“I’ve become aware that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.” —Jean Luc Picard.
60 years ago, on a Sunday, I came into the world. Lots of other people did too, but I’m only interested in me (my wife will testify to that). Having made it this far, I can’t seem to stop myself from commenting on it. Sorry.
Generally, I do not feel different. I am only vaguely aware that I am not 20 anymore. Mainly I know this when I do something physical with my two sons who are superb athletes and we finally conclude that mysterious wheezing sound is me. Another clue would be my performance on trivia games. There’s a lot of delay in dredging up information. Watching “Jeopardy” I’m slower to the buzzer. Ironic. I spend my life amassing knowledge only to have it become increasingly hard to access.
Looking back can be dangerous. It’s easy for me to judge myself harshly. Building a mental spreadsheet of where I failed or fell short in 60 years is not constructive. Amassing a list of successes is not a great barometer either. My experience has been that successes are subjective. I’ve walked around with a swelled head about something I did only to be surprised that that same event disappointed someone. Life has a curious balance to it. When you win big, often there are big losers. At 60 I continue to learn that what we have accomplished good and bad may never be fully clear to us while we live.
It would be completely dishonest for me to say that I’ve improved the planet in any meaningful way. If I catalog how I’ve given back to Earth and the people I share it with, I don’t score well. Basically, I sort recyclables into the right bins. Can you feel the oceans getting cleaner?
Assembling a list of things I’m good at does not take long. For the things I can do, I’m passable, but if giant computers ever produce a data mash-up on the best man for some mission, I’m not gonna be at the top of any list. Unless the mission needs a loudmouth with minimal athleticism who can’t easily recall everything he has learned.
For someone who has spent his entire life admiring super heroes I did not become one. It seems highly unlikely that I’m going to mature (and my wife will tell you the sentence should stop there) into Batman. There are several key shortfalls here: My parents’ deaths in my youth left me barely a “thousandaire,” and if there was a giant cave under my home I’m pretty sure the house would collapse into it. Some folks have a life which is a remarkable story. Many of those have a hardship component and the strength of character that grew from overcoming those hurdles. I can’t say that at all. I’ve had a few rough breaks, but overall, I’ve been loved, cared for, and encountered the good will of some truly fine people which I probably have not earned.
When I look around I often feel a profound sense of gratitude. I am aware that a large number of people born on May 17, or any other day of any year anywhere else on the globe, lead lives with challenges that would crush me. My sixty years have been swell. Good fortune, fate, God, the Force, whatever name you give it has always found me and treated me well. I could resent the fact that I’m not a superstar in some field but that would be a profound act of ingratitude for everything good that has found its way into my life. That goodness would include many of the folks reading this.
This philosophic tone suggests that I have some life lessons to impart, information and observations I should share. Ha! Yes, I have learned a lot, but none of it so rich that you won’t do fine without it. When I try to articulate my wisdom into digestible chunks it lays down on a fortune cookie sheet the size of a window shade. I’ve noted my failure at brevity as I’ve been assembling my memoirs (Working title: Lowering the Bar of Excellence: The J. D. Rummel Story). Failure at Brevity is a pretty good title as well.
After sixty years my life appears to be about the connections I make. I connect best via stories. Either by listening to others or, God help the listener, the ones I tell. I did not choose that path, it appears to have chosen me.
The greatest constant in my life, besides my fascination with me, is the parade of stories that fill the streets of my mind. From early on in my 60 years I’ve told tales. Before I knew how to tell my own I told other peoples’. Once, in the ‘70s outside the Omaha theater as we waited for the doors to open I drew a small crowd by repeating Flip Wilson routines that I had committed to memory. At work, I will easily get caught in recounting some event either recent or from the distant past. I’m not saying people enjoy hearing them, but I can’t seem to not tell them. I have to work very hard at keeping my mouth shut. Once, in court, as I was testifying the opposing counsel declared: “Objection! This is becoming a narrative.”
Which is how I see it. Life, or at least my life, is a vast collection of narratives. Like in _The Matrix_ when reality is seen as streaming zeros and ones. Stories are everywhere, like incompetence and corruption in the Trump administration. I’ve learned to see the world as a sprawling play. Sometimes I direct my role in that play by writing my own script. I truly believe I can alter reality by the words I choose and the order in which I release them.
I am aware that many (most?) of my chronicles are special only to me. My yarns of City News and Book, security guard reports, growing up in the church, working at the Merchant of Venus, the escapades of the Mighty Avengers Bowling Team and Movie Club, a love life only slightly less disastrous than Carrie White’s prom, 29 years of showing up at Creighton University (using the word, “working” might be unfair to actual workers), the Adventures of Married Man, and the befuddled observations of J. Rummel: C Grade Parent are mostly warm places only for me. Despite this lack of any need for folks to hear these stories I keep telling them.
As I kick-off my 60th year (not to be confused with kicking off _in_ my 60th year) I’d like to promise you all that I will be a better person, that my remaining time will be spent in the service of the Greater Good, but we all know that’s crap. I’ll continue my half-ass path in my undertakings. I’ll go on being a so-so father, husband, friend, family member, citizen, neighbor, employee, co-worker and boss. The only thing I’m totally confident of?
The stories, long and short, meaningful and pointless will continue.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.