It was such a beautiful day today, with the summer solstice only 30 hours away. The fading light laid low and soft on the horizon at 7 p.m., an hour or so of it left to go.
A typical night like tonight would have involved a lovely meal and a bottle of wine, or more. As of late, I’ve chosen not to drink for reasons too involved to elaborate upon here. It should suffice to say it’s been a good choice and one that I’m reveling in. I’m not hearing much in terms of protests from my inner circle either, which speaks volumes. This refreshing new direction has left me with the pesky problem of having a relative abundance of personal time in the evenings, combined with the energy of childhood I misplaced somewhere in my early 20s, and a clarity so clear that I can hear my soul speak, even at a whisper.
My father likes to quote a friend, who once wisely said, “Don’t fall in love; it sticks to your face.” Well, as many times as I’ve heard that humorous quip, I’ve fallen head first into it my own fair share of it, only to get up, hearing his words echo in my head. Naturally, he wants the best for me, but being on his fourth wife, he’s got his own rhythm with these things, and his advice is somewhat loaded with contradiction.
In fact, his explanation for the numerous wives is simple. He says he’s going to do it over and over until he gets it right. I think he’s finally done it this time, but not without some serious face washing done along the way. I hate to evoke the wisdom of Confucius, at the risk sounding like I’m quoting a fortune cookie, but he’s reputed to have said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Well, I fell in love, again. This time with a high school sweetheart. After 21 years apart, our paths recently crossed. Love rekindled quickly, only to find that friendship is where the story ends, or perhaps begins anew. Needless to say, there is some face washing to do, and this time it’s mine.
With much on my mind, and steam begging to be blown, I saddled up for a ride. Now, I’m not a cyclist, nor have I ever played one on TV, but I did once ride from Vermont to New Jersey in a week, for a good cause, with a bunch of people who were, in fact, very much cyclists. They indoctrinated me into the culture of shrink wrap and clunky shoes. It’s not one that I embrace readily. In fact, I lament it. I don’t need any help looking like a sausage, but there is a method to the madness. Regardless, the road beckoned, and I answered the call.
Without a clear path in mind, I followed a quiet voice, which took me out past the high school where I first fell for a much younger version of the woman for whom I was now reconciling my feelings. It was also the school that I dropped out of (read: was kicked out of) in 11th grade, in part because of recalcitrance, and also due to sustained absences for reasons beyond my control. The truth is, I didn’t want to be there, and they didn’t want me there. It was a relief for all of us, with one glaring exception. When I left that school, I also left a broken heart behind, only to find myself with that person again two decades later. But this time it was my heart in tatters. I suppose many could find poetic justice in that. As for me, I’m not quite there yet.
I also passed the gas station where I began working full-time immediately after dropping out, and where I was rescued — and I mean rescued — by a man named Randy, who changed my life forever. God, I love that guy. Within a month of fixing his flat tire, I was working alongside of him on Wall Street, which led to me becoming the youngest licensed stockbroker in history at age 17, resulting in a Guinness World Record. It still blows me away to this day. This was not anything that anyone around me expected to happen, least of all me.
I then passed my grandparents’ house, where my mother and her siblings were raised. It’s where we spent every holiday, singing Christmas carols, feasting on unforgettable Thanksgiving spreads, enjoying Memorial Day and Fourth of July cookouts, surrounded by what seemed to me to be a never-ending parade of loved ones. There was even a Jell-O wrestling episode involving my uncle and his friends, which I can only recall vaguely now. Perhaps that’s a good thing, now that I think about it. Jell-O wrestling aside, that house, and the experiences there, were a huge and formative piece of my childhood. I can still smell the smells. I can still hear the grandfather clock’s hourly gong. It’s where our family was family when we were still a family. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting, but with a lot more scotch and vodka.
I then passed the church where I reluctantly joined my parents on Sunday for many of my early years, until that fizzled for reasons unknown. It’s the place of countless potluck dinners and Sunday school (which I hated with a passion). I can still hear the echoes in the hall, and the silence after everyone had gone home, and we were the last ones there, cleaning up. It’s the church my grandfather and uncle helped renovate and restore. It’s the church where my grandparents renewed their vows on their 40th anniversary in which my grandfather memorably replied to the pastor, “I will, I do, I did.” It’s also the church where my mother’s ashes lie under a plaque in the back, right on her Poppy’s lap, where she so much loved to be as a little girl.
My grade school, where I first turned on a Macintosh computer and became enamored with technology, is right down the road from the church. It’s where I discovered the magic of the opposite sex and the agony that often comes along for the ride. It’s also where I first met that adorable little girl. Yes, that little girl. It was fourth grade.
A few miles down the road, I passed the corner store where Mom and Dad would stop to get the basics when the cupboard was bare: butter, milk, eggs, and, of course, cigarettes. Always cigarettes. We often stopped there for a deliciously greasy pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich. They also made a killer BLT. There were, and still are, a vintage pair of gas pumps in front, right on the curb. I never saw them actually in operation, and always wished I had. That place is dripping with memories. It’s not the same now, but the recollections are indelible.
As I went further up the road, I passed the house where I was raised. It’s where I learned of the priceless gifts that come from caring for animals both large and small, especially those who were injured, or no longer wanted where they were before. It’s where I learned about life and death and love and loss. The fields next door, now filled with McMansions, are where I rode my horses, and dug holes all the way to China, looking for gems. The woods behind the house were my solace when the tensions in the house ran too high. My dogs — my pack — and I would disappear all day back there. It was a little boy’s paradise. This is the house my parents bought when they were first married. It’s the house I lived in when my parents divorced. It’s the house in which I was given the gift of life. It’s also the house in which my mother ultimately chose to take her own.
I continued down the road, reflecting on all of these things, with the cadence of my breath and pedals steady, powering into the wind. I began to think about how amazing this life has been. At 37 years old, I’m starting to see things in a much different way. My values have shifted remarkably. I realize now, in the most profound way, the incredible value of kindness, of gratitude, of time spent in quiet, with nothing but me and my own noisy thoughts.
With the wind pouring through my helmet, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the fact that I have lived what sometimes seems like 100 lifetimes in these 37 years. I’ve enjoyed fairy tale success, and devastating failure. I’ve traveled widely and wildly, to places I had never dreamed or even imagined as a child. I’ve enjoyed the deepest connections, and in some cases been glad to see them go. I’ve endured massive adversity, much of which was self-created, and all of which made me the man I am today. When I look in the mirror now, I like that guy. I like him a lot. And we’re getting to be better friends with every passing day. I wouldn’t change any of it. Not for the world.
As I headed back home, I almost passed by my father’s house, where he lives with the aforementioned fourth wife, whom I adore. I chose instead to swing through, and say hello. Truthfully, I stopped in for a hug. See, we never know when that last hug will be. I don’t remember the last one with Mom. That won’t happen again. So, after the hugs and “I love yous,” I pedaled home, with the sun setting and grateful tears streaming down my cheeks. As I pulled into my driveway, it was dark outside, but inside I was light. What an amazing night.
Yes, I’ve lived many lifetimes in my 37 years. And over the course of 18 miles today, I lived those 37 years all over again, in only an hour. It was, truly, the ride of my life.
It was such a beautiful day.