A number of years ago I was in Portland, on the first ever vacation with my then girlfriend, a friend I hadn’t seen in years, and all the amazing scenery and offerings of Portland just waiting for me to wander up and try them.
I was more than a little excited.
It was during this trip, on the very first night, actually, that I was standing outside of a bar with my friend. I believe I was holding a suitcase and he was…fixing his car? In downtown Portland at 12:30 in the morning. As odd as this seems this is actually completely normal for the both of us.
We were doing that whole scattered conversation that always seems to happen when you see people you really care about for the first time in years. It ranged from the cat he used to have, what my sister was doing, where his Mom was, where my Mom was, the drunkest we’d both been in since we saw each other last, writing, zombie apocalypses, did I happen to have any duct tape, the latest stupid escapade and finally wound around to the ever typical “so, how’s life?”
I don’t remember what I said. I do remember that I sighed, and that I watched a street light for a while as I gave him the canned speech I usually give for these questions. It was positive, it probably contained some buzzwords, and I was able to do it without really paying to much attention to what I was saying. My mouth just sort of took over and my brain wandered around metaphorically kicking rocks until I stopped talking.
There was a small silence until he snorted, head somewhere in the car, and told me to, “try that again, but without the bullshit.”
Jump around a little bit, I was living in Milwaukee and I had a buddy that lived in the same area. For whatever reason, we had been hanging out and talking and the night had progressed to sitting on a bench along the street at 1:30 in the morning. We were both engaged to medical students and we were in each other’s weddings. We were both on the edge of leaving this town and jumping into the next thing. We had a pack of cheap cigars and we had walked dark streets for hours. Talking, about video games, pets, schedules, and what on earth we were supposed to do in the next few months. We talked about getting married and all the chaos that we (thought) we knew was coming. At the end of it all, we were sitting on that bench and I asked him how life was going. And he gave me some answer that was kind, thought out, and I could tell that he was letting his brain wander. It had all the right words and the right tones to be completely and totally sincere.
It was a pile of crap. I laughed out loud and watched a cop glide past in his cruiser as I asked him to try again, but this time without the bullshit.
As a teacher I am in the gifted position of watching people try new things daily. Sometimes it’s small. Sometimes it’s huge. But I’m also watching, and often disabusing, students of various notions of how things are supposed to work, or how they are supposed to act. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t say the phrase. “Great! But let’s try that again…”
To their credit, my students do. They dust themselves off, sometimes literally, and try again. There truly is something to be said for the fearlessness and resiliency of a typical 9 year old.
But it’s a lesson that we can all think on. Unfortunately, as we get older, it’s not so cut and dry as it is in a karate class. There are always conceptions of how we should act, of what we should say, of what success means and how we can achieve it that we weave for ourselves. And as we progress through life, there is an ever smaller population of people that will listen to you, chuckle, and call you out on your ridiculousness.
Eventually, there are only a handful of them. And they seem to be scattered around the country/globe/universe like the Dragonballs/Horcruxes/Mythical-hard-to-find-things of your choice. The chances to wander dark streets at the wee hours of the morning, go on random adventures in new places, or even just shoot them a phone call or text seem to be vanishingly small. Time seems to slip away ever faster, kind of like the car in neutral rolling down that incline that you could have SWORE wouldn’t make a car go that fast (oddly enough, I have a funny story about this). With the busy lives we all have filled end to end with the simple purpose of not dying (that is somehow more complicated than ever) coupled with the challenge of somehow managing to pay for everything, including a lot of things that haven’t happened yet. We’re ALL in an echo chamber of our own ideas that only occasionally gets opened up to the outside world.
And that’s a bad thing.
People, I think, are meant to talk. Some more than others, and there are the rare few who are truly happy in their own space in their own head, forever. But for the majority of us, we sit and stew and then need to tell someone – anyone – about the pressure building up. We need someone to roll their eyes and ask us to try again when it’s a sham, or to nod and get more coffee when it’s not.
So, to you nameless individuals out there who call me on my crap or laugh at me when it’s needed.
Thanks, this one’s for you.