain of Youth itself! What senior citizen could turn down such a great offer?

closeup manchaug dam waterfall

I’m a little suspicious. I know I’ve gotten more than a bit cynical over the years, but offers like this … isn’t there some fine print I need to read? Isn’t this the kind of contract you make with a dark stranger at a crossroad in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night?

Bwahaha,” laughs old Scratch as he scurries away, paperwork in hand. “Snagged another old fool.”

If I’m to be forever young, able to drink from the frothy waters of that famed fountain, does it mean I have to also be forever stupid? I would have no objection to a young, resilient body. A back that bends, good skin, hair that stays on my head where it belongs. All these youthful things are, as we said in my real youth, groovy.

bench mumford uxbridge kids

A brain came with that package. Oy vay. Such a brain. It was filled with certitude based on books I’d read and some late night conversations with other undergrads. Mind you, I’m sure that’s how we have to be when we’re young. Otherwise, we would never have the courage to face our lives.

A certain brashness and belief that we can triumph no matter what is a prerequisite for getting on with life. I get that. I just don’t want to have to live in that head for even a little while, much less all eternity.

Actually, all eternity is a pretty daunting prospect and I’m not sure how I feel about it … but perhaps that’s another post for another Sunday morning.

apache junction black and white

So if they are giving away drinks from the fountain of youth, I will accept my slurp — IF I get to keep my current brain with all its experience, cynicism, and hard-won lessons. And I want a codicil specifying that while I get to feel young for as long as I live, I don’t think I want to live forever.

Long, maybe, but forever? To watch all the world I know disappear and who knows what to follow? I think not.

GATHER YE ROSEBUDS

If you think getting old today is a bummer, imagine when really old was 45, and 50 was ancient. Rulers of kingdoms acted like spoiled teenagers because they were spoiled teenagers.

Gather Ye Rosebuds -2

During the 14th century (1300s) — the worst of the Black Plague years — many of the warring monarchs were not yet out of their teens. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year-old kings waging war. Hormonal tyrants, the anointed of God, doing whatever they wanted (unless they got so far out of hand that their own family did them in).

So, my friends, gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Time is still a-flying.

Robert Herrick was a 17th-century English poet and cleric, best known for his poem To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, generally know by its first line Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

NO PRANCING FOR ME

I went to the doctor today. I made a list of the things I needed to talk about, among them trying to get some Prednisone or something to make me able to actually enjoy my vacation in Maine in October. I just want a week off of the whole pain and misery thing. I checked with my cardiologist and he seemed to think a week of Prednisone would be fine, at least for my heart.

I know Prednisone is evil and will — with prolonged use — melt my bones. But really, I’m not asking for a long-term run. Just a week. One lousy week of living without pain.

Dr. Marc Jacobs filterHe said (really, no kidding, he said this), “I don’t want you prancing around like a 20-year old, hiking all over Maine.”

Prancing? Like a 20-year-old? When I was 20, I was wrapped in plaster from my rib cage to my knees following a spinal fusion and laminectomy. I can’t remember ever doing any prancing even when I was a kid. But hey, he doesn’t know me yet. If we had a longer relationship, he would realize what an absurd statement that is.

Not only am I not doing any prancing, but we’re sharing our vacation with our best friends. He will be one month past knee replacement surgery. She’s almost as arthritic as me and she is way past prancing. Garry is in better shape, but he’s not bouncing around either.

I pointed out I was unlikely to take up bungee jumping or mountain climbing, but the doc was convinced I would do something stupid and potentially damaging to what we humorously call my body.

“You’re 67 years old. You’re recovering from massive and extremely serious surgery. That’s reality. You aren’t healed yet.”

“When,” I asked, “Is yet?”

“Six months.”

“Six months,” I repeated. And I sighed.

I should be used to it. Maybe I am, but I don’t like it. Not at all. I just wanted a week off. One week, so I could walk, take pictures. Enjoy myself and not be in pain. Go out, find a moose unaware, take great wildlife pictures. In the wild, not in a zoo. But no. I have to be sensible. Bah.

I’ll deal with it. But I really wanted that week. One week without the pain. I guess it is too much to ask.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree – Fifteen on top of the world!

