Thursday, February 04, 2010

What keeps us, what pushes us away

I want to go but I wanna stay. – Sarah Jarosz

Change is the only certainty but of course we all know that. When we’re young it seems to materialize at an incremental pace only slightly more meteoric than drying paint, but as we age it increases tempo and becomes infused with a measure of regret and distrust that only accentuates the relentless subtraction of years. That we learn to dread change is inevitable but now and then we’re allowed to glimpse the promise it sometimes brings, or offers, a gift for the choosing if we will only reach out and take it.

Or maybe not. Failed dreams are a sad fact of life though their outcome is never truly known until it’s too late. Some people relish the gamble but I’m not one of them. My wife maintains a pretty even keel and constantly reminds me that you never fail unless you fail to try. More than once in my life I’ve both tried and failed, sometimes spectacularly, leaving me mistrustful of adages that sound too clever.

It’s human nature to look back on what might have been a pivotal event had we only taken the chance, and amuse ourselves with thoughts of what-if. Such idle musings are about as productive as buying lottery tickets though it must be said that somebody always wins. What role luck plays is surely one of the most maligned and misunderstood precepts of life and the underlying question behind most of the tenets of philosophy and religion.

But sometimes on quiet summer evenings when fireflies flicker in the gathering gloom I sit on the porch and wonder what my life would have been had the Denver police department hired me, or if the company I worked for hadn’t been bought out and summarily gutted. Or if I’d skipped the Christmas party at the Temple Baptist Church and never looked across a crowded room to see a beautiful girl with almond-shaped eyes staring back, and thus in the span of several heartbeats deprived myself of a lifetime of adventure, happiness, fulfillment and the wide open spaces of the 34th state.

It’s humbling to look back on the past four decades and realize how well things turned out. For much of that span the running joke among us was that if not for bad luck the Parkers wouldn’t have any luck. I’m left stunned by the whole thing and grateful to whatever higher power might be responsible, even while certain that luck had little to do with it. This might be a conceit. Faith is no more than crediting some unseen source for what well might have been merely the luck of the draw, or simply the unfathomable mechanism of implacable change. Another certainty is that we’ll never know for sure, or not in this plane of existence. Which makes two certainties, I suppose, negating my original thesis. So much for my math.

Naturally there were numerous occasions during that “lucky” period where I felt anything but lucky. In retrospect I believe it’s like getting shot at: once the excitement is over and you realize your hide hasn’t been perforated with hot lead, there comes a moment of genuine surprise and an adrenaline rush that makes you hanker for more. In short, that you survived at all is something of a miracle (or luck or chance or predestination, name your flavor) and you’re ready to rejoin the fray. That it molds the experience into your character is a plus.

Lately I’ve been indulging in another whimsical what-if though there’s less whimsy and more angst involved than I prefer. Or maybe it’s always been that way. Change is rarely easy nor welcome unless it rescues us from unwanted situations, making it by default an anomaly of the highest order. Usually change in any form is met with mistrust if not outright hostility and for good reason. “What fresh hell is this?” remains a statement of distressing regularity for one of my careers and is easily transmitted to life in general.

My freshest fresh hell began on the dusty streets of a central New Mexican town, when my younger brother, Reece, and I stopped for a malt at a little general store with soda fountain. Across the street was an empty building for rent, its broad windows crossbraced with rough timbers. We were both like moths drawn to a flame and crossed the street to gaze into the windows, and in unison said, “This would make a nice gallery.” And so the dream was hatched.

One year later his ex-wife-now-best-friend decided to chuck her career in California to relocate to the selfsame town. He was part of her plan though it must be said he was dubious about their chances of success. Theirs is a yin-yang relationship, her optimism balancing his pessimism, traits familiar to my own marriage. Not long ago he admitted that he was going to give it a try but not until he first backpacked into the redwoods for an extended sojourn. I remembered the town and the clear turquoise sky and the redrock canyons and Native American ruins and canyons carved with petroglyphs and just like that I wanted to join them.

And, just like that, the fears swooped down like black birds with yellow eyes and sharp beaks.

Daydreaming is cheap thrills but commitment demands persistence and determination. The core of any new endeavor has less to do with feasibility than with desire and should be carefully studied. Starting over isn’t something I’d particularly want to do again though home and loved ones are powerful magnets, indeed more so as I age. As winter tightens its grip on northern Kansas I can’t stop thinking of blue mountains on the horizon, the smell of junipers after a rain and rocky arroyos leading away into infinity. I’m not ready to say I’m leaving and I’m not willing to say I won’t. But for right now the only change I really want is warmer weather.


Unknown said...

Amen for the warmer weather. What is that first picture? A stage backdrop with advertising? Whatever it is. I like it.

Wes said...


shoreacres said...

Me, I recommend taking two reads of Eliot's Little Gidding. Far better aspirin, and more suited to the time. There's nothing better than this for a start - Midwinter spring is its own season - and nothing better than this for an ending...

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Unknown said...

Spring is just around the corner . . . I promise.

Tom Parker said...

Linda -- Yes, a thousand times yes! One of my favorite passages, and one I shall return to today. Thanks for the inspiration.