It’s a silly ritual really, yet I go through it religiously; I Spend the last few days of a waning year setting resolutions for the next. I give a lot of thought to the things I want to accomplish over the coming twelve months. It’s all the usual stuff…I’ll quit this and start doing that more often. I look at the new year as an empty blackboard, and on it, I write my goals.
I’ve been missing the point the whole time.
I’ve looking at life the wrong way all along. Allow me to illustrate.
Just a few days ago I was cleaning out some old stuff that I have been moving with me from house to house for over twenty years. We are about to move again sometime in May, and my wife finally convinced me that I should break the seals and see what exactly is in these battered boxes. I guess she figures that by the time I get around to actually doing that, the new house will be finally built and she doesn’t want the old, musty boxes in our new garage.
So I decided to surprise her. I would not wait until the last minute to actually do something that I need to do, and she would have to re-think her notion that I am procrastinator; I knew someday I would prove that to her. Anyway, I made a large pitcher of lemonade, put on some old shorts and a faded Bruce Springsteen Tour t-shirt, grabbed my walkman and a couple of the Boss’ best CD’s and headed off into the garage to do some serious work. At least that’s what I thought I was doing.
I tore the tape sealing the first of my treasure chests and looked down at the contents. Old newspaper clippings, college term papers and greeting cards from over twenty five years ago stared back at me, and in a matter of minutes my well-intentioned efforts at house cleaning were forgotten.
Time and space lost any semblance of cohesiveness, as I carefully laid out each piece of paper on the floor with the care of an archeologist unearthing some relics from an ancient and forgotten civilization.
This was my life.
Old High School Yearbooks filled with pledges of undying friendship from people whom I barely remembered, the faces of the vaguely familiar companions of my youth looked up at me from a time long before life became a matter of over-crowded tomorrows and unfulfilled promises. I stared into the fading photographs, and like some absurd, denim shorts clad Scrooge, was led by their ghosts through a journey of self-discovery and painful introspect.
As I thumbed through my Senior book a loose photograph fell from it, landing face down on the floor by my feet. The back read “Grad Nite 1974″ and I shuddered as I picked it up, still unturned. I didn’t have to look at the image to know what was there.
It was Marshall and me, it seems that it was always that way then, you wouldn’t see one of us without the other.
The perfect Sancho Panza to my flawed Quijote we were illogical friends, but we were the best of them. I was going to set the world on fire with a song and he was going to learn to fly.
I called Marshall some months after the picture was taken, it was the night before he left to follow his dream.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Nothing much. Are you packed?”
“Yeah, pretty much. You coming over?”
“Naw, can’t. Got something to do.”
“What’s her name?”
“Why do you say that”
“Because I know you.”
“When do they let you come home?”
“Thanksgiving, for a week.”
“So, we’ll do some stuff then. Like we used to do.”
“Yeah, that’s it, like old times.”
“What about your van?”
“What about it?”
“You won’t need it, I could use it while you’re gone.”
“You stay away from my van. I know why you want it.”
We laughed again.
“Well, I have to go. Guess I’ll see you when you get back. You take care of yourself, you ROTCie geek.”
“Get your hair cut and get a real job you hippie freak.”
“See ya Marsh.”
“See ya, Lou.”
I saw it on my way home from a Halloween party, it was late and the there were few lights on in the lot but there was no mistaking it. I did a tire-screeching U-turn on the deserted road, parking by the Quality Used Cars sign, and sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I walked to the pay phone and dialed the number. I knew it was late, I knew it was wrong, but I knew I had to do this. His father answered the phone, he said he had expected my call.
He hated to do it he said, he knew what that van had meant to him. He said that it had been the hardest thing he’d ever done, but he couldn’t look at it every day knowing Marshall wasn’t going to need it anymore. He said there had been a terrible accident, sometimes planes fell from the skies. There was no anger at the other end of the line, only quiet acceptance and long moments of silence.
Bruce sang the last strains of “Jungleland” as I sat cross-legged on the floor holding an old Polaroid, still unturned. My good intentions forgotten there was to be no more house cleaning of my memories this day. And even as I feared the ghosts on the other side of the print, I turned it and faced them anyway.
Emotions rushed to the surface as I stared into the eyes of the forgotten friend. Marshall stood there looking every bit as I remembered him. A magnificent, unflawed Don Quijote frozen in time, standing side by side to the ghost of a stranger that used to be me, his failed Sancho Panza.
To live each and every day as if it were my last. To love those who love me today, and not wait for tomorrow. To hold them close to me and tell them, right now, that they mean the world to me. To raise my children to believe in windmills, to have dreams and to follow them, but not to discard today.
To thank the Creator for each and every dawn, and for the freedom which they bring. The freedom to make this day whatever I want this day to be. To not wait until tomorrow, or the tomorrow after that.
To live the day before tomorrow to its fullest.
I packed my memories away in the old, battered boxes and sealed them away once more.
I guess they’re coming with us after all.