Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Becoming ....

I recently ran across an article online with this headline: Mark Knopfler: This getting older stuff ain’t for wimps.

That resonates for two … no, three reasons: first, I had a birthday this month. Second, I think Mark Knopfler is a fine songwriter and I’ve always enjoyed his music. Third, it echoes something my cousin Bobby said to me several years ago: “It takes a stout heart to grow old.”

Past a certain point, getting older has certain drawbacks, particularly if you are overly concerned with how the prevailing, youth-obsessed culture regards you.

The fact that in my mind I’m still a 20-something in the absurd and inexplicable situation of being trapped in a 40-something body is beside the point.

That thing your parents and grandparents told you – it goes so fast – is increasingly clear. The clock seems to tick a bit faster with every passing year. You realize that there’s something rather final just over the horizon; the bearing has not in fact changed, and the range is decreasing rapidly.

It’s not all bad. There also are advantages. I’ll admit that it took me a long time – way too long, at great cost – to “grow up.” To accept that those legendary adult responsibilities had my name on them. 

And then figure out how to meet them.

It wasn’t until my fourth decade or thereabouts that I finally started to get a handle on what is really important to me. Or even what I really thought about a lot of things.

The good news in all that, at least for me, is that the model I had in my head in my youth: grow, learn, take what I’ve learned and go do, coast into retirement with a genteel hobby or two…. has turned-out to be not terribly accurate.

It’s more like: grow, learn, do; grow, learn, do; grow, learn; grow, learn … hopefully right up until the end, whenever that will be.

That is to say, people change.

Scott Miller sings: “How am I ever gonna be me? How am I ever gonna be me, Lord? How am I ever gonna be if I’m not who I’m supposed to be?”

I learn new stuff every week: about being a dad, a husband, a son, a mariner, a man. Some of the lessons are bitter and I’m ashamed it’s taken me so long. Sometimes I feel smug, even triumphant, after mastering something, only to discover I’m still not done. Not by a long shot.

So … mid-forties, certainly with more years behind me than ahead of me, here’s what I know today.

  1.  I’m not as smart as I used to think I was.
  2. But I’m smart enough to realize that much of what I learned in school and in church as a kid was just flat wrong, or at least does not accord with the world as I have found it since.
  3. Having a kid takes the skin right off a man, to quote a friend of mine. It’s the hardest thing in the world, and the best thing, and nothing is the same after.
  4. Kindness matters more than almost anything else.
  5. The practice of kindness notwithstanding, some people are just assholes, or mentally ill, and in either case unless there is a familial or professional (i.e., you are a proctologist or a psychologist) obligation, you should get the hell away from those people.
  6. Despite #5, most people are mostly doing the best they can most of the time.
  7.   The things you think are really important when you are 25 may not be the same things you think are really important 20 or 30 years later.
  8. Friends matter. Especially the ones who have stuck around for 20 or 30 or 40 years, through all that learning and growing.
  9. Of all the things I regret, and there are many, among them I cannot identify a single day I spent fishing or birding or just sitting somewhere watching water move. That’s some good shit.
  10.  This list will change in the future.

One of the things I have not learned yet is how to splice a plaited (eight-strand) line. We chafed right through an eye during weather the other night, I had printed directions in hand, and I thought: “Well, how hard can it be?”

A couple of hours later, I can tell you it’s pretty hard. At least with this ratty line and in poor light. Maybe I’ll try again in the morning, if we’re not busy at the platform.


  1. And you can pull this out in 10 or 20 years, and mostly still be the same. Life comes and goes like a freight train at full throttle, and there it goes! It's the learning, the doing, the loving- just got to keep on.

  2. Old friends who have died say that, in the end, love is all that matters.

  3. Love Mark Knopfler! Here's a song about a boat that's not about a boat at all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOXyfKBDzOY