I bent down to pick up a popcorn kernel from the kitchen floor the other day and straightened up and whacked my head against an open cupboard door, which hurt and also reminded me of the time I did the very same exact thing back in my early forties, a harder whacking that in an instant decided me that God is not the angry God of my evangelical youth, the author of plagues and disasters, but loves us dearly and grieves with us when we despair. You can find sacred text supporting either Angry or Loving, but that sharp blow to the head like the vorpal blade hitting the Jabberwock settled it for me.
So when people say, “Don’t beat your head against the wall,” I say, “Why not, if it can help?”
The whack on Wednesday was a corollary of the Loving God whack. I closed the cupboard door and thought, “No more complaining for you. You’re done. You have a good life and be grateful for it and no more mewling and sniveling.” I am at the Age of Regret when I wish I hadn’t spent those years in college learning to sound intelligent and instead had signed on as a deckhand on a tramp steamer and sailed around the world and experienced real life. I regret bad real estate decisions, a multitude of inadequacies, failures to keep up with people I should’ve kept up with, but it’s time to put old regrets aside and be grateful for coffee and clean underwear and conversation with my lively wife and try to put the day to good use.
It’s time to put old regrets aside and be grateful for coffee and clean underwear and conversation with my lively wife and try to put the day to good use.
I look forward to 2021. For four years, an angry fourth-grader has been in the driver’s seat and steering for bridge abutments to see if he could make his passengers screech, and the media has been a slave to this spectacle, and in a few weeks, a grownup will take the wheel. Life is good. Coffee is better, plain black coffee has taken great strides forward. We didn’t have the Dairy Queen Oreo Blizzard back in the day and I don’t even need to buy one. Just knowing it exists is pleasure enough. There are more fragrances of soap than ever. Rosemary, basil: formerly on your spice shelf, now in the shower stall. The slots in your toaster are wider now to accommodate thick slices of artisanal bread: Grandma baked but she didn’t consider herself an artist. Now you can.
Your phone used to be on a short leash and the whole family could hear your conversation and now you can take it to your room, outdoors, up the street, enjoy freedom of speech, exchange intimate confidences if you have any. I come from the era of Larry and Gary and now you have boys named Aidan and Liam, Conor, Dylan, Minnesota kids enjoying the luxury of being Irish. Larry and Gary are old men, a vanishing species.
There is still a good deal of stupidity around, of course. This year, the MacDowell Colony decided to drop the word “colony” from its name because it carries “a sense of exclusion and hierarchy” and has racist overtones, thinking back to European powers who cruelly and murderously oppressed their indigenous populations. The word, as used by MacDowell, simply means “a community of like-minded persons,” a gang of harmless poets and composers sitting under the trees of New Hampshire, but the virus of pointless self-righteousness is everywhere and so I suppose we should no longer refer to the bowels as our “colon,” perhaps we should call it the macdowell, and give the decolonizers a macdowelloscopy to see where their heads are.
This righteous act was easily accomplished because nobody gives a rip whether you call it a “colony” or an “asylum” or a bowl of almonds. What would be truly meaningful is to change New York to New Hiawatha, the Duke of York (later James II) having been a tyrant who maintained the divine right of kings, like the fourth-grader. If you renamed the city and state for the Mohawk chief, you’d be accomplishing something.
Let it be. I’ve learned to be grateful and that’s enough for now. I was lucky to be born back when all soap was Ivory, before Blizzards had Oreos, so I could appreciate the diversity, which I truly do. I wouldn’t know how to be a Liam but the cordless phone is a beautiful thing. To the young, ho-hum, but to me, a revelation.
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