Monday, April 25, 2011

An the Winner Is....

To say change is a part of life is one of those "the sun rises in the east" statements. But most of the changes in our individual lives is gradual, and requires retrospection to be fully recognized. But there are at times profound life changes--such as being hit by a bus--which are almost immediately apparent. My recent trip to Europe, the culmination of more than fifty-five years of anticipation, produced such a change, and I've still not adjusted to it.

As you know, if you've been following the journal notes I've posted here and on Facebook, I went to Europe primarily to achieve three goals: first, to find the small, battered quay in Cannes, France, with which I associate the happiest four days of my military service. I have relived those days with warmth and longing innumerable times over the years since. I didn't really expect to find it, assuming it surely would have been destroyed long ago. But I found it, exactly as it had been in July of 1956, and to actually stand on the exact spot where I'd stood so long ago was the closest to actual time travel I will ever come. For in that instant, my feet on the outer edge of the battered concrete slab and looking down into the astonishingly clear waters of the Mediterranean, I was twenty-two again, hearing and seeing and feeling all the things I heard and saw and felt so many years ago.

My second goal was to return to Pompeii; to once again walk the 2,000-year-old streets and imagine the magnificent lost city as it was when it, too, was young and alive. I achieved that goal, too, and sat in the atrium of an excavated villa, listening for the voices of the past in the utter silence.

But it was the failure to fully achieve my third goal--to descend again into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius--which had the most profound, and I suspect the most long-lasting, effect on me. I have always thought of myself as a Don Quixote; not nearly so noble, but harmlessly deluded, seeing what I wanted to see in the way I wanted to see it. Don Quixote's mortal enemy, the Knight of the Mirrors--reality--is also mine. I had ignored/avoided/evaded reality all my life...until, arriving by bus three-quarters of the way up Mt. Vesuvius as I had done so many years before, I learned that the chair lift which had carried me to the crater the first time had been taken down years before, and that now the only way to reach the summit from where the busses stopped was to climb nearly one thousand feet vertically, up a steep and winding slope. Confronted with the cumulative effect of all the walking I'd done since arriving in Europe, I made it only about a hundred feet vertically up the trail before realizing that reality had won, that I would not/could not make the climb.

There are no words to describe the effect that realization had on me, or how devastating it was. I had, for the first time in my life, been forced to fully surrender to reality.

There used to be a popular amusement park ride called "The Parachute", in which you were strapped into a swing-type seat beneath a "parachute" and lifted straight up a very tall tower. When the "parachute" touched the top, it was released (on guide wires) and you dropped quickly to the ground. It was the moment you heard the "click" of the release and felt the start of the drop that was the culmination of the ride.

For more than 50 years I had been strapped into this dream, awaiting the moment I could hear the "click" of release. And when it finally occurred, I found myself in an eerie state of emotional free-fall, if you will. I had achieved my dream; I had reached the top of the ride, and I was back on the ground.

It was not a matter of disappointment--the entire journey was, overall, everything I hoped it would be--nor was it a sense of "is that all there is?" but the odd sensation of being, somehow, lost--of being in some sort of vacuum. What will take the place of all the intense anticipation, the planing, the imagining upon which I have relied for 55 years? And how can I deal with the inescapable fact that I do not have another 55 years left to me to work toward another goal?

Reality rushes in with its limitations on the time for dreams, and I simply do not know how to handle it.

But don't get me wrong: I still intend to fight reality every inch of the's just that I must, however reluctantly, resolve to be a bit more accommodating. I will continue to set goals, but not project them beyond what I can logically hope to reach. And I must also learn not to put my full emotional weight on them.

And I find a great degree of irony in the fact that this new attitude might be considered "realistic."

We're hopefully getting back on track now with the regular posting of blogs by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I do hope you'll come back.

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