I had a birthday recently, not a dramatic one with a zero, but one that left me on the threshold of my middle 60s. They set you to thinking, birthdays do, and most folks my age have a heightened appreciation for the grains of sand tumbling through the hourglass.
“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth,” advised Max Ehrmann in his beautiful poem, “Desiderata.” He wrote those words in 1927, and they are as wise today as they were then.
Gracefully surrendering the things of youth isn’t easy, but in the fullness of time, I’ve come to recognize the changing seasons of my life.
First was that relatively simple era as a kid in my parents’ house. We lived in a pine forest, so my young years were filled with climbing trees and running wild in the woods. I belonged to a ragged little band of neighborhood boys and the only mischief we could muster was pretty tepid by today’s standards. Girls were alluring, but mysterious, so we kept riding our bikes and throwing pine cones at one another.
Priorities began to shift in high school, but it wasn’t until college that I took first my real steps toward maturity. I didn’t have anything in my wallet back then, but my parents were still paying the bills, so there wasn’t much concern about money.
Inflation was high, interest rates were sky high, and jobs were scarce when I graduated from college. Hoping to outwait a difficult job market, I went on a seven-month bicycle tour of Europe. The road led from Ireland to Hungary, with a memorable sojourn in Tuscany to pick grapes and bottle a lot of fine chianti.
It was a good run, but I was hiding from the inevitable. At some point, I had to return to the United States and begin making a living. It was time — past time, actually — to make something of myself.
Ka-chunk! The wheel of life took an unmistakable lurch forward.
I returned from Europe to settle in Montana, where I launched a modest career. The work was exciting and I had a lot of enthusiasm. There were awards, and promotions, and more money, and more responsibility. There was a woman I almost married, but our lives were slightly out of phase and the moment melted away.
I could have leveraged my professional life upward, hopping from job to job, but there was still some unfinished business to settle. With a grubstake of $15,000, I embarked on a long, slow trip around the world — buying one-way tickets, staying in cheap hotels, ranging widely on all settled continents. I snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef, joined a Mount Everest expedition, guided river trips in South Africa, poured concrete in Switzerland and steamed down the Amazon.
I carried my home in my hands and fed one mouth, which was my own. The days were full, but my life was empty; I thought I’d never get married, never have children.
After 2½ years offshore, my career was badly stunted when I finally returned to the United States. It took a while, but I found a job and once again started near the bottom of the totem pole.
It wasn’t apparent at the time, but that’s when one season of my life imperceptibly gave way to the next.
I was in my early 40s when I met the woman who became my wife. We had some carefree adventures in our early years together, but my wife’s career is a demanding one that leaves little room for spontaneity. There was never enough time to live our dreams.
A year after our wedding, we moved to the Palouse and the pace of life quickened. My wife started a new job, I enrolled in graduate school, and we bought a house. A few years later, we had our first child; a couple of years after that, we had another.
There are many ways to lead a human life and now, somewhat surprisingly, I am both a husband and a father. I’m not sure how it happened but, apparently, I have taken kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
In the midst of winter, William Brock foundwithin himself an invincible summer.