In the last few years I’ve come to learn of the passings of family, friends and strangers all in my age group (and a couple outside it). Cancer, accident, old age, whatever. None of us will ever win that war. Maybe a battle here and there and fight to see another day but eventually we will lay our sword down or have it laid down for us.
A friend in the bike community posted the passing of a fellow chopper enthusiast. I didn’t know the man who passed but in looking at his photos he appeared to be in my age bracket. Given that I am 42 I consider my age bracket anything north of 35 and south of 55. Seemingly still too young to die, not old enough to want to give up the fight. It got me thinking, as death usually does, about my place in the world: what I want to achieve, who I hope my children become and how I can help them, what will make them proud of me when they look back at our lives when I am gone. All the cliches rise up of course. Be good, be kind, rewind. Live honestly and don’t be afraid to carry a broken heart. The thing that never pops up in my mind is “how much money” was there.
My paternal grandfather – and Olivia’s middle namesake Francis – recently passed. He was 97. My memories of he and my Grandmother Elsie (Meme) are different from those of their 5 children. I remember Christmas cards with $20 for my family of 3 to split. Back then we laughed at the paltry amount. Yay McDonald’s for dinner. Now I appreciate the gesture from people who never had so much money to give that they could toss it around wantonly. Of having my Meme prepare shredded coconut from the freezer for dinner one night at my request and my Mother being pissed. Of setting up a kicking tee in their side-yard and kicking the football as far and high as I could imagining myself a pro placekicker, attempting to run under it and catch it, and then kicking it back the opposite way. My Pepe taught me to play pool, even cutting down a cue so that my 6 year old frame could use it whilst standing on a stool. He taught me trick shots and the masse (which I still can’t do). He would end up teaching me more about being a man, a father, and fallible than I could have known way back then.
He was the one who helped me build my Pinewood derby car during my brief 365-day stint as a Cub Scout. No one told me – or more likely I simply wasn’t listening when they did – that we could alter the car. So off we set, my Grandfather and I to his basement with his little wood shop – a drill, some glue and a vice. He drilled the holes for the axles, I glued the wheels on, and we affixed some stickers here and there. When I showed up to the race I saw all the other cars – sleek machines of canvassed-curves carved with time and dedication, hommages to speed and aerodynamics. Then there was mine: a literal solid block of wood, only designated as a “car” by the addition of 2 sets of wheels and a prayer for extra gravity that day. I distinctly recall the Troop leader looking at mine perplexed and offering me some sort of head start. Even my young brain knew I was in for a whooping but I was there and the race was on. This isn’t a story of retribution, of hope overcoming the odds. I got my ass handed to me. The car made it maybe 1/3 the way down before falling off to the side, losing one of the tires and getting trounced by literally all others’ efforts. I was sad then but now I adore this memory. This man who took his time to help his grandson. Winning then was what I hoped for. Now it’s just to do the same for my kids and hopefully God-willing, one day for their kids.
As we laid my Grandfather to rest there were many stories spoken. Mostly pleasant but he was not a perfect man. And there is an honesty and a humanity in speaking the difficult stories. To come to terms with infallibility and imperfection. But for all of them not once was there a mention of how much money was he worth. Behind closed doors of course, conversations of inheritances and bills and the distribution of his life’s assets took place. But his death was a celebration of what made him the man he was: his family, his service to our country, the love for his wife, and the missteps he took along his wooded path.
If you are reading this then you generally know my penchant for running off to the next big thing and that money has never been my motivation. Sure it’s nice to have some and given the option I’d prefer more than less. That’s simple economics. But at the risk of being cliche again – it really isn’t everything. I have friends who can buy whatever they want at anytime. They have worked hard, made smart decisions, took risks others wouldn’t take. Others who scrape by while working jobs so emotionally jarring and devastating that I can’t imagine how they do it then go home to be a mother or father to their own children while carrying the day’s and week’s and year’s weight. I know those who wouldn’t know what to do if they retired tomorrow and then those who have it all planned out. Some who give more and take nothing, some who take and give a little. I love these people for who they are, not what they own.
As I still struggle trying to find that level of contentment that will help me put my head down at night I wonder what it is that I am missing. I now own a few things. I have a little money in the bank. But I don’t feel any “better.” Or any different. Maybe more proud of how I got to own those things but that’s really about it. What’s the point of a truckload of bills if you are afraid to spend it, to take a vacation, to buy that random thing you’ve always wanted? If success equals a certain monetary amount sitting in some fund somewhere to be possibly used at a random rainy-day moment – and that moment never comes? Even if it does will you feel better? I imagine that many rainy day funds are for when the colossally epic shit-storm happens. But do we all have enough to cover extraordinary medical expenses? And what if we mostly remain healthy – my Grandfather was hardly ever sick – and wind up not using that financial umbrella? My maternal Grandfather died penniless. He was an alcoholic. His body ravaged by decades of abuse. He drove using the cruise controls because his feet were numb . His home was a mess and worth only what the plot was. But he spent weeks in a hospital. He had no rainy day fund – and it wouldn’t have saved him even if he did. He had no cash, no assets, and he went into the ground the same way we all do. 6 feet and a casket.
I have no answers. I’m just tired of the same endless circle and feeling like an asshole for wanting off the train. I don’t want to not be here mind you, I just want to steer my own ship.