Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Oh Well, A Touch of Gray Kinda Suits You Anyway: Reflections on Forty, Joy, and Privlege

Rarely does a day go by when TheWife doesn't make some comment about the notable gray patches in my beard or what hair that's left on my head (the back and ears are a different story altogether). With average life expectancy right around 80, sitting here today at 40 makes a philosopher introspective about the first half.

On the one hand, it makes me humbled at how fortunate I am to have all I have and to have experienced all I've experienced. I have a wonderful life partner whom I love dearly and who loves me as much. Two joyful, healthy children whose lives enrich me to no end. Generations of family around me who are a deep part of my life. Parents who created a nurturing and functional environment that allowed me to explore aspects of myself wherever they led knowing that I was loved and supported in all of my endeavors. An ever-enlarging circle of dearly loved friends that still includes my best friend from first grade and folks from every stage of my life. A job with colleagues and students -- present and past -- whom I include amongst my friends that not only is incredibly fun on a daily basis, but that challenges me and allows me to continually grow intellectually and personally.

My father taught me a lesson in the backyard that has served me incredibly well. He taught me that if you're solid in the execution of the fundamentals of something, doing the basics well, you will be able to do that thing -- be it a sport, a job, or anything else -- at a level where you can really experience the essence of it and put yourself in a place that on a good night you will be able to reach just beyond yourself and transcend to a place that you never thought you could get to. Train yourself to do the little things right and the big things will occasionally enough fall in your lap that you'll understand when you are in a new and marvellous place.

I've ridden that train to some wonderful experiences. I've played lacrosse against some of the best players of my generation in crowded stadiums. I've played music in smoky dives. I've done stand-up in a bar full of drunk people. I've run rapids, climbed mountains, crawled through small holes in caves, hang-glided off of sand dunes. Gotten a Ph.D. Placed articles in prestigious (and largely unread) journals. Had a book on the front table at Borders. I've danced rapturously many times, selling t-shirts in parking lots across the country.

I've also had my heart broken. Been both team captain and bench scrub. Had dreams shattered and periods of emotional darkness. Gone through times tough enough to be able to have empathy for those whose lives are so much harder all the time.

It really brings home the notion of privilege. I have much of what I have and I've been able to do much of what I've been able to do because I am who I am through no effort of my own. I am white, male, from a place that was financially stable and grew up in a school with great teachers, surrounded by incredibly smart people who allowed me to grow into my mind without feeling insecure about it. I had a personal life that was not marred by violence or illness, in which I was well-fed and cared for. If I am the set of my experiences, who I am must in significant part be attributed to the set of accidental circumstances that allowed me to have those experiences and to experience them in the way I did through the lens I have. I am deeply grateful for all I have, all I love, all I know, and all I've done, but I am aware that all of that was only available to me because of a situation that was not of my making, a situation in which my privileged places was created through the sweat of others and to the detriment of others.

I do hope for forty more. I do hope they will resemble the first forty in their richness. I also hope that I may use them in a way that allows the world to be a better place.

Driving in this morning, I randomly grabbed a disk for the drive and put in a Jerry Garcia Band show from '89 that I was fortunate enough to attend with a few that haunt this playground. Halfway to Taneytown, this came on. (Struck me a poignant)

May the good lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
Surround you when you're far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you'd have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you'll always stay
Forever young