Saturday, August 05, 2017

settling for what we get

This is a story about life. And a manure spreader.

Yesterday, Darrel, grandson Baron, and I ventured forth into the hinterlands of La Pine -- a flat plain spotted with juniper and ponderosa. But we were not searching for trees. We were on our way to audition a used bicycle for Christie.

While Darrel did what he does best (chat and negotiate), I wandered off onto a portion of the owner's 400 acres. When we drove in, I saw an interesting piece of farm machinery near the road.

It turned out to be a manure spreader. Until recently, the owner's parents used it regularly. It had now been relegated to a genre trendy in these parts -- farm yard art.

What had until recently been a utilitarian part of the farming process had been demoted to an aesthetic artifice. Similar to those dead airplanes on sticks favored by air force bases.

The symbolism was not lost on me. The spreader was passing through its stages of life. Once a robust part of the family, it had been literally put out out to pasture. To rest and to provide artistic enjoyment as it rusted into oblivion.

Very similar to our own lives.

Take me, for instance. That is easy because I am the one tapping on the keys.

I decided I wanted to be an attorney when I was a sophomore in high school. When I discovered it would be another seven years of schooling after I graduated from high school, I was sorely disappointed. I wanted to be an attorney right then.

As it turned out, I did not graduate from law school until 12 years later. An unplanned five year  detour to the Air Force intervened before I got back on course.

Not everything was rosy about my law career. In 1988, I lost a very narrow race for the Oregon legislature, my law partnership broke up, and I turned 40 -- all in the span of three months. It was my personal annus horribillis.

But, just like one of those cheesy Eastern religion movies, I learned a lesson from tragedy. I had fallen into the same trap as so many people have -- especially American men. I had defined myself by what I did for a living rather than realizing I am a moral agent who is not dependent upon a profession to define my being. It was an awareness raiser.

I suspect that terrible year was what made retirement so easy for me. When I stepped away from the position I adored at SAIF Corporation, I had no regrets. And, unlike a large number of attorneys I know, I did not fail retirement. The reason was simple: I was focused on what I could now do without the restraints of my profession.

Rather than finding my sole worth in my title, I found it in life. Writing. Reading. Traveling. Simply doing whatever popped into my head.

As I walked around the manure spreader (an apt analogy for an attorney turned essayist), I wondered if it was happy with its lot -- or if it longed to spend its day flinging cow patties. Was its new-found role as an art object as fulfilling as its former job?

Of course, it was the wrong question. For it -- and for me.

What we all need to ask ourselves is whether we have learned to settle for what we get? Railing against inevitability is the madness of youth (and some political activists). A lesson we should have learned long ago from Merrily We Roll Along.

As for me, I am  happy that I am here -- and that you took time today to visit.

Now, I need to head off to Powers to meet another side of my destiny.

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