Friday, April 20, 2007

Everything was beautiful, even if it did occasionally hurt

A long time ago (when I was a teenager and inclined to believe I had the world by its coattails) life was hard, but still a lot easier than it is now. We didn't know it at the time, but that was the true peak of opportunity in our lives. The choices we made back then became the foundation for everything we became.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we can't recover from the mistakes we made in high school. But we do carry those errors with us into adulthood in one way or another. Either in the backs of our minds (cleverly disguised among words like "growth" and "change") or thrust directly in front of us: angry banners announcing our iniquities.

Back in Plymouth, Indiana, I was a teenager feeling suppressed and oppressed, smothered by the over-abundant rules and conservatism of the Mid-Western Bible Belt. My escape was my bicycle, which I'd ride away on for hours and hours, going miles beyond our quaint little town. I rode through cornfields and over rickety wooden bridges covered in wildflower vines and felt freer than at any other time in my young life. It was golden. It made the weight of everything in the rest of my rattled and shaken-up world evaporate, and for a little while I was free to feel the world around me in the most innocent and purest of ways.

When the decision was made to move to Connecticut, I was furiously opposed to the idea. I pictured Yuppies and huge buildings and rush and run and coldness. I fought until the very last day. And when we moved, we drove. I was forced to savor every single mile of the experience. I have to say, Pennsylvania is the most God-awfully endless state to drive through in the approximately one-third of this country that I've been privileged enough to personally encounter.

Where we arrived was not the mega-city I had imagined, but a little farming community, except without the flatness of the upper Mid-West. Oh, this place was lovely. It was nestled in the valley of the Berkshire Foothills, and because it was late summer, the colors were just beginning to become incredible. The house we rented, although on a major roadway, was fenced in on all sides by so many trees it made the yard look like something out of "Camelot," which was what I liked to imagine it to be.

On the edges of the yard were fantastically huge boulders, taller than a large man. On one side of the house (the side with no windows) was a boulder with a flat and broad top. This became my imaginary hideaway, where I would read countless books and stare into the woods, losing my thoughts to tiger lilies, birch trees and ivy.

It was there that I gained enough confidence to come out of my shell and experience some of the social aspects of high school. I sang a solo on stage for my choir's spring show. I acted (badly!) in plays. I hiked up the waterfall in Devil's Hopyard State Park. I lugged my enormous boom-box to Marlborough Lake for picnics in the canoe of someone I loved (and still do, in many ways). I skipped school and sprawled on the beach (and then huddled under the beach's shelter from the sudden and unexpected rain) with one of the most fantastic group of friends a teenager could possibly have. I became a part of something for the first time in my life. I got to be alive and mature enough to experience and appreciate when the Berlin Wall came down and Mandela was released and the Cold War ended. I found myself, and liked what I found.

Not that I haven't fallen backward since then quite a few times. When it comes to tribulation, I've got the market cornered. But the experiences of my adolescence enabled me to view my future with a little more hope and gave me a little more faith in the people I came into contact with. Which was lucky, because becoming an grownup and discovering all that is adult reality really sucked.

As I disembarked the fantasy cruise of childhood, the "real world" seemed more than a little insanely chaotic. I was lost without a map, and very little prior briefing on the proper navigation of grownup life. I screwed up. A lot. I retreated and locked myself in my dark little house more than once. Being a hermit was sometimes the most attractive option. Spending the majority of your life in fear can severely limit your possibilities. I would strongly suggest not doing so, for those who might be contemplating it.

Several beautiful children and failed relationships later, I'm finally getting an idea of what I want to be when I grow up. To call me a "late bloomer" would be a ridiculously humorous understatement. Still, I haven't given up yet. The journey matters more than the destination, and it's been a heck of a trip. I might not have seen nearly as much as some people have been fortunate enough to experience, but I do know it's been more than most. Some of it was incredible, quite a bit of it horrible, all of it a learning experience.

One last thing: No matter what hand you've been dealt, do more than make the most of it, even if you're bluffing most of the game. Play those cards like you've got a handful of aces every time the dealer throws a new card at you.

And no matter what, remember that someone, somewhere loves you.


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