Listened to Jackson Browne the last few days. I’ve always liked his song, “These Days.” In the Intro he does on Solo Acoustic No. 1, he explains that he wrote the song when he was about sixteen years old. First time I heard that, it made me think of my students and how they feel so much like he did then, so “world weary” at such an early age. I especially wonder about the last two lines: “Don’t confront me with my failures/I had not forgotten them.” At sixteen? Then I thought about my own life at that age…so many, many years ago.
Before my sixteenth birthday I, too, felt like I had been such a failure at so many things—finding my place in the world, being a good son to my parents, getting along with my brothers, succeeding (?) in school, making friends, finding someone “special” in my life. After almost fifty years of righting some wrongs and failing so many more times, I think I’d rather dwell on the successes. The problem is that in order to have those successes, I have realized that the many failures were necessary.
Without failures, we have no idea where the boundaries and guidelines are in life. Unless there’s an instruction manual for living that I somehow misplaced along the way, I’ve felt like I had to make things up as I found my way in life like everyone else. Sometimes the obstacles in my way seemed absolutely insurmountable. Fortunately for me, I have had some terrific mentors and pathfinders to help me. I learned to listen to my parents (no, really!). Now and then a teacher pointed me in the right direction. I’ve had—and still have—some friends who have been kind enough to just shake their heads, take my hand, and kick me in the ass on occasion to get me on the right path, or at least a better one than the road I was traveling.
As I got older and “wiser” and was recognized by some as an advisor myself, it was good to be able to recall the words of wisdom given to me. Of course, most of the good advice I have been able to relay myself have mostly been because I’ve been down the dark byways far enough to recognize the error of my ways. I do feel as if I’ve learned my lessons. Now and then I still have to stop and try to remember, though. I read just the other day that we older folk take longer to respond or recall when asked questions not because we’ve become senile but because we have to sort through more information! It’s sort of like a computer. When there is so much information, we need to enter the “processing” phase in order to discover the correct or appropriate data or combine relevant information so we can come up with the required best response. Sometimes I have waaaay too much information to process! These days when I “sit on the cornerstone and count the time in quarter tones to ten, my friend,” the clock may go through a complete twelve-hour cycle to get there.
More than once I’ve had to counsel a younger friend to just give it time. It’s hard to be young and patient. I know. I’ve been there, but sometimes I’m still impatient, and the older and wiser heads on whom I relied are gone. I wish I could still talk with my mom and dad and my wife. At the same time, they’re still with me. I just have to stop and listen for them.
Stop now and then and remember. You have those voices. If you’re young enough and lucky enough, you might be able to pick up the phone and talk with them, or, better yet, make the time to go see them. In the off chance that you don’t, call me. I’ll tell you how I dealt with your mistake when I made it, and we can laugh at the consequences and figure out how you can avoid them.