Saturday, May 15, 2010

Semi-Charmed Kind of Life

I believe in the sand beneath my toes
The beach gives a feeling, an earthy feeling
I believe in the faith that grows
And the four right chords can make me cry
When I'm with you I feel like I could die
And that would be all right
All right

— Third Eye Blind, "Semi-Charmed Life"

In the course of my professional peregrinations, O Dearly Beloved, I travel a lot. A lot.

Trust me.

Do not mistake me: this is not a complaint. I like to travel, even though I am many decades past the point when traveling cross country or across an ocean excites the childlike wonder and excitement I still see in my junior colleagues. I do not begrudge them their excitement. For one thing, it softens the blow of carrying my bags. And paying for the taxi from the airport to the hotel or meeting.

Yes, I am a bastard. Deal with it.

* * *

Anyway, there is nothing like hurtling in an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet over the fly-over states at 650 miles per hour to make an introspective soul contemplate his or her mortality. After all, even though air travel is statistically the safest method of travel available to Earthlings at this point in history—compared, for example, to crossing the street under foot power in Midtown Manhattan during rush hour—when things go bad six miles above the surface of the Earth, most leading scientific authorities agree that you are, basically, fucked. Plane crashes are rare, but, sadly, so is survivability. You may have a very low probability of being in a plane crash during your lifetime, but if you are, you have a very high probability of getting distinctly and irrevocably dead. It could ruin your entire day.

Similar thoughts of mortality passed through my brain on a recent trans-con flight. These were triggered less by the background fatalism limned above than by the awareness that my brother-in-law was going under the knife while I was in the air, and I had no guarantee that he would not be dead by the time I landed. At first blush, this was a distressing thought, as I truly like and admire my brother-in-law (one of many), and I was concerned not only for him but for his wife and two daughters.

But then I remembered that he was a good man, who had built a good, honest life, with a wife who loved him (and whom he loved) and two delightful daughters who have turned out to be crackerjack specimens of humanity. I would not wish an end to his life under any circumstance, but, if he were to die, what better legacy could he leave? What better life could he have lived?


And that is the answer, Boys and Girls.

* * *

On the ground or in the air, we are all hurtling at high speed toward our own deaths. When they will come, and in what form, we cannot know. Neither can many of us be sure what, if anything, might lie on the other side of that dark divide.

But we do know, and can control, what we do on this side.

Being a relatively smart guy, with a couple of talents more developed than the average bear, I had always hoped and dreamed as a youngster that I could leave a legacy to humanity. That I could do something, or contribute something, so that my life would have mattered. As I have gotten older and wiser, I've realized I probably don't have the firepower, or the intellect, or the drive to really "make a difference" in the world. That the legacy I leave behind, such as it is, is probably going to be limited to the relationships, and the example, I leave behind with my family, my friends, and the other fellow travelers I cross paths with on this small blue planet. And I am okay with that.

I am thankful that I have a wife and children who love me, against all good judgment and public opinion. I am glad I have two dogs who consider me to be a demigod, against all available evidence to the contrary. I am glad to have useful employ, in a profession which many despise but which I still find a daily challenge and delight. I could leave all of them tomorrow, if I had to, with the knowledge that they reflect a credit on me and my life which I probably don't deserve.

But let me tell you something else. I am goddamn glad that we humans have invented scotch, and cigars, and rock and roll music1 to ease the passage. Give me some of each, and I will dance right up to that fucking Reaper and shake his awful hand.

And he will look at me worriedly and exclaim, "Wait. You're an investment banker?"

Note: My brother-in-law yet lives. Thankfully, he is very hard to kill. I aspire to such resilience.
1 I have very eclectic taste in music. It's all over the map, from obscure stuff that very few people have ever heard of to mainstream Top 40 shit everyone has heard of. Music snobs would say I have no discrimination. I say most music snobs have no soul. Fuck 'em all, root and branch.

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