Saturday, January 16, 2016

Our shot

For some reason, yesterday a conversation I had with my dad surfaced to my consciousness.  I don't know what spurred it on.

I think I can place the chat in terms of location and era, and it would put dad at about my age when we were speaking, maybe even a few years younger.

I'm not sure why we got to talking about this, but at some point he said to me, "Mom and I have had our shot."  What he meant by this I could figure out, but he elaborated anyway.  The point was that they had had their opportunity in this precious life to make the most of it.  He wasn't complaining that they had wasted their shot, or bragging that they had maximized it.  He was just making a statement that we all have our shots.  I don't think he was even suggesting to me that I needed to make the most of mine.  It was more philosophical.  We all have our shots.  One shot to make our life valuable, meaningful, joyful.

This morning I read through the Globe (delivered on time for the fourth day in a row.  A big article in the Globe about the snafus with delivery).  I read through the various sections I like to peruse, came across an interesting obituary about a woman named Florence King.  While she is described as very conservative the obit narrative made me think I would want to read her books.  She was unconventional--earned money early in her career writing pornographic books under a pseudonym--took on phony political correctness, referred to herself as a celibate lesbian who had male and female lovers, never wed, and--as incongruous as it may seem--blasted liberals.  Anyway, I was intrigued by the obituary and, once again, humbled to learn of a well known author of whom I had never heard.  It sounds like Florence King maximized her shot.

Another section of the Globe that I often look at is the part that lists events that took place on this day in history. Included in it are famous people's birthdays.  I see that William Kennedy, the author, is 88 today.

Most of William Kennedy's books are tough sledding for me. I love sections of them and his writing skill, but I find myself losing my train of thought as I read through them.  Exceptions are Legs--a great biography of sorts about Legs Diamond the gangster--and, of course, Ironweed.

Ironweed is a masterpiece. I read it during a particularly troubling time in my travels.  A time when it was easy to lose consciousness while reading.  It did not matter. The novel, while still Kennedy complex, is so good that I was riveted throughout.  And it has stuck with me for over thirty years.

There are a number of messages in the book that have hung around. The novel is about a bum, Francis Phelan, who lives in Albany.  It keeps darting from the present to the past.  (Jack Nicholson plays Francis unconvincingly in the movie which does not and could not do justice to the novel).  We learn why Francis became a bum and why, despite his wife's willingness to take him back into a life of normalcy, he is haunted so by his past so that he cannot do that.  A life of comfort and convention is there for him with a loving partner, but he cannot do it. Not because of drink, or irresponsibility, but because of his past.  What he thinks he has done with his shot.

The fact is that what I thought of most this morning was not what Francis had done wrong with his shot, but what he had done right.  In one of the flashbacks we learn that Francis while a very young teenager had a sexual fling with a crazy neighbor.  She, an adult, was not as we might say, "with it" but she engages Francis and he, as a young teen is, not unsurprisingly, taken by the affection.  He promises this crazy neighbor that he will love her forever.  But then later, he meets a contemporary, Annie.  They go to a lumber yard to talk and then decide to kiss.  It is some kiss. Francis calls it a "goopy" kiss.  And decides that he has to "break up" with the crazy neighbor.  He figures that once you have a goopy kiss like that, you know that is what you need to pursue.  So he says to his relatively elderly lover, "Katrina, I will love you forever. But something has come up."  If you want to go to a local library, the pages that deal with the goopy kiss are 155-157.  They are classic.

So what does this have to do with our "shot."   I think the trick is to follow that goopy kiss.  That is, to maximize our shots, we have to follow our hearts.

Not always easy to do.  Today, for example, I woke up and heard the cats and dogs rain pelting our house.  I did not think of how romantic this might be, and it did not trigger thoughts of goopy kisses. Instead, I wondered if the playing field in Foxboro for the playoff game this afternoon might have a deleterious effect on the Patriots chances of defeating the Chiefs.

But despite my tendency, or our tendencies, to default to what is immediate, I think if we want to expire knowing that we had maximized our shot, we have to default to thinking about how we pursue the messages that emerge ineluctably from our hearts.

No comments:

Post a Comment