Biff America: Pride and contentment with a life well lived
The old man looked to be in his 80s. He was wearing old-guy clothing, Velcro-laced shoes, loose pants, untucked shirt. Traveling with him was a woman who I assumed was his daughter. She stood before him, straightened his collar and said, “Don’t worry, we have your ticket, ID and luggage. A cart is coming so we won’t have to walk far. We will board early, and the next thing you know, we will be in Phoenix.” The old guy patted her arm and smiled.
The scene made me both sad and scared.
My mate interrupted my thoughts by asking, “Are you carrying a knife?” “Of course not,” I said. “We are about to get on an airplane.”
“You say that, but you almost got us arrested last summer when TSA found nose hair scissors in your shaving kit.” In my own defense, I said, “The security people understood. The scissors had slipped behind the torn lining of my shaving kit; that could happen to anyone. What ticked them off was me trimming my nose hairs before I threw them away. Who knew that nose-hair trimming within 200 feet of a security checkpoint is a federal crime?”
“OK, so you have no sharp objects. But do you have anything embarrassing in your check-in luggage?”
I knew what she was referring to, so I didn’t argue but only said, “No.”
A couple of years ago, we were flying home to attend an engagement shower for my buddy Patrick. I thought it would be funny to give him and his fiance a pair of fur-covered handcuffs, blindfold and a feather duster (I had just finished “50 Shades of Grey”). Seems the handcuffs had some metal in them that caught the attention of the security people. When they opened my bag, I pointed at my mate and said, “They are hers.” The TSA guy gave me a high-five.
Once I was finished getting the security third degree, I was able to direct my attention to the daughter and dad.
Will there be a time when my mate will not question me about sharp objects and feather dusters but, rather, assure me that my only obligation is to survive the trip and she will do all the rest? Death scares me less than aging. (Of course, I say that now.)
We made it through security and were sitting at a bar across from the gate when an electric cart drove by. The daughter and (who I assumed was) her husband sat in back with the old guy in front next to the driver. There was a traffic jam of pedestrians causing the cart to stop right in front of us.
Perhaps it was the relief of surviving the treacherous drive from the mountains, parking, check-in and security and looking forward to our trip home and my father-in-law’s liquor cabinet, but when I saw that old guy sitting in that cart I saw something I had not seen before. I saw contentment and pride.
Nothing Left to Prove
It might have been holiday melancholy, but where I once saw a man near the end of his life and depending on the kindness of others, I saw a man who had lived his life, raised a family, done his best and did his job. I saw both pride and satisfaction in a man with nothing left to prove. I saw symmetry.
The various cycles of life (for those born white, middle class and healthy in America) are fairly similar. As an infant and young child, you live a worry-free life of immediate gratification and total dependency.
During adolescence and teens, you become more aware of yourself and surroundings. With that often comes insecurity and angst. When adulthood arrives, you discover that, much to your surprise, with adulthood does not necessarily come emotional contentment.
If you are lucky, then along the way you will find love, purpose, security and comfort in who you are. You worry less what others think and hopefully have the wherewithal and inclination to be a better person.
And just when you think you might have it all figured out, you become more mindful (and fearful) of the inevitability of time. If you are lucky, then you have faith in a greater power, which brings some comfort. It is ironic that the time in your life when you are often the most comfortable and content is when you are most often reminded that it is fleeting.
That old man’s proud countenance made me hopeful that perhaps memories are indeed a fountain of youth. And that where you are in life can be less important than where you’ve been, how you’ve lived, who you’ve loved and how often you’ve laughed.
Is it possible that this is all wishful thinking and that my memories (all of our memories) will not be an elixir of contentment in the twilight years. But that would be as unimaginative as using a feather duster for … dusting.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul: The Backcountry Years” is available at backcountrymagazine.com/store.