Happy 15 Kaity

MONEY CAN’T BUY IT

I don’t envy much. I’ve never needed the best house, the fastest car. Fashion doesn’t tempt me and success for me has always meant having enough. Spare would be nice, but enough will do.

Buds

I don’t need popularity. A really good friend and some companionable other acquaintances is more than sufficient.

But you, over there? Yes, you. The youngster, with your flexible body and the spring in your step. I bet you can sleep a whole night without having to take “something for the pain.” I bet you still have all your original parts too. That must be really nice. A spine that isn’t encrusted by calcification. A digestive system that will handle whatever you throw into it … and at your age, probably that’s all sorts of weird stuff. I hope you get over that soon. Stomachs are important. They don’t stay tolerant forever.

And feet! Oh, how glorious! You can run, jump, walk. And your eyes are clear and lovely. You can focus your camera too.How delightful. I remember when I could do that.

It’s not real envy, I guess. That would imply I think you’ve got something I might want to take from you and make my own. Which isn’t true. You are young and healthy. Your beauty is your vitality and the joy I see you take in the simple acts of daily life. To say I envy that is true — in a way — but more as if I’d like to turn back my clock. I would give anything short of life itself for a single day of being completely healthy and pain-free. I would carry that memory with me for the rest of my life. I’d treasure it.

CornGrowing300sz72

I hope you treasure what you have. I didn’t realize how much it could change. I never expected to be what I am now. In my imagined future, I was just as you are now, but maybe with a little gray in my hair. Otherwise, I’d be perhaps a bit slower. But still me.

So that’s it. I want just a day as I was to remember how it feels to walk with a spring in my step, eat an ice-cream, run across the grass, ride a horse.

Treasure what you have, young woman. It’s worth more than gold. If it goes away, no earthly treasure can buy it back. Take care of yourself. Hoard your riches. You’ll need them on the long road ahead.

Daily Prompt: Flip Flop – Life is Fair? Not.

With shock and grief, I hear the wailing of betrayed youth. They have made the Big Discovery. Life is unfair. Work hard, perform brilliantly yet wind up bruised and forgotten. Then again, you might find yourself famous, rich and covered with honors. It’s not cause and effect, though people like to think so … until the economy, their health or other people betray them.

The younger me knew — with 100% certainty — that work, talent, ambition and determination were magic ingredients.The older me learned you can do everything right, follow all the rules and it still doesn’t work out. Oops.

bankruptcy

I did it all. Good work. Diligence. Smile; have a positive attitude. Be creative. Give it your all. I did okay, but while I worked hard and put in overtime, I watched the suck ups, second-raters, and those who worked cheaper if not better, move up. While I came in early and stayed late, they went to meetings and took long lunches. I wonder if I’d gone to more meetings, would that have changed the outcome? Somehow, I doubt it. I try not to let it sour me. It’s out of my hands. I’m a passenger on this bus, not the driver.

Former belief: Play by The Rules, give it your all. You are bound to “make it.”

Current belief: Do the best you can and hope for a bit of luck to bring it together. If not, enjoy life. It’s the only one you’ve got.

We tell our kids if they do it right they will get that pot of gold. We don’t tell them work sucks. That 75% of their bosses will be morons who know less than they do and have less talent. But in a way, we were right. They will earn a reward, but it’s the satisfaction of knowing they did the best of which they were capable. It’s the one reward everyone can count on.

We have to try. If we succeed and for a while get a piece of the good stuff, enough to feel it wasn’t a waste of time, that’s great. For some, it never happens. Bad luck? Wrong attitude? Poor economy? Not enough talent? All of the aforementioned? Trying may not be sufficient: you need talent and luck too. And good timing. Sometimes, you need a better agent.

I no longer believe in inevitable triumph. There’s always a chance and it’s fantastic when the magic works. But for me, fatalism has replaced optimism. The finest achievement is living up to ones best self. If this turns into worldly success, great. If not, this is the only achievement no one take away. You can’t control the world, but you control yourself.

Life’s a roller coaster. You’re up, your down. Screaming, crying, laughing … you go where the rails take you. Life will surprise you. It will give you moments of unimagined joy, then drop you into a pit to claw your way out. Rejoice when times are good. Cope with the darkness. And always try to be your best self.