Sunday, May 24, 2009

52 Year Pickup

“Those who do not understand their own destiny will never
understand the friends they have made nor the work they have chosen, nor the one life that waits for them beyond all the others.”

--“All the True Vows” from The House of Belonging by David Whyte.

I was leaving my house the other morning when I saw a minor traffic jam on my block.

A huge black limo was trying to squeeze through the space between a double-parked van and a Poland Springs delivery truck. I don’t know what the limo or the Poland Springs guy were doing on my street, but there they were.

The truck driver, who I believe was from Africa, guided the limo driver with one hand while holding his cell phone with the other and speaking into it in some language I didn’t understand.

It had the potential of being a miniature disaster, but the delivery truck driver was doing a good job of guiding the limo to safety.

When the limo was clear of the two parked vehicles, the trucker began waving his hand and chanting, “it’s good, it’s good.”

I turn 52 today and if I had to pick a theme for this birthday, those words sum it up very nicely: it’s good, it’s good.

My family took good care of me, with a matinee show of Ethan Coen’s “Offices” and then dinner at fabulous Italian restaurant. The play was good, but there was one character—an angry office worker—who reminded me a little bit too much of my younger self.

I’m not rich or famous or even close to a lot of my goals, but I’m still here with a great family and friends. I’ve got a steady paycheck and a roof over my head, things that many people in this world don’t have.

I get sad when I think of my parents and how they made every birthday feel like a national holiday. I share this birthday with my grandmother, who died when I was in the fifth grade.

I wish I had gotten to know her better, but I was also lucky to have her and my parents for as long as I did.

This is a time for reflection as well as celebration as I look over the direction my life has taken over the years and where I’d like it to go from here.

I was walking by the Empire State Building a few weeks back and I saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said “Make Your Destiny.” I liked the sound of that. It’s a very powerful affirmation that encourages you to get off your rear-end and take charge of your life.

I kept walking and a few moments later I saw a young woman wearing a t-shirt that read “Don’t Get Caught.”

I liked that, too, and I think somewhere between those two slogans who can find a philosophy of life. Live you destiny...but don’t get caught.

I went to mass at Trinity Church on Friday and Rev. Jones talked about one of the four noble truths of Buddhism that says suffering is part of life.

Blow Out the Candles

He told us that there is potential for great joy in life as well, and encouraged us to go out and become the source of joy in someone else’s life. It was a good time for me to hear this sermon.

However, I took a bit of step backward on Friday afternoon when I did one of my nonsensical Google searches where I look up someone I haven’t seen in years. Usually I look for some putz from the past who has done me wrong, hoping that they’re being imprisoned in Gitmo. And I'm always disappointed.

But this time I looked up an old grammar school friend of mine whom I’ll call Phineas Grupa. That’s not his real name, of course, but his actual handle isn’t much different and that’s probably why it was stuck in my head after all these years.

I haven’t seen Phineas since we graduated in 1971 and I was wondering what had happened to him.

Well, it turns out that a lot happened to him. He is the CEO of some electronics company out west and, according to Forbes, he pulls down a salary of $216,000 a year, with a total compensation package of, oh, a mere $440,000.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Phineas? Pulling down that kind of dough? He was a nice kid, but my God, this is insane.

I quickly checked the news releases about the company to see if the company’s stock is tanking or if the board of directors has been indicted, but there everything looked good.

Oh, come on, I thought, it’s my birthday. Can’t you give me something to work with?

I went to the company web site to make sure it was the same Phineas, and saw that in addition to making all this money, he still had a full head of hair.

Now I really hated the bastard.

I could just imagine him in his ski lodge with his beautiful wife, and they have cars, and dogs, horses, and elephants, and they go to all the cool places around the world while I’ll still live in Bay Ridge and ride the R train.

I could never meet this guy, I thought, because we’ll have to compare our lives over the last 35 years and I will definitely come up on the short end.

But I don’t want you to think I’m jealous or anything like that.

Whatever Phineas has in this life he got it on his own—just like the rest of us.

He had an aptitude for electronics that I don’t begin to have, so being jealous of him is like being jealous of a brain surgeon. You don’t just walk into the operating room and start cracking open craniums.

You have to work at it and, on some level, you have to love your chosen profession or you’ll never excel at it. You have to make your destiny.

Phineas and I are two different people, so instead of being jealous of him or anyone else, I should take Rev. Jones’ advice and become the source of joy in someone else’s life.

Like the delivery truck driver, I can help lead someone through a tough time in their lives.

It’s good, it’s good.


Calamity Jen said...

How pleasing to see an upbeat message from you at birthday-time! It really is "good." It's terrific to see you being so positive and, dare I say, content.

Besides, Phineas' wife left him for another woman, his kids are both drug addicts who hate him, and he suffers from erectile dysfunction and, let's see, um, scurvy. Yeah scurvy. And he's allergic to vitamin C.

Rob K said...

Thanks, Jen! It's so great to have friends like you...and to not have scurvy.

Brenda from Flatbush said...

Rob, you are a source of joy in my life for being spit-take funny when you are at your absolute worst, and genuinely great-hearted at your best. Happy 52--test it out for me for a few months, mine's comin' on fast.

Rob K said...

Thank you so much, Brenda. Your words almost take the pain out of getting older. As far as 52, come on in, the senility is fine.

Anonymous said...

Happy [belated] Birthday!

Rob K said...

Oh, thanks so much!