Monday, January 1, 2018

The Older I Get, the More I Realize I will never be Andres Segovia.

I am not generally a person who gets too wound up with the notion of my own mortality.  We are all faced with the realization that we will not live forever. 

And, I recently celebrated another birthday. It was my sixty-seventh revolution around the sun. I was sitting down watching a video of a young man playing the guitar. He was gifted. His music was flawlessly played. His technique was unique and it made his performance all the more engaging. I found myself dealing with a nagging and increasingly anxious feeling. In essence, as silly as it sounds, I realized at that moment, I was never going to be as good at any craft as that young man was at his. In short, I caught a glimpse of the inevitable fact that I am growing older. For a brief fifteen minutes or so, I found myself wondering exactly why this little video clip had struck such a worrisome chord with me.  

There was a little German woman, who along with her husband ran a boot store on Colfax Avenue down by East High School in Denver when I was young. I was an avid hiker, climber and mountaineer in my youth and that boot shop had the best boots in town. The woman's mantra, (which she would oft repeat as she helped customers find their perfect fitting pairs of boots) was, “Life is what you make it...okay?!” It stuck with me. If you want a good life, one where you feel you have given as much as you have taken, it has to be an ongoing process of forging your own desired path. 

I was raised in a somewhat dysfunctional setting where excesses were a way of life. Everyone in my family dealt with anxiety in one form or another and hard living and alcohol were considered viable coping strategies.  However, at a certain point along the path I decided that life did not have to be that way. I decided the little German woman was correct.  You could make your own life and forge your own path. I gave up the notion of being a contractor (the family business) and with the help of my dear sister, chose teaching over construction. 

Teaching was never going to make me an economic powerhouse. But teaching is learning. I decided very early on in my teaching career that the best thing you can give a student is not some chunk of wisdom that they can set on a shelf like a shiny trophy.   No, the best thing that you can show a student is how to love learning.  Life and education is not about winning on a television game show like Jeopardy. The one who amasses the most trivia in life is not always the happiest person.  Life is about following your passions.  Life is most fulfilling when you master the ability to learn what you need to know to get the job you enjoy, master the skill that brings you joy, or demonstrate to those whom you love how to become the best they can be.

Where am I going with this? After taking a few minutes to reflect about the young, gifted guitarist who brought me some unexpected anxiety, I came upon the realization that even at sixty-seven, life is still what I  make of it.  You cannot make yourself live one day longer than what your genetics will allow. If you are honest with yourself you will probably realize that you cannot become a virtuoso at the guitar overnight, especially if your earlier experiences took you in a direction away from music. You can learn and enjoy how to play the guitar if you so desire. You might even want to try your hand at something else.  But remember that you are the one who determines what is worthwhile in this life.

If you want to take pictures of mountain goats like I do, you are probably going to need to stay healthy and exercise daily. If you want to create a painting for your grandchild, you are going to have to buy brushes and choose a color medium and start practicing or taking lessons.  Likewise, if you want to be happy and appreciated, then it is incumbent upon you to be pleasant, engage and spread a sense of wanting to be useful.  It will pay off, I guarantee it... because life is what you make it. Okay? Okay.

"Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly - and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."

Omar Khayyam

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