Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lost Things

No intro on this one. Just a thoughtful piece I did a while back.
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written 11/2004

I’m officially in my golden years, a senior citizen, if you will. As I talk with friends of similar ages, listen to conversations among people in waiting rooms or the next booth in a cafe, I can’t help but notice that many of, most of us have some lost things. No, not the car keys or the remote control to the TV. We’ve all missed opportunities in our lives, passed up chances to do something, go somewhere, experience that once in a lifetime something-or-other, and later in life we notice ... and regret ... the loss.

Many of these events presented in the early years of our lives, but we unfortunately don’t recognize until much later what happened. Or didn’t happen. And then we often give it up, just let go of it because we are now “too old” to do something about it. I find myself wondering if we do so too quickly. Some dreams can still be brought to fruition, as long as the dreamer has some imagination and flexibility.

I think back over my own things lost, and I first say, “I missed my chance.” For instance, I had several years of piano lessons, about seven, I think, and I was reaching the level of expertise at which I could have really begun to use those talents for fun, rather than the drudgery of practicing mindless finger exercises and sitting on Saturday morning with Miss Hesterworth playing the assigned pieces of Bach or Mozart or Schumann, while she encourages me to “move with the music” or “listen to the message of the passage.”

At about fourteen, I discovered something that was much more powerful than Miss Hesterworth AND her piano ... boys with tennis rackets! Soon I had whined and stomped my feet enough that my mother gave up the fight and the Saturday morning appointments with Miss H. stopped.

I was ecstatic! For a while. By the time I realized that the boy and tennis racket were gone, I was somewhere in my early adulthood, hanging around a piano being played by someone else, and I was wishing I could play so well. But no ... I had given up not only lessons, but practicing, and my skills were pretty pitiful at this later time.

Even after I faced the fact that I wished I could play passably, did I say to myself, “So go take some lessons and brush up”? Heck no! I just continued to take life as it was thrust at me, not considering the possibility that I could, at 35, take lessons and refresh my playing skills. I went ahead with life, still wishing and doing nothing about it. Now I’m sixty and still haven’t taken a refresher course.

Similar story with the violin. Five years of lessons and orchestra at school, and I knew I would never be a great violinist, but I played well enough to always make the cut. And I enjoyed it. But at a certain juncture, I decided that I wanted to be in the band, and you and I both know that there has never been a violin in the marching band. I switched to percussion, and had a lot of fun playing almost every instrument in the percussion section over time, becoming reasonably expert at some of them. In the wake of this excitement, I left behind the good old fiddle. Later I wished I could still play well enough to join my daughter in a duet.

So it goes for many more things, my first serious boyfriend being one. I have never completely recovered from the soaring infatuation of our brief relationship or the crashing devastation I suffered when we both proved too immature to do the work necessary to make it work. Would we have lasted forever? Probably not, but I have wondered many times since just what might have been. I’ll never know.

My first marriage, also, fell victim to lack of concentrated, dedicated labor which is necessary to weave a fabric strong enough to withstand the forces of the world as they beat at and twist on the threads. The marriage was strained beyond our inexperienced resolve, and we fled, looking for answers which weren’t found elsewhere. What was lost is irreplaceable, but hindsight only reveals the error, not the alternate reality.

I think of friendships, too, lost in the shuffle of daily life, some with external stressors, others just unattended. At times I wish I could go back and turn them around and see where they might go, should have gone. But what is done is done.

One thing I regret perhaps most of all is not having asked more questions. My parents are both gone now. While they were here, I can remember back on many times that one of them told a story, and I didn’t pay much attention, sometimes because it was the umpty-eleventh time I’d heard it. In later years, I think I listened better, knowing what a treasure was being gifted to me. I often didn’t go beyond their words, the stories, with questions to clarify or enhance on the old familiar yarn. These days I talk with my siblings, and we sometimes reminesce over a favorite story only to discover that we each have a slightly different bent on it. How I wish I could just ask Mom one more question or listen more closely to Dad’s recounting of an old, weathered story.

As I consider the things lost, it is clear that there are some I can do something about, for the piano and violin can always be relearned. There are others that are beyond my ability to change in a significant way. If only I could put the marriage on the right track or talk with my parents for a hour.

It become paramount to me, then, to pass along to my children and grandchildren, to all the children and grandchildren everywhere, the importance of second chances, of renewing abandoned talents, of listening and of asking questions, even when they think the have heard it all. We should all be willing to move out of our routines and venture beyond our comfort zones in order to expand our worlds, to open windows and doors to new adventures. We tend to treat the past experiences as being done, essentially dead. Some may be, but there are others ... many others ... that are still workable, malleable, recoverable. And what a loss it is when we simply shrug things off without exploring our capabilities to build, to repair, to develop skills or renew them. I think we should challenge ourselves to not accept the losses without a fight. And we shouldn’t wait too long. I can certainly still master a new level of proficiency but it becomes more challenging with each year. How much easier it would have been to take piano lessons at 35 than it will be now.

The questions for my mother can no longer be asked. That opportunity is lost forever. I hope my progeny hear this and work to be as experiential in everyday life as they can possibly be. Life is good! Use it up and use it well!

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