It was a pleasure to walk the Countryside Preserve last week for the first time in a few years. I took a deep breath of that lovely woodsy air and was reminded of how calming it always was when my furry friend Lacey and I used to tread those paths. I inevitably got a chance to step back and reflect on how life was unfolding.
These days, as I approach the big 7-0, there’s a lot to reflect on. Like how lucky I am to have a summer birthday… I didn’t always feel that way when I was a kid. I thought I was getting cheated out of being made a fuss of in school, having all my friends around. But soon I realized that being born in late July meant celebrating in places or circumstances you might not be in at any other time of year. Like camping with my family, or working in summer jobs. And the “significant” birthdays always seemed to happen during key transitional periods.
The summer I turned 10, the family moved from the middle of South Edmonton to the very outskirts of town, and I prepared to enter a new school for the first time. I turned 20 while tree planting in the foothills of the Rockies, the first time I ever spent more than a few days away from home. The summer I turned 30, I was doing a show for tourists in one of the most fascinating towns on the face of the planet – Dawson City – and making the life-changing decision to settle permanently in the Yukon.
The summer I turned 40, I bought my first home, a half-finished monstrosity about an hour south of Whitehorse, and wasn’t that an adventure?! I turned 50 while commuting daily to the Big Smoke from Uxbridge (and resolving never to do that again), and I and my wife Lisa, who was born 36 days after me in that great mid-century year, threw a big party for ourselves in Elgin Park. Ten years later, we had a more modest celebration at the train station, and by then, I was finally beginning to turn the corner on running my own business – this one! And finally, the summer I’m turning 70 has been just a little too interesting for everyone, eh?
The Mid-decade years
Actually, the mid-decade years were landmarks, too. The year I turned 15, I was beginning to discover girls, but more importantly, the magic of the theatre. By my 25th summer, I was in Grande Prairie, Alberta, and believe it or not, embarking on a single life for the first time. The year I turned 35, I was on Vancouver Island, near my beloved “noisy water”, but soon hightailed it back to the Yukon when I couldn’t find work. The summer I turned 45, I decided to visit Ontario for a spell… and found the love of my life. My 55th summer, I founded this newspaper. And in our 65th year, Lisa and I took the difficult decision to leave Uxbridge and follow our hearts to the Ottawa Valley.
As you can see from this quick sketch, my life has enjoyed a few twists and turns. Because of all the enforced down time recently, I’ve had a chance to go through my “memorabilia box,” and vividly relive some of those days. Whenever you take the time to do that, you inevitably find yourself wondering how things might have turned out if you’d made a different call here and there. If you’d decided to hang in on a difficult relationship, or not jump so eagerly at a tasty opportunity. It’s a diverting exercise for a while, but it can drive you crazy, too, especially the older you get.
In university, I learned what an “existentialist” was, and that I absolutely was one… An existentialist believes that “fate.” in whatever form, plays a very little part in how your life turns out. It’s the thousands of choices, big and small, that you yourself make, that spell the difference. Sometimes you have to make the choice quickly, sometimes you get a bit more time, and you draw on as much sage advice as you can to help your decision, but in the end it’s up to you. A heavy burden, but you can’t beat yourself up about it. You take a deep breath, move on, and don’t look back. Except when you’re sifting through your memorabilia box.
On the Countryside Preserve, it doesn’t really matter which path you take, you can always come back and try the other one tomorrow. Life choices seldom work that way. The existentialist anthem is a short poem by Robert Frost that concludes: “Two roads diverged in a wood, but I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”
You make your choice, sometimes you shed a tear or two. You take a risk, and sometimes it doesn’t play out the way you thought, the way you hoped. But you learn, and hopefully you go through it with people who remain your friends for life because of it.
There’s another great Frost poem that goes: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” Hard to say, as I near the venerable age of 70, how many miles I have to go before I sleep. But hopefully they’ll be as intriguing as the ones I’ve put behind me. And I’m looking forward to the choices they present.