Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last Week

Last week, there was a car accident on the street that runs in front of my office. A van, at high speed, crossed over the median and struck a number of cars stopped at a stop light, killing one woman. The driver was having a heart attack or stroke, and was unable to control his vehicle. It was violent, debris was scattered for a hundred feet from the point of impact, and police shut down the entire intersection for hours.

Imagine you’re in your mid forties and you’re married. When you were younger you smoked (only when you drank), and as you got older, you started thinking more about your health, and you quit. You eat too much, and you know this. You’ve been battling on and off for years with diets and exercise routines. You drop 10 pounds over a couple months, and gain 15 back. Everyday you do your best to lose weight. You work in an office, and there’s always food around. It’s difficult. You sit in a chair from 8 to 4:30, then you go home, cook a light dinner, then sit in your favorite recliner from 6 until 9. You go to bed, wake up, start all over again.

Imagine you’ve been saving 8% of your income for retirement. You’ve been careful with your spending. If you go to the grocery store, you never buy brand name pasta or detergent. You cut coupons whenever you can. You pay the bills on time and you try as best you can to cut down on frivolous expenses. You only go out to dinner once a month, at most. You bring leftovers to work. You eat casserole. You invest 5% of your income in an IRA, and another 3% in a college fund for your kids. You drive a used Ford Taurus you’ve had paid off since 2002. Since you hit forty, you’ve begun to plan carefully for your retirement. You are halfway done with your working life, and have only twenty years to go.

Imagine that you remember climbing to the top of the jungle gym at Pederson Elementary in 1975 and the sunlight was gold and it hit your cheeks warm and you swore to Tonya Hale that you would be the first person to fly to Mars and you would bring her back the biggest, reddest rock you could find. Imagine that years later, when you saw the hills at Sedona, Arizona, she was the first person you thought of.

Imagine that when you were young you believed in some kind of love phosphorous, burning bright and fast and blinding. Imagine you thought you were going to do something crazy with your life. You were going to be a pilot or a travel writer, an entrepreneur or a fireman or a hotshot computer programmer. You were not going to be like your parents. You were going to live your dreams. Imagine you believed that making dreams come true was a matter of destiny, and not painstaking perseverance.

Imagine that now you know different. Now you believe in comfort, a hand to hold, a warm smile to throw on like an old sweater. Imagine you believe that the murky years of hard, dull work and loyalty will pay off when you retire. Imagine you don’t think about a big payday anymore. Imagine that what you want most is to travel with your spouse. See your kids get married.

Imagine that you’re sitting in your Ford Taurus at the corner of County C and Snelling, waiting for the light to go green.