| We don’t have the power to make others’ journeys smooth and uneventful, and maybe it’s a good thing we don’t. can — and maybe we are even
obliged to — hold back tree branches to prevent them from lashing out at the faces of those who walk right behind us on the path.
Here are some things I’ve learned during the 59 years I’ve spent on this planet. Some of the lessons might seem profound. Others profane. Some
downright boring. In any event, I’m willing to share because it’s all I have:
There is usually an easier way: I had a fierce and — in retrospect — wonderful teacher when I was in the third grade. Her name was Miss
Bliefeld. She couldn’t have been more that four feet tall and her complexion was very pale compared to most of the other kids in my class, but it was
clear that fear was not a part of her make-up. But unexpurgated respect that bordered on fear was what she generated in the students in her class. I
remember one year in early spring. Somehow, everyone in the world knew that it was approaching prime cherry blossom time in Washington D.C.
where the fragrant little white and pink petals exploded on the water by the Washington Monument. I was one of the very lucky ones. I was about to
actually visit the nation’s capital with my grandmother. I made the mistake of telling Miss Bliefeld about the trip. She took the opportunity to wreck
my spring vacation by giving me an assignment which was to write down all the states we passed through on the way to D.C. I was mortified and
remorseful, but Miss Bliefeld had given her orders so that was that.
The bus ride to D.C. was agonizing. I dared not sleep or enjoy the company of my grandmother and her West Indian friends who all attended the
Church of the Crucifixion on 149th Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem, New York. I ignored the smells of hot codfish cakes, steaming coffee and
cream, fresh mangoes, freshly baked coconut cake and other West Indian goodies oozing from the sides of wicker baskets or escaping through
brightly-colored cloth covers. I was too busy watching highway road signs that read things like, “You are now leaving New York” or “Welcome to
Virginia.” I ruined the bulk of my trip unnecessarily by doing something I didn’t need to do. All I had to do was look at a map or ask the bus driver to
fulfill my assignment. As I think about it now, the lesson was possibly that New York City and Washington, D.C. are closer together than one might
pretty stupid when I think about it now. But I wonder how many things I’m doing the hardest way possible today.
It’s never too late: It really never is. There is still time as long as we’re breathing. The irony is that those who don’t believe this usually subscribe
to the opposite which is the notion that it’s always too late.
My junior high school had combination band and orchestra class. Kids were usually assigned instruments according to availability. I played viola
one year and trumpet the next. There was no rhyme or reason. I really wanted to play tenor saxophone, but there was only one sax in the program. A
kid named Joshua had taken private tenor sax lessons for two years, and he used this credential to argue for the one sax in our pathetic program. The
fact that he had a sax at home — rented or owned — didn’t enter into the decision.
Joshua ended up with the school sax primarily because I deferred to his “right” to have it. At the old age of 12 I had convinced myself that I had
waited too long to show interest in playing the sax and since Joshua had made a commitment around the age of 10 – it was my job to give up my
sax ambitions. Baloney. But that’s what I was thinking. The lesson I learned was not to be obnoxiously aggressive about every little thing, but to
understand my motivations for going after or passing on opportunities and if I give myself the green light there is absolutely nothing wrong with going
after the prize with all my heart and soul.
Love will make you crazy at any age: I don’t have any wisdom to impart in this regard. But I think it’s important to know.
Learn about money: Understand that the lottery is not going to make you rich. Working three jobs is O.K. only for a short period of time, but
working more and harder is not the path to wealth. I’m told that people who have money have figured out ways to make money work for them. If you
are in the habit of saying, “I can’t even balance my own checkbook” chances are that you will come to believe what you say (if you haven’t already),
that you will depend on someone else to balance your monetary affairs (like credit companies that send threatening letters and leave phone
messages that make you afraid of the sound of your ringing phone) and they will rarely have your best interests at heart.
Swim into rather than dance around the hard things: I have yet to meet anyone who is immune to loss. Loss has many faces and can include
things like the end of relationships, death, property foreclosure, permanently misplacing your great-great grandmother’s antique ring that has been in
your family for generations, or any other loss you choose to add to this list. Alcohol, false gaiety, vacations and substitutions of various kinds may act
as temporary salves. But the trick is timing. It seems that a period of time is required to be spent in the dark valley of despair and desperation with
the knowledge that the sun will again rise even though it is virtually impossible to even envision the return of any kind of light. Free falling seems to
be part of the deal. No parachutes in the form of any of the salves already mentioned because when the ointment wears off the darkness will be just
as thick but it will appear to be thicker which can result in applying even more salve that will make the darkness seem darker still when it reappears.
And it will. Go into the darkness. You’ll come out the other side. We have until now.
These are some of the things I’ve learned. I apply this knowledge with varying consistency, but these are some of the things I’ve learned.