Paths Taken

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

Life goes on. Jobs are scattered across my desk, piled on top of the monitor, stuffed into bookcases. Someday, like the cliché, I’ve got to get organized.

One task I can’t shove aside is editing a friend’s graduate-school project so she can finish up her Master’s. The last time I was in graduate school was forty years ago. I don’t remember a lot of the hyper-anal requirements for writing and formatting that jargon (like, what style footnotes? Andantes? APA or MLA?), but that’s OK, because things appear to have seriously changed.

What I remember is a lot of dull and pedantic classes, an occasional seminar that seemed like bright sunlight, but mainly endless scholarly papers to write. Apparently, that’s no longer required.

At least in my friend’s field: her long paper is about “Indiginizing Education,” and it’s prim arily

a narrative. She’s telling her story, as a Native woman; her experiences in college-level education.

This kind of work blows me away. The courses she’s taken and the nature of the work she’s done seems galaxies apart from what I encountered before I walked out of grad school.

I’m jealous, when you get right down to it. It’s almost enough to make me consider going, after these decades, back for my own Master’s Degree–but not quite.

My sixty-sixth birthday is coming up in six weeks. I have a steady–if low–income (thanks to Social Security–and, in a way, thanks to the innumerable fractures I’ve had) so I can chase my own interests (as long as these interests aren’t expensive).

The majority of my friends are retired. Several were teachers and have fairly sturdy pensions. Sometimes, I envy them. They take trips to Europe or South America, apartments in Spain or Tuscany, go snorkling in Belize.

Before my son died, he was planning a trip to Belize and Guatemala. He was young enough that the prospect of traveling on the cheap didn’t bother him. That’s what the social science types call “age-appropriate.”

Thirty years ago, I was like that: I believed in my own immortality, so the prospect of a fracture or some other
catastrophe didn’t worry me. Even when bad things happened, I survived it.

One time I contracted hepatitis and ended up flat on my back for a month in some little coastal town in Mexico. Once I recovered and was back in the States, I saved up my money and went back to Mexico.

My son had some maps and guide-books. I have them now. They bring back good memories-old memories that really aren’t detailed about some of the bummers.

Yeah, I’d like to go to Belize and see the Mayan ruins, hang out with the Garifuna Indians, and live on the beach for a while.

I probably won’t do it, though. Not unless I win the Lottery. To win the Lottery, I’d have to buy a ticket–a winning ticket, at that.

It sure is nice to enjoy fantasies about the future. One of the worst things about feeling my age is the future doesn’t appear as limitless as it did when I was in my 20s, 30s, and even in my 40s.

There were going to be trips to the South Pacific, Siberia, East Africa, a couple of movie scripts written, a novel or two…No, they didn’t happen, but that’s OK. Mostly, my life went in directions I never expected.

Some of it was serendipitous, some of it…

I still don’t understand why my son died, but maybe there isn’t anything to understand. There’re events that are not understandable, that are simply to be accepted, as an old D’odham–a Pima Indian– medicine person told me, one time.

There’s nothing rational about certain turns on the road of life. We either accept them, or life is crap. So, I need to accept that I won’t go to Belize, or, for that matter, a lot of my plans will not come to be. The coral reefs of the western Caribbean, like the game herds of Serengeti Park are there, but not for me.

My adventure, my big task, is acceptance: accepting the loss of my son, the feelings of grief, anger, confusion, the way things are. That’s not just hard, it’s painfully hard.

I wish I could walk away from it–escape. Escape into anything that would work, except for the things that I know will kill me, like drugs and alcohol.

I’ve come this far without getting loaded–fifteen years, now–and I’ll keep going that way. Like the Grateful Dead said, “Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings.”

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