And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
But I probably will
Just sitting back, trying to recapture a little of glory, yeah
Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister,
but boring stories of Glory Days
Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days has always been one of my favorite songs. It’s upbeat, it has a great keyboard riff, it’s fun to sing, and it sure seems happy. But it’s actually a sad song about people who are looking backwards more than forwards; it’s a song about people who Springsteen feels sorry for. I imagine it’s hard to write such a sad song and put the lyrics to a happy up-beat melody. He did the same thing with Born in the USA. And as I was watching the Taylor Swift movie (yes – I saw it and loved it – in my mind, she’s right with The Beatles and Elvis in terms of being a musical force and cultural icon), I saw her do the same thing with positive melodies and sick beats that inspire dancing in movie theaters, contrasted against lyrics about heartache, unfairness, and the strength needed to shake off real world problems.
But I digress, like I always do. I thought of Glory Days while I was listening to an amazing podcast my friend Alex recommended to me. It’s Peter Attia’s 155-minute interview with Lance Armstrong. Mr. Attia does nothing if he can’t use a lot of words. My next post will feature some of his 500-page outstanding new book, Outlive. I’m not a Lance Armstrong hater. I know that one of our national pastimes is to tear down our heroes when they falter. We certainly did that with Lance; however, I remain in awe of what he accomplished and I think we all can learn from his mistakes. One of the many things I learned about Lance during the podcast was that he once posted, “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror” on social media. With all he’s gone through, it’s a mantra he has to take to heart.
It’s a great line. Lance’s rear view mirror is crowded with extraordinary highs and crushing lows. All of us have our version of those ups and downs, though fortunately, most of ours are not as extreme or as public. And even though that mirror is so much smaller than the windshield, it’s still easy to focus too much on the glory days – or on our mistakes or other pain from the past.
If you know me a little bit, you know that I am a relentless optimist. My focus is on the windshield, and I’m doing all I can to create a present and future full of love, friendship, good health, intellectual growth, and enjoyment of the hobbies I love. But I certainly spend my fair share of time looking in the rear view mirror. While I would never describe my past as my “glory days,” I do have so many happy memories from my childhood and my adult years. And, yes, I’m a storyteller. Like my awesome mother-in-law, I love retelling some of my favorite episodes in my life…..over and over again. And I thank those closest to me for sticking around, even when they are hearing a fun story for the 134th time.
But as I have written, there’s no getting away from the pains of the past. I am often reminded of missed opportunities, missteps, and outright failures in my life. And I miss my son Sean every day.
But to stare at that small mirror too much is a lost opportunity. My friend Chris is my favorite blogger. For decades, he has shared the highs and tragic lows (he recently lost his wife and oldest son in the same crappy year) in his life through his blog while bringing laughter and witty insights about suburban Los Angeles living. He recently co-authored a great book, What the Bears Know, with Steve Searles, a fairly famous outdoorsman known as the “bear-whisperer.” I learned so much about the beauty of the black bears of Mammoth in the book, but my favorite line is not about the bears at all. It’s a reflection on loss. Chris writes, “The only way I can cope is not to let the totality of the twin tragedies reach me all at once, to accept the situation in increments, to get on with my work, and to dote on my three surviving kids, who need me more than ever with their mother gone.” That right there is a healthy mixture of mirrors and windshields.
I’m spending most of this week back in Little Rock, Arkansas, seeing family, checking in on and connecting with my parents, and enjoying Arkansas in the autumn. Anytime I’m with my family, there’s a lot of collective storytelling – the rearview mirror gets a little bigger. And often with my family, objects in the rear view mirror appear a little larger than they were in real life. Stretching the truth for a good story will be a forgivable sin this week. I’ll enjoy all of it. But I l also look forward to looking through our windshields and talking about what the future holds. Two of my sisters-in-law are embarking on bold new business ventures. My 84-year-old dad and I will be planning our trip to Mission Viejo next August, where we will swim in the largest masters swim meet of the year. I expect my Dad to finish near the top of his age group, and I expect that I will be one of the finishers in my age group! It won’t matter where we finish. And I will love looking through the windshield toward whatever the future holds.
As I finish my fourth month of retirement, I am thankful that I have tried to never define myself by my career. The roles that I want to hold close for all my days are my roles as a friend, a mentor, a son, a father, and a husband. I loved all of my public education jobs, and I’m incredibly proud of what I accomplished. But when I look in the rear view mirror, I try not to define myself by anything I may have done that resembles The Boss’s Glory Days. Yes – those reminiscences make me reflect on all that I have enjoyed and learned along the way. They make me smile, laugh, and sometimes cringe. Those days have shaped me, but they don’t define me.
How I make the most of today matters more than anything.
That’s why my focus is best placed on the windshield. I will be doing my best to spend my days intentionally focusing on the road I am on and the hopefully long and winding road ahead, enjoying the moments I am living, appreciating the power of now, and looking forward to whatever the future brings.
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Post #94 on www.drmdmatthews.com