Three Keys To Your Survival

I just spent two hours searching three different Target stores in order to find an Angry Birds lunch pail for my four-year son.  He didn’t know what I was doing, nor did he ask for it.

Meanwhile, my wife is a mess, crying in the front room.  My seven-year old, never one to miss a chance to be dramatic, says it feels like her brother is “going away to college.”  And my son, well he has just been going about his day, playing Super Mario Brothers on his DS, running around in the back yard, and generally being a little boy, oblivious to the fact that tomorrow will be his first day of school.

It will be an interesting and contrasting day as it is also my grandmother’s 86th birthday.  With her longevity in mind, I look at my son’s face and I try to trace the line that goes from where he is now to where he will be in eighty-one years.  I want it to be clear, but it’s not.

I know he starts out with advantages that my four-year old grandmother could never have imagined. Born just two years before the original Black Monday, the one which ushered in the Great Depression and took twenty-five years to recover from, she grew up in a time when the hip kids stood in line for soup, not Iphones.

Six years after her birth a failed Austrian artist and architect who was laughed at by the elite of Germany’s Weimar Republic took power and began a process that a little over a decade later would end with 60 million dead, 2.5% of the world’s population at the time.

After the war she married, had children, and proceeded to build a life in the shadow of the Cold War and the perpetual threat of nuclear annihilation.

Yet here she is.  She survived and I dare say prospered.  She never gave up.  She never gave in.  She never “cracked.”

My son on the other hand is living in one of the greatest times in history.  A time when technology has changed our lives and connected us in a way that only the most outrageous of science fiction writers from the past could have imagined.  A time in which recent studies suggest that one-third of all babies born today will live to the age of one-hundred.

The time we are living in right now is so amazing that for the first time in recorded history the chances are that the next generation will NOT have it better than this current generation does.  Some have suggested that this is a terrible omen; something to be very worried about……but I think that it’s fucking awesome.

I mean think about it.  During the Middle Ages for example, as long as your children avoided the plague and made it to forty they were crushing you in terms of standard of living.  The bar was pretty goddamn low then, and though is has been raised exponentially since, you can’t expect it to continue that way infinitely Poindexter.  At some point the progress is harder to make because the bar is set so high.  It’s like trying to go faster than the speed of light, almost an impossibility.  Sure, some dork in a laboratory somewhere will argue how it is theoretically possible, but in the real world any improvement past warp one is inconsequential to the user experience.

Living in 2013 is so awesome that our kids may live ONLY as good as we do, which is why I have no worries about the macro issues for my son.  What I worry about are the micro issues.  The inner game. Because despite the great age that we live in, it seems as if more people these days are being driven to the breaking point than ever before.

More than just providing him with economic strength I want to provide him with mental strength, to prepare him to get through the “dark times” that we all experience.  To steel him against everything that life will throw at him, and get him through to the other side.  And yet I want to do it in a way in which he doesn’t lose his humanity in the process.  I don’t ever want him to “crack.”

The first person I ever knew who “cracked” was the father of one of my schoolmates, Hiromi Ogawa. One Friday night Hiromi’s father took a length of rope, walked down the street to the local middle school, and hung himself from a tree in back of the property.  Since it was the weekend, his body wasn’t found until early Monday morning when the janitor reported to work.

When news reached the playground later that day, my friends and I began to joke with each other….

“Hey, has anyone seen Hiromi’s dad?”

“Yeah, I saw him…..he was over at the school…..just hanging around.”

I forgot about that joke for almost thirty years, until I had my first child.  I have thought about it many times in the seven years since.  Even though I knew the joke was wrong at the time, I also instinctively knew that it was more than a joke.  It was in the way we told it too loud.  Repeated it too often.  And laughed at it too hard.  Even factoring in the braggadocio of young, insensitive, pre-adolescent boys, we told it with the flippancy and disregard of someone who was going out of their way not to care.

But we had to “not care,” because to act otherwise meant admitting that it Mr. Ogawa’s actions frightened us.  That we did not understand them.  That it in some dark recess of our minds it was POSSIBLE for that to happen to us….or someone we loved. To crack!

Telling that joke was our form of “whistling past the graveyard.”

I’ve never felt that I wanted to crack, but I know those who have.  I don’t know what, if anything, I could have done to help them had I been more prescient, but if it was possible to turn back the clock and somehow imbue them with certain traits to inoculate themselves against breaking, the top three I would choose are the same I hope to impart to my son.

It starts with humor.  You’ve got to have it.  Sarcastic, self-deprecating, dry, highbrow, lowbrow, blue, dark, hyperbolic, sophomoric, caustic, slapstick, deadpan humor.  It’s probably the one character trait that I don’t how you survive without.  Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living; but I assert that neither is an unlaughed at life.

You’ve also got to have a purpose.  Macro or micro, world-changing or sock changing, purpose has to be a part of your everyday life.  It’s what drives you forward and gives your life meaning.  It can come from raising your children or raising people’s consciousness, but it has to come from numerous and varied things.  The reason so many people die not too long after retirement is because they assign all the purpose in their life to their job, and once that’s gone, so is the meaning, as well as the will to go on.

And lastly, you have to practice gratitude.  Waking up each morning and taking a few minutes to think about what your are grateful for is a powerful way to stay grounded and happy.  Some days it is harder than others to find something to be grateful for, but if you look hard enough you can.  Kids, health, love, friends, a job, or a roof over your head are all obvious places to start, but gratitude does not have to be grandiose.  Many a times I have been grateful for things as simple as craft beer, good pizza, and the drum break in Tom Sawyer.

Ultimately it is nearly impossible for a person who is grateful towards life to massacre a schoolroom full of children or drop a pressure cooker bomb into the crowd at the Boston Marathon.

On top of that I would tell my son that you can never give up.  Never!  No matter what the circumstances, the challenge, or the dark clouds that lay ahead.  You can never let life break you.  You can’t let it make you R. Budd Dwyer.

Robert Budd Dwyer was the 30th Treasurer of the State of Pennsylvania, who after twenty years as a public servant was accused and ultimately convicted of having accepted bribes.

During the whole investigation and trial Dwyer professed his innocence vigorously, totally denying any wrongdoing, and in the process turning down a plea deal from Federal prosecutors that would have let him off with minimal jail time.  Even after his conviction, while awaiting sentencing, he continued to serve as Treasurer, and even wrote to President Reagan seeking a presidential pardon.  As his sentencing date approached, running out of options, and facing a possible 55-year sentence, Dwyer called a press conference, which was televised live, and began by saying…

“I thank the Good Lord for giving me 47 years of exciting challenges, stimulating experiences, many happy occasions, and, most of all, the finest wife and children a man could ever desire. Now my life has changed, for no apparent reason.”

He continued on with a brief but eloquent speech detailing the miscarriage of justice that had been served upon him, and imploring those who believed in him to fight on to clear his name.  He then called to three of his staffers and gave each one an envelope.  Then he picked up a manila envelope and pulled from it a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum.

As the real purpose of this press conference became evident to those in the room, friends and co-workers began to plead with him to put the gun down.  Dwyer, a gentleman to the end, spoke directly to those gathered saying….

“Please, please leave the room if this will…if this will affect you.”

Then motioning to those who tried to approach warned….

“Don’t, don’t, don’t, this will hurt someone.”

And with that he placed the barrel of the gun in his mouth and blew the