Behind Looking Forward, Ahead, Looking Behind

Two men sat at a bus stop, one young and troubled, the other old and world-worn. They sat and watched cars drive past them as they awaited their own transportation to arrive. The older man glanced sideways at the younger man, who was lost in thought, and a sly grin began to play at the corners of his mouth.

“What’s on your mind, boy?” he asked.

The younger man was startled out of his trance. “W-what?”

The older man sniffed and pulled his coat tighter around him. “There’s clearly something that’s got your goat; why not get it out in the open and talk about it.”

The younger man was confused and surprised. “With you? I don’t know you…”

The older man nodded. “Maybe, but I have an inkling we’ll be able to understand one another just fine; we just might have more in common than you think.”

The younger man collected himself, and the older man continued. “What’s got you so bothered?”

“Well, uh, I’m worried, is all,” the younger man replied.

“Okay, I had that part figured out; what are you so worried about, though?”

“I just…” The younger man sighed and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees.

“I don’t know if what I’m doing is worth it, you know? I’m struggling every day, chasing after these dreams and pursuing my passions, but nothing seems to be working out. I don’t know if it’s worth my time. I don’t know if my struggles mean I’m on the right path, or if all this adversity means I should turn back and try something else. I don’t want to get older and wish that I had tried harder, or moved on to something else. I don’t want to become an old man who has regrets.”

The older man chuckled. “So don’t”

The younger man shook his head. “It’s not that easy, though.”

“Yes it is. You’re asking yourself all the wrong questions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that you are evaluating your current activities, but it sounds to me like you’re spending far too much time worrying about things and jockeying for position, and not enough time simply living your life.”

The old man sighed and looked up at the sky. “You spend so much time thinking about what is best, and what would be better, that you never truly experience the situations that you’re in. you wanna know what you’ll regret when you’re old? Wasting so much of your time worrying. You’re so focused on the future, that you neglect the present, that I’m fairly certain you wouldn’t recognize the perfect moment if it walked up and kissed you on the mouth.

“Experience it all, soak it all in. Remember as many moments as you can; give yourself as many stories to tell as you can fit into a lifetime. When things are tough, feel every second of it. Understand what it means to be truly struggling. When things are good, relish in it, and store away memories of what life was like when it all went your way. You’re wasting precious time thinking about the road ahead, and nowhere near enough time admiring the scenery around you.

“If you want to know what it means to be human, to be alive, you have to allow yourself the opportunity to live, my boy.”

The young man nodded, soaking in the old man’s words. He glanced down the street, and when he turned back to the man beside him, he was gone. In his place was a piece of tattered paper with a single phrase scribbled on it.

“Every moment is worth remembering, and every breath is worth taking.”

Sixty years later…

The young man had become an old man. As he hobbled his way to the bus stop, he thought that he had wisely traded his youth for experience, and every creak of his knees and ache in his shoulders was living testament to the life he had lived. He sat down, and to his left, sat a young man. He reached into his pocket and felt that old, tattered piece of paper crinkle in his grasp. He glanced sideways at the perplexed look on the younger man’s face, and a sly grin played at the corners of his mouth…

The Fading Reflection

They say I look more like you every day. I don’t see it. I think we become less alike with each passing moment. I look in the mirror, and the man I emulated seems to be missing; there isn’t enough of you in my reflection. I know you would tell me I need to be my own man, but I don’t know how.

I used to be angry. I was angry that you left me, that I couldn’t lean on you anymore, or come to you for guidance. Now, I’m supposed to have all the answers, and I don’t even know if I’m asking the right questions to begin with.

I used to think I was a decent guy, on my way to being a good man. Now, I’m not so sure I’m even human. I’m more like a vacant space, a vacuum, sucking all the life out of those around me. I’m a wreck, addicted to experiences and fleeting moments, unable to find something worth living for. I don’t know what I want, or even what is worth wanting.

You told me I was supposed to guide people, lead people, protect people; you said I was here to give them a shoulder to lean on, to help prop them up when they were weak. Well, they’re always weak; and you know what, so am I. I’m not as strong as you thought I was, I’m not as capable as you believed. I’m not at all the powerful son you wanted; I’m afraid I may have become a waste of your time.

Your work was not complete here, I don’t give a damn what the religious soothe-sayers want to say. The others, they thrive without you. Me? I never learned to be my own man, and I spent my whole young life trying to be you. I wanted nothing but to be just like you. I wanted to be strong like you, I wanted to be happy like you, I wanted to be loved like you. I am weak. I am lost. I am…used. I am your photo-negative, I am everything you were not.

Most days, I’m quite sure I’d be better off dead; the others, I’m drunk. Drunk on the sauce, the experience, the job…whatever it is, I use it to hide and run away. You never ran from anything. I run from it all and claim to be unafraid. The only thing I’m not afraid of is dying.

Listen, old man, they need you, and they tolerate me. Let’s make a deal; let’s trade places. I’m sure they’d love to see you. I’d be surprised if they noticed if I was gone.

I’m not my father’s son. I don’t know what I am, but I am definitely not that. His son would be a leader, someone who people could look up to. Your son would be successful, wise, and content. Your son would make the world a better place. Your son would have a host of people who would miss him were he gone.

This…thing you raised, the one who looks at me with his dead eyes when I glance into the mirror…he makes me sick. He’s nothing like your son. Look, man, I’m sorry. I would say I hope I can change that, but hope is something I have been kind of short on ever since you checked out. Maybe, in time, I’ll be able to pretend that you would forgive me for who I am. I know I’ll never forgive myself.

You know what? Maybe we do have something in common. We’re both pretty hard on ourselves. Maybe I have a chance.

 

Cornfield Contemplations and Heavy Highway Thoughts

This was their spot. It wasn’t anything special to anyone else, but they liked it. To the West were cornfields and the turn rows where they would spin their tires and dig ruts into the ground; there was a stretch of highway to the East, where they would sit atop the sound wall and watch the cars go by, talking about anything and everything under the sun. Right in the middle was an open field of grass where they would play football and baseball, all year round. This was there they had congregated, for the better part of the last four years.

Soon, however, adulthood would begin to take hold, and life would pull them in very different directions. Their college graduation was two days away, and this very well might be the last time Trevor and Brian would be here together. It was a thought Brian had successfully dodged for the majority of this last year; until now, that is.

The two of them sat perched in their usual spot on top of the sound wall, crows flying above and cars zipping by below. The conversation had slowly ebbed to a trickle as the reality of what graduation meant began to strike Brian.

Trevor leaned back and stretched. “What’s on your mind, dude?” he asked nonchalantly.

Brian shook his head. “Eh; nothing, really.”

Trevor snorted. “Bull. I’ve known you since grade school, you can’t fool me. You’ve got something stuck in your craw. Out with it.”

Brian smiled briefly, then his face fell. “I don’t know, man, I just…graduation is coming up crazy fast, and it’s all just starting to get to me.”

Trevor cocked his head. “What is?”

Brian shrugged and sighed. “All of it. The anxiety, the fear of what’s next, the…grown-up-ness of being out of school forever and having to fend for ourselves. And to top it all off, we’re all going different places as soon as we get out of those gowns. Sure, we’ll all be having parties and stuff, but after the celebration is over, we’re all moving to places around the country, and some of us around the world, to pursue our dreams. I don’t know, it just…I never really thought about what it meant to move forward from this stage of our lives. I guess I never thought about how far apart we all would be.”

Trevor nodded silently. Brian awkwardly waited a moment for him to respond, and then continued.

“It’s like, we’ve spent all this time in this bubble, and now we’re all leaving it and going different directions. Soon enough, all we’re going to have is our memories. We’ll all be too busy with our lives to do even pick up the phone and talk to each other.”

Trevor shrugged. “What’s so wrong with that, man? That’s how life is. I’m sure we’ll still get together now and then, at least for old times’ sake.”

Brian sighed deeply. “But things will be different.”

Trevor laughed. “They kind of have to be. Things can’t stay the same forever. I mean, even now, all we have is our memories. It’s not like we’re out there doing any of the crazy crap we used to do. We’re not having a giant bonfire right now, or racing four-wheelers through the corn rows, or skipping classes to drive to the city and catch a show. Life is all about the memories. You never really have the right now or tomorrow; it’s all yesterdays.

“Look, Brian, in the end, all we have is a lifetime full of yesterdays. I guess the definition of living a good and full life is having more good yesterdays than bad ones. I’d say we’re doing pretty good in that regard; we have a ton of great memories. It’s the kind of stuff lasting friendships are built on; those are the things that transcend distance and difficulty.”

Brian nodded and ran his hand through his hair, and Trevor continued.

“Even when things are tough, we have the choice, the chance, to make a conscious effort to be good people, and to do things worth remembering. We can be places and be with people that we want to remember. When I’m on my deathbed, I want to be able to look back fondly on all of my yesterdays. Even the difficult ones, like saying goodbye to good friends.

“People come and go, dude, and it’s normal to miss them and to feel that happy kind of sadness when you think about them; you know, that feeling where you feel like you want to laugh and cry at the same time. That simply means the time you spent with them was worthwhile; it was a good investment.”

Brian tossed a blade of grass lightly into the air and watched it float down towards the road below them.

“I guess I know all that, but I still feel kind of pent up and anxious about it all. I mean, here we are, about to graduate and go our separate ways. I want to move forward and live my life, I really do; I want to explore what the world has to offer, but…but even more than that, I want to go back and do it all again. I don’t want to leave this part of my life. I want to stay here, and live it again, to experience it all again.”

“Well, you can’t. And even if you could, it probably wouldn’t be as great as you think on the second go ’round. You can only ever go forward. What you can do, though, is take it all with you. You can treasure those memories, wherever you might go from here. Hide it all away in your mind, and keep these things safe; that way, you never have to lose any of it.”

“Unless I get dementia,” Brian quipped.

Trevor shook his head and grinned. “You ass. even then, these things make you who you are, whether you remember them or not. You ain’t getting rid of us.”

Brian arched an eyebrow. “You’re really kind of a sappy little bastard, aren’t you?”

Trevor reached over and shoved Brian off the wall onto the grass behind them. “Whatever, dude; you started this whole conversation, so I could say the same, or more, about you.”

Brian laughed. “Fair enough.”

The two of them went silent for a moment as they turned their attention to the highway once more. After several moments, Brian coughed.

“You’ve really thought about this a lot, haven’t you?” he asked.

Trevor shrugged once more. “Meh. I do a lot of thinking in general. People tell me I think too much; I’d like to believe it’s in all the best ways, though.”

Brian stood and dusted himself off. “I would too; I hope you’re right about all this yesterday business. C’mon, we should get back. If we’re late for the team dinner, Coach will have our asses.”

Trevor rolled his eyes. “What’s he going to do, cut us from the team? We graduate this weekend; we don’t even have another game for him to cut us out of.”

Brian chuckled. “True, but do you really want to see Coach Rick pissed off?”

Trevor was quiet for a second. “…good point. Let’s go.”

The two of them jogged back to Trevor’s car and sped off.