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Live Like You're Living

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-08-02


We're coming out of the busiest travel season in America, for the last weekend of July is typically the most active vacation time in this country. (It's also, not coincidentally, the warmest week of the year for most parts of the nation. Not this year, of course.) It's one of the most stressful times of the year, too, (paradoxically), since folks returning to their daily lives discover an almost inevitable sense of regret that their much-anticipated trip wasn't nearly as relaxing or fulfilling as they'd hoped. "Vacationer's Remorse" is a common, modern-day malady, then, with people battling complicated feelings of opportunity lost, thinking, “That's all there is?” One of the most honest responses upon returning home is unfortunately a sense of resignation and relief that the damned trip is finally over.

It's hard not to put pressure on yourself during vacation time — Americans still work more than all of their Western counterparts, and the relatively short two-or-three weeks of freedom allowed per person carries a weight that many people have trouble negotiating. When you're expected to enjoy every moment, you spend far too much time being hyper-aware of your relative happiness, and nothing kills a good time quicker than wondering if you're having a good time or not.

I'm always disconcerted when I hear an about-to-be-married friend talk about their upcoming nuptials with too much expectation — "it's going to be the greatest day of my life, "I'll never forget it," "it will be so memorable," etc. Some weddings are indeed memorable, full of drama and wonder and beauty, but most are just like every other wedding: pleasant, news-worthy (I guess), but ultimately forgettable and benign. Even to the principals involved, the bride and groom, there's probably a realization, in their heart of hearts, that nothing earth-shaking is going on here: "the greatest day of their lives" might just be another day, important to them but not necessarily the press-stopping affair they imagined. Trying to force the day to have greater memorability is like trying to squeeze joy out of a vacation that simply doesn't live up to the promise.

I know this is a deeply cynical view but I worked too many weddings as a caterer not to recognize the utter sameness of weddings — the fidgeting, attention-diverting flower girl, the brain-dead best man's toast, the painfully unfunny Night at the Apollo comic routines from all the groomsmen and bridesmaids, the horrible garter thing, the creepy DJ… And I know that no human needs to hear "Celebration" or "We Are Family" or "The Chicken Dance" ever again, but trust me: caterers really need to never hear them again. And I'm not a marriage hater by nature, I swear; I just like ceremonies where the parties involved are more concerned about what happens the days after the rings have been exchanged than the relative drama/lack of drama at the service.

Truth is, the "greatest day of your life" is probably not going to be your wedding day, or when your kids are born, or when you land that great job; it'll be some day when the stars align and some unprecedented joy descends on your life, uncalled for, but still amazing and awe-inspiring. It's hard to schedule such transcendence into your life, yet people still try to dictate the terms of their own personal happiness. There are landmark days that reveal themselves in everybody's life, to be sure, but it is folly to believe you can force them into existence by merely wanting them to happen when you want them to happen.

It is an unfortunate by-product of the times we live in that everybody seems to think that they're being interviewed for TV when anybody asks them any question about their personal lives. I've heard so many well-rehearsed, press-conference worthy responses from people to seemingly innocuous, conversational questions — a lot of responses use phrases like "the day that changed my life forever" and "the hardest thing I've ever gone through" and "the most important thing I've done." It's all hyperbole and immediate perspective, as if people are constantly monitoring their existence and mentally bookmarking the important events just in case somebody asks them about it. It always sounds impossibly false and unreliable — how can you claim anything to be "the most ____" in your life when you still have decades to go? And I know, people are thinking, “Well, up until NOW it's the most important,” but even then I don't believe them. The big events in your life usually only prove their essential quality later on, down the road, when you've had time and perspective to put it in its proper place.

God knows, I'm an intolerably self-absorbed sort who's fascinated by his own existence, but even I realize that I'm the least trustworthy authority imaginable when it comes to identifying the large moments of my life. Five and six-year olds can do that sort of thing reliably, for to them, everyday is "the Most" something or another, but for adults it's a trickier matter. I'm still not sure what's the "best" or "worst" thing I've learned in my life, nor am I in any great rush to fashion Top Ten lists, Chris' Greatest Hits, My Best Friends, The Wisdom I've Accrued, etc. I'm content to live day-to-day without trying to wedge the events into some great cosmic pecking order.

I've often been told by well-meaning friends, some of whom have just lost someone close, that I need to treasure each moment and let those I love know how important they are to me, and as much as I appreciate the sentiment, I simply can't do it. There are some days that I steadfastly refuse to live to the hilt; I phone 'em in. I know I should be appreciating the value of every day, of every breath, and all that, but it seems unnatural to me; instead of calling a life-long friend and telling them my feelings, some days I'd rather just watch The Godfather trilogy and eat a bunch of cake. (And really, not even something highbrow like The Godfather — Die Hard or The Bourne Identity will do, too, as will "House Hunters International" and "The Gilmore Girls.") This shows an admitted lack of spirituality, but treasuring each moment is just too damned much work for me, and besides, if I badgered everybody I love with daily proclamations of my feelings, they'd probably wonder if I was going to hit them up for money.

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