Sunday, November 28, 2010

Those Were the Days ...

My Patriotic Friend is going down a path that I know I will take. He has been my mentor and confidante, a few years ahead of me in most respects. A while ago he was sharing his thoughts with me over some fine wine. The occasion was a one-year remembrance of something he had valued and then lost. He said,
“We tend to forget the original thrill of it, that first-time experience when we thought it was a gift from the gods, and we didn’t deserve it.”

He paused for effect and a sip of wine, then continued,
“We went along exploring it, finding new ways to enjoy it for a while. Then over the repeated occurrence of this gift to us we at first began to expect it. Later we became accustomed to the joy of it so much that after a while it seemed ordinary. It was like our daily bread: we no longer thought of it as a gift from the gods, rather, as something due us. All was well.
“Then at some point we realized that this continual gift that we grew to expect was no longer forthcoming. It is as if the gods knew all along of us being ingrates, and decided to bluntly remind us.”
As usual I made a note of his statement knowing that some day I will remember it just so.

Life has not been easy, but in general, good for me. I have had many good things going and I am content. I did give thanks occasionally, but I was also cocky. I seldom gave an explicit thought that some of these good things would stop suddenly.

Then it happened. Two very much appreciated aspects of my life came to an end. One was taken from me, the other I chose to give up for a good reason. The first happened about two years ago, the second a few months back.

As I learned growing up in a hostile environment, “Once you leave, you can never go home.” You may revisit, but it won’t be the same. What you lose or give up can never be retrieved. Life goes on, but along different paths.

I know I am an ingrate when it comes to the appreciation of the good things in my life. I can cite several specific instances when I should have done better. Yet, I am unsure whether I would be better off if I had been explicitly grateful for those gifts from the gods. One thing is certain: it hurts to know that I could have shared or given more, and yet I did not, and now it is too late.

A pleasant but rather sad song by Mary Hopkins from the sixties has the following passage that describes this:
Those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way…
That is the “before” part. Then after the realization of our loss,
Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that lonely person really me …

… Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same …

The really bad part of this is that when things are going well we don’t know or realize that this may be the last time the good thing happens. This may be the last week or last day of our grace. This may be the last gift from the gods. A few days go by without worry, for we are ingrates. Then doubt sets in. Then after a while the realization that it is over. If we could go back to that lest episode! If we could go back to that last day! Maybe we could have and would have done something different. Or at least enjoy it more knowing that it was the last time. But we did not know until later. And here we are.

The truth is, we are an instrument of our destiny. Occasionally we are carried along by its stream, but invariably we have a decision that will change and determine our future based on what we do or fail to do. As in the song, Careless Whisper, “… there's no comfort in the truth, pain is all you'll find …“ What next?