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The dignified life

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2015-02-19


One of the comical things about getting older is discovering how easy it is to repeat the same mistakes from your past, over and over, without seemingly have learned a single thing from your previous experiences. It's not supposed to be this way, of course, as a rational, analytical creature you've been programmed to learn and adapt and survive, you're supposed to synthesize the knowledge you've acquired and make the necessary adjustments, but it's shocking how often you fail at this elemental human cognitive process. It's like watching some hapless bowler invariably find the gutter, ball after ball, without ever learning the simple changes that might affect the outcome.

You can beat yourself up over this inadequacy or you can laugh it off, and how you choose to react to this simple human failure probably speaks volumes about what kind of a person you are. It's a beguiling notion to believe that age automatically grants you wisdom, dignity, gravitas, but after a while it becomes somewhat relieving to admit that sometimes you're just not that bright.

My personal real-life metaphor for my own endless capacity for folly happened a few years ago when I was working in the garden, by myself. I was using a garden rake, and as any reasonably intelligent person will tell you, you simply don't leave a garden rake laying around unattended with the teeth up, for it's really easy to take a step on the business end and have the handle thwack you right in the forehead. It's a bit you see in cartoons or Three Stooges' shows, for heaven's sake, but nobody ever does it in real life; it's just too stupid.

So anyway, I'm pulling weeds and of course I've forgotten that I've placed the rake in perfect, lethal position, and as I turn away from the flower bed--WHAM! THWACK!--right between the eyes. The force knocks me to the ground and for a few dazed seconds, I'm wondering if I've permanently concussed myself. After my eyes clear up, I do a little reconnaissance mission — testing, testing, anybody there? — and when some of the initial responders report, I discover that I'm probably not going to have to make that 911 call after all. I get to my feet, go inside, and when I look in the mirror I notice a thin gray line traversing from my hair line to the bridge of my nose, it looks like an Ash Wednesday smear from an ancient priest who shakily made the vertical line too long and then didn't have the strength to make the attendant horizontal cross. I pour myself a medicinal shot of something brown and vicious, and after a few moments I notice that the floor and the ceiling have regained their rightful positions in the universe.

My first rational thought after the accident was regret, and not for the brain damage I probably gave myself. No, the regret was more: “Damn, I can't believe there was nobody here to witness this!” I'm a sucker for broad, physical comedy, and this must have been just spectacularly funny. Even though my forehead throbbed for hours and even though I felt like the greatest doofus in recorded history, I still felt remorse that nobody saw what had to be a priceless bit of klutz comedy.

Anyway, not to belabor the metaphor too much, but I've been stepping on rakes for years now, without fail, and while I'm not necessarily desiring an audience to see every comical blast, I have learned to accept the occasional moronic failures with a degree of equanimity. It's just too wearying to have to pretend to have an overweening sense of personal dignity when I know how spectacularly unjustified that would be for me. Sometimes I'm just not that bright, after all.

Important lesson for me to remember, especially now, for after years of trying to hash out a living by cobbling together various writing gigs, I'm back now in the work force doing the same kind of work I did as a teenager. Initially there was resistance on my part — oh, the indignity! — but after a while, I just sort of said to myself, Chris, knock it off — make yourself a pot of coffee and go to work. And ever since I got up that first morning, I haven't thought twice about it. I guess I sort of imagined that at some point in my life I'd be "above" being a Working Stiff, but the fact is, that point hasn't presented itself. That tenured professor gig, that big bestseller, that VP or Sales or Project Manager job? Well, that's just not happening right now. And yes, I still have my big dreams of what could be and I still apply myself to my lonely writer's garret with regularity and enthusiasm. But I'm okay with the Working Stiff thing. Like a couple of billion other people, I might add.

As for the job itself, it's been a blast. I realized pretty quickly that there's nothing inherently diseased or demeaning about working at a job that a previous edition of myself probably would have scoffed at. It's always a dangerous thing to imagine that you "deserve" something grander and more elegant in your life than what you have. Truth is, most often you usually end up exactly where your history dictates you should be. It's sort of insulting to the people you work with, too, to imagine that your "destiny" should have placed you somewhere more exalted, more refined. It's the quickest way to become a pariah, a pain-in-the-ass, an old bitterman. Who needs that? Surely not your co-workers, who go about their business honestly, without any useless angst about what could have been.

I've discovered that it's kind of fun to use those old muscles that I thought I had permanently retired, to watch the clock and enjoy my breaks and joke with my co-workers, none of whom are terribly interested in my "impressive" credentials and brilliantly cosmopolitan attitudes. Across the board, the people I work with are nice, the job is pleasant and engaging and the best part? Absolutely no gardening required.

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