Two friends recently asked me (completely independent of one another) nearly the same question: in essence, how would I like to be remembered? I had a “small” answer at the time on both occasions, but ever since, my mind has returned to the question several times, in search of a “big” answer. Here’s one of them.
I want to be remembered as the guy who (to reference the great Henry David Thoreau) lived deliberately. The circumstances of our lives sometimes don’t grant us the breadth or depth of choices we’d like to have, but they never require that we take the path of least resistance. Far too often, I hear stuff like an exchange I had recently about athletic training. I was answering a question about my strength and cardiovascular routines, and this guy answers something to the effect of “Yeah, I used to hit the weights pretty hard, but then, I don’t know– life happened, I guess.”
What kind of bullshit is this? Life “happened?” Since when is life something that happens to us– since when are we passive receivers of life’s events? Life’s odd chances can sometimes deal us great loss and great tragedy, and it’s true that we often have little power over those things when they happen, but we can choose to be a badass about those odd chances. I remember back in 2008, when what I thought was the great love of my life totally crumbled, and I was a complete wreck, trying to stay on top of a huge pile of bills and college loan payments, stuck working at a car wash with my masters degree. There were a lot of different ways to react to being broke with financially “useless” degrees, living in a glorified tool shed, and working at Butch’s Lube N Wash with a completely broken heart. After all, life had “happened” to my ass like a bucket full of cold water straight to the face. There were so few options available to me, it seemed.
One of the ridiculous things about modern American culture is that very often, life’s simplest and greatest joys are obscured by an idea that if you’re not living your “best” life, you’re not at a point in which you are allowed to be happy (and in many cases, “best” is determined by having temporary ownership over things people are trying to sell you). One of the great things about the disasters of 2008 for me was my realization that I had real friendship in my coworkers at the car wash, for example. I enjoyed laughing and bitching with the guys every morning, cold or hot weather. Too many people with my degrees imagine that they’re too good to work at Butch’s– that it would be a tragedy of their life to work there. Not true. When it sank in that I wasn’t leaving Butch’s any time soon, it was shocking how easy it was to get back to having “good days.” I didn’t want to be there forever, of course, but while I was there, I pulled everything I could out of it, and chose to do good work every day. When I finally did leave Butch’s, after working there about 2 years longer than I ever thought I would, those guys took me out and threw me the best going away party I can remember. I still talk to a lot of them, and I’m proud to tell anybody that I was a towel jockey at Butch’s for years.
This attitude has helped me a lot in my adventures since then. Living in that tiny, tiny cottage– I opened the window, and the smell of the ocean blew in every day. I started to make it my business to cook food for the week, every Sunday with the window open, the salt air, and the sound of my small radio set to a classical station, or all of the awesome music I’ve accumulated on my laptop over the years. I follow the same rituals now, minus the smell of the ocean. I miss that. When I think of my time there, I hardly remember spending Christmas night by myself in the freezing cold, or the blazing heat in August, or the constant feeling of imminent bankruptcy. Those memories are the barely perceptible ghosts– the briny smell of my former life near a beach is the visceral, “real” memory. I smile when I think of it. By the way– training? I got a discarded keg and filled it with sand, improvising exercises like the strongman badasses of old– life happens indeed, oh stranger who “used to hit the weights hard.”
The lessons of 2008, difficult as they were, have informed every decision I’ve made about my own attitude since. Even when life doesn’t take me where I want to go, I still choose how to ride the sonofabitch. I can always choose to be the man I want to be. That is (in part) how I want my own kids to remember me someday.