Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cat’s in the Cradle - Last Notes

“Do it again!” The sounds of a delighted child echo across the yard as a dad pushes his daughter in a swing. The warm summer air glides by her cheeks as she goes to-and-fro. Safely, just a few feet above the ground, she giggles with glee. After all, her dad is right there by her side. Mom stands by with the camera recording that toothless smile for generations.


Life in the 21st century charges on at an ever dizzying pace. We find ourselves saying, “We’ll get together,” to acquaintances when we know we don’t have the time to vacuum our house. Our pat answer to “how are you?” is more often “busy” or “tired,” neither of which, incidentally are feelings. There is so much to do and so little time to do it.

How is it that our children are born one day and going to college the next?

Life, do we define it by what, or how, we are doing, or by where we are going— or where we have been? Do we need a plan or a goal, or are we simply carried away by the river of passing of time? How does having a specific plan for the future; something that we are pretty certain of, change our life? Maybe we are looking forward to a cruise or vacation. Or worse, we are scheduled for surgery next Tuesday.

Does life control us, or do we control it?

Everyone has a different view of what life is. You have heard sayings about life, lots of them. “If you have your health, you have everything.” “Follow the golden rule.” “Love you neighbor as yourself.” Or, “The most important thing in life is (fill in the blank).” Add to that, “the grass is always greener,” and “you get out of life what you put into it.” Isn’t it Dr. Phil that says, “There is no reality, only perception?” What is the secret to life anyway? There doesn’t seem to be one specific answer or we would all have it. Certainly, if we had the answer there would be no need for therapists, forgiveness and worry.

Some things in life are as elusive as the Man in the Moon!

For many of us, life seems to be an endless stream of events, the ebb and flow of circumstances. When all our circumstances are similar we call it “in a rut”, when they are not, we often refer to it as chaos. Finding purpose in it all is hard to do. Maybe we just need a life coach!

Sometimes life happens to us. Let me give an example from my own life. I wouldn't have known it before I left, but I remember how it felt to spend a day fishing with my dad. It was a sunny day at a pond not to far from our home. We sat on the dam listening to the water falling to the pool some distance below. The smell of pine trees was in the air. There we were eating sandwiches with one eye on the line, talking about which lures were best, and what we would do when we hooked the big one! I don’t think that we caught anything at all day. Actually I guess the fishing wasn’t all that important if I don’t remember whether or not we caught fish. I do remember we were together, dad and I— yes, I remember that. Over 40 years has passed since that day and dad is gone now; he has been since 1998. But I remember that day. How I wished it would have never ended.

At age eight or nine, fishing with dad is how I would have defined the perfect life.

For all of us life has lots of memories, some good and some not so good. Fishing with dad, losing my red boot in the snow when I was three, my first stitches in the ER thanks to my older brother, my first day of college, beating East Haven; our rival hockey team, my wedding day - my daughter telling me how her second grade homework was just “error and trial”. Then there were the challenges of a debilitating car accident, the joy of traveling to Brazil, the longsuffering of kids that didn’t sleep for what seemed like forever and a day, my always welcome morning kiss from my wife……. Life, those are things that life is made up of.

Recently a news flash caught my eye. It was a hand written note from one of the miners that died the week I began writing this article (2006). I remember "I love you" was scrawled at the bottom of his note; his last words to his family. It is the testament of last thoughts before passing into the unknown; a place beyond the veil of life. No more bills, no more bickering kids, no more commutes to work, no more time left to say "I am sorry", no doctors visits or grocery shopping - the train is at the station and it's time to get off. What was interesting was that this man’s son said the note at first was “gut wrenching” but after a few days of grief he proclaimed that it was a family heirloom. Life.

One can only imagine what the thoughts of an emotionally distraught crowd of family and friends, those awaiting the news of loved ones trapped in a mine shaft, must have been. For some readers it is unthinkable, for others who have waited in an emergency room, awaited the return of a soldier, lost a child in a store - any news of a loved one touches the deepest parts of the heart of man.

It has been said that the extremes in our lives put the day-to-day life in perspective. It might be true. Those extremes, the highs we look forward to like the winning of the lottery and the lows which we avoid like the plague, they define life. I think it was Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled who said that our ego boundaries snap in and out of place. He went on to say we can’t sustain highly charged emotional levels for more then three years. Eventually they will snap back into place and we’ll regain our senses.

For many of us, we live in the middle ground. We are not too happy and maybe not to depressed either. Unless we were born with a silver spoon in our mouth, most of us are just trying to “make ends meet” and get by. The family and friends of the miners saw their loved ones off to work that morning, rolling along in the rut of everyday life, and then tragedy stuck. Who would have guessed? We just don’t like to think about dieing, and most of us don’t unless there is some good reason. However; a day is coming as our train nears the station and the ride of life will be over. It does for everyone; that’s part of life. The good news is that most of us don’t know when the train is pulling in to the station.

These types of tragic incidents can cause us to think about our life and our loved ones. Who would you want to write a note to if you had a few hours left? What would your last words be at the bottom of that note?

The New Year is a time for new beginnings and resolutions. It can often bring us to a place where we see a need for change and decide to do it. It is a time to start something that is good for us or to quit something that is bad for us. One of the amazing things about life is that we can stop and change direction, turn over a new leaf, or decide to do something different right now. Resolutions are often about us, but they can be something that we will start doing for someone else. It just might be time to write that note, send that card, buy those flowers or make that call. Who knows how far from the station we are?

And the cats in the cradle and a silver spoon,
Little Boy Blue and the Man in the Moon,
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."
Harry Chapin

Written January 8, 2006

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