An Old Man with Lots of Stories

grand-canyon-size
How many times have you heard it’s the journey, not the destination? And how many times have you found yourself hell bent on reaching the destination, achieving the outcome or getting where ever you are trying to get to or accomplishing whatever you are trying to accomplish in the fastest most efficient way possible?

After all, we are a get it done and get it done quickly society; the fast-food, drive-thru, microwave, sound bite, 140 characters or less society. But has anyone stopped to ask, “Why are we in such a hurry?” The upside to this approach to life is quantity. We are able get more, do more accomplish more; but what of the quality?

This issue of patience emerged in a conversation recently with a 21 year old who desires to be completely independent and self-sufficient, capable of raising her children on her own without support or assistance. As a 21 year old, I had no children and was still living in my parents’ home. I do understand her impatience, though. When I began my career, I was envious of those with 20 and 30 years of experience. Such comparisons only resulted in unrealistic expectations and a flawed self-perception.

I did not want to endure the process of mastery. I just wanted to get there. Approaching twenty years of professional life and reflecting upon the journey to where I am now, what an amazing journey it has been. From the people I have met, to places I have traveled, to knowledge I have acquired, to the various successes and ascension to increasing levels of competence I have achieved, the journey of my professional life has enriched and brought me great joy.

But what of the larger scope of life; life itself, for which our career lives are merely one dimension? The destination of life is death. What makes life worth living are the countless experiences we have on the destination to our final breath.

I learned a profound lesson about the journey in 2007. I began a relationship in June of that year with a woman who wanted to visit the Grand Canyon. As intention would have it and taking advice given in a workshop conducted the previous year by Robert Moore, Jungian analyst and co-author of King Lover Warrior Magician, I created an “I Want” list. That’s just what it was; a list of things wanted or desired. On my list was a visit to the Grand Canyon.

Knowing her only a month, we took a road trip from Houston to the Grand Canyon the week of July 4th. I had a detailed itinerary including the distance, time it would take to arrive, amount of gas required, where we would stop to spend the night, what time we needed to leave the next morning…you get the idea.

She assumed a laissez-faire approach to the trip. Each stop for gas or food or to use the restroom illuminated our contrasting styles. I was in a hurry to get moving, much like a driver making a pit stop in the Indy 500. She sought to explore each location, not only content but excited and intentional about fully experiencing each location regardless of any stupid itinerary.

The proverbial hit over the head came when she told me to calm down and said, “The trip is not just about getting to the Grand Canyon but about getting to the Grand Canyon!” Magically the shift occurred. There was much to see, feel, taste and touch between origin and destination that added to the richness of the entire experience…and I was completely ignoring it.

This was not only a hit over the head but a reminder of an event that occurred several years earlier while married. Sorting through boxes in the attic, I came across several CDs once belonging to my now ex-wife’s brother. Among the CDs was U2’s Zooropa album. The last song, titled The Wanderer is sung by Johnny Cash. The song was hypnotic and I cannot accurately recount the number of times I replayed the track in the coming weeks and months.

The song is about a man who leaves home and begins to wander. The lines with the deepest resonance were, “I went out there in search of experience, to taste and to touch and to feel as much as a man can before he repents.”

My life was never the same. The painful reality that the journey of marriage I entered with my wife did not align with the needs of my soul was crystal clear. I had more to experience and the commitment I entered was incongruent with what were once merely whispers from the deepest, most buried and denied part of my being.

The marriage eventually dissolved, still one of the more painful experiences of my life despite its necessity. I needed to live, to discover myself, to experience life in a way I had not summoned the courage to before. That did not alleviate the guilt and shame I felt as commitments are not something I take lightly.

My struggle with those feelings eventually led to the understanding that we all act from the degree of self-knowing we possess at any given time…and even if we do know, we sometimes lack the capacity to act on that knowing. Marriage was the catalyst that brought to consciousness the deeper dissatisfaction with my own lived experience.

I wanted to be an old man with a lot of stories; an old man who has fully embraced and lived life to the fullest- the joys, the pains, the hardships, the triumphs, the failures, the successes. The only experience I did not wish was regret and, at such a young age, I was burdened by many.

My intention to be an old man with lots of stories remains alive. I know that one of the stories I wish to tell in my last days is about the amazing woman who walked beside me through the years and the life we shared. Yet, that is but one dimension of a multidimensional experience. Indeed, there is much to see, feel, taste and touch without the need to repent; wisdom born of excess and unintended consequences. I no longer seek to wander. That phase of the journey has run its course. But, oh what stories lie ahead. Oh the places yet to go within and without. Dr. Seuss would be proud.

Recently, the question, “what does it take to shift from merely being alive to living?” was posed by a good friend. Living starts with coming alive and it continues with savoring each breath, each moment, each experience. The measure of our lives lies not in its completion but in all that occurs between our first and final breaths.

Be old with a whole lot of stories to tell.

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2 Responses to An Old Man with Lots of Stories

  1. I’m stunned. Of course I don’t expect my wordpress reader to reveal such deep, thoughtful, Depth-Psychology-worthy writings, so I wasn’t expecting, well, all of this thoughtful wisdom. Thanks for slowing me down and bringing me to a deeper place.

  2. Leonard Hoffman says:

    Russell: Your writings, your experiences ,your revelations etc all so well expressed. It is apparent that by writing, you are doing yourself a good service sort of like self therapy.

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