Letter From Home: “The First Fifty Years” 7/14/12
This seems an appropriate time, as I pass one of those markers in life with my 50th birthday, to look backwards. I can claim far more smiles and laughter than tears and heartache so on that basis alone I can say that my life has been good. Needless to say I have learned a lot over the years, and while thinking about the past I have been focusing on two events that made a huge difference for me, and impacted almost everything that followed.
I never have once, other than some attempts at humor, felt any angst about turning this page of life. My only regret is the same I suspect many people have, and that is wondering why it took so long to learn some really obvious truths.
Vestal Goodman, a most beloved lady of Southern Gospel music, stated the most important of those truths in a matter-of-fact fashion often when on stage. She knew how to live happily, and summed it up this way.
“If people like you—great; if not, tough”
Often in my earlier years I was too concerned about what others thought, and at times adjusted my life to meet the expectations and needs of others. I have a rather easy-going disposition, and I suspect at times some considered that an easy mark from which to operate. Too often I plain just allowed that to happen to me. But as I grow older, am more experienced with life, wiser, and more confident I walk my own path and hold my head high.
However, it was not always that way for me.
As anyone who struggled with teenage woes, and then looked for ways to establish a beachhead in adulthood will understand, it takes time and experience to attain self-possessed confidence. What I wanted was the confidence to live life authentically, and without fear of what others think.
Because of high school I was less certain about my standing in the world than anyone can possibly know. Those were the worst four years of my life. I have no way of even pretending to know how some can claim their high school years were the best that life offered.
In addition, growing up in a rural area meant in many ways I was left to navigate my future without clear guidance from which I could have benefited. Too often when growing up I saw people give up the paths they wanted to travel and instead settle for the expedient one that the local area provided. In addition, I watched how my siblings entered adulthood, and knew I wanted more from life.
Being more awkward than shy was something I needed to overcome. But at age eighteen I could not have known that my political interests which were continually growing would be a key to my personal growth. Even though I had great interests in candidates and issues throughout high school I was not able to see myself ‘in the mix’ of it all.
Once I landed a job in radio things started to change. While it was easy to be a broadcaster on WDOR, and project myself from behind a microphone, it was not until I started working on campaigns and knocking on doors that I found a stronger sense of myself.
At first it took some courage to go up the steps and ring the doors of homes in Door County, meeting strangers and interrupting whatever they were doing. I learned lots of things during those lit drops, but Lesson One remains etched in my memory. Never Ever interrupt a Packer football game!
It took time to find my footing as I knocked on doors, or met workers as they left the shipyards. But in time I was able to open the dialogue with self-assuredness and found people were being receptive to my intent. I soon realized that I was in my element, and as a result my comfort zone was expanding. It was not long before I was no longer interested in just doing a mere lit-drop, I wanted to engage people and talk about why the election mattered, andwhy my candidate needed to win.
Those lit-drops were a turning point in my life. The strangers who answered the doors became a very important part of my life by allowing me to gain the confidence that I had been kept from attaining while in high school. It is a very powerful feeling–coming to terms with one’s wholeness and feeling the potential that lies within.
Clearing that hurdle was a big lesson of my life. Another major lesson was getting my priorities lined up correctly.
That lesson started in 1994 while sitting on a bench at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
I had pulled into a parking space on the Square. (As I look back it could not have been a session day given the ease of finding a spot.) On the front seat of the car was The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy. Though I always read a lot, it was the first fiction book I had picked up since graduating high school. (That book was The Fifth Horseman by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.) I walked to a bench with the first of the Jack Ryan series, and sat down to read for a few minutes.
As I looked about I saw guys in suits, professionally dressed women, lobbyists, members of the press all proceeding along with the duties of the day. There is no place like the statehouse for excitement. I knew that first-hand as I had loved my job under the dome.
But there was something missing in my life. Some deeper contentment that I could not put my finger on but somehow knew ‘was out there’ and available to me if I could only tap into it.
It wasn’t as if my life was unhappy during those years. In fact, it was much the opposite. I had money, went out at night, had friends who shared good times. But as I sat there that afternoon looking at the statehouse I knew I wanted something different, more meaningful. When I smiled I wanted it to be more authentic. I wanted to be more content.
There is a saying that ‘the universe provides’ us the lessons we are to learn. The question is do we learn from them as they are presented to us. Even when the lessons are in the form of sadness and grief, if we take the time to ponder what is happening, something useful can be attained.
Events occurred that moved me from thinking about that day on the bench into taking actions to make my life different.
My nephew, Trevor Dean, was killed in a highway traffic accident. Trevor was, needless to say, very special to me. When I was about to start my radio job he told me he sure would like to hear his name over the air. That is when I decided to use ‘Trevor’ for part of my on-air moniker. His being gone in an instant at such an early age made me reflect at length about life in ways I had not done before.
A needless fire set by a careless griller ravaged my apartment complex, and as a result I lost many items. While the fire devastated me, in the months to come I would look back and realize that the belongings, which brought me the greatest pleasure and delight, were also the cheapest. There is no way to minimize the traumatic aspect to a fire, but that event made me aware of what really mattered when it came to personal items. I started to put a different price structure on the important things in my life.
But it was not until I woke up at St. Mary’s hospital following a medical procedure to see if a growth in my chest was malignant that I really started on a new path. The tissue was benign, part of a larger medical hurdle that I mounted and cleared during that time.
But I knew then there was no way to go back to the suit and tie world, though I love to dress up and go out. I was no longer interested in climbing any business ladder that only led to the next rung where the stress level was higher, and the workload heavier. I ventured into the non-profit world for jobs, discovered grant writing, and shortly thereafter met James, the most important part of my life.
I was pleased to find in James the same motivating force about living a complete but simpler life that I had been searching for, and working to create for myself. We are so simpatico due to the perspective we have about life, and the way to live it. For the past twelve years we have been charting our own path through life. It is indeed a shared road.
There are no easy ways to attain the lessons needed for living a content life. It would be so much easier if we came with a user’s manual, along with instinctive qualities that the young have in the animal kingdom. Instead we go through life picking up knowledge along the way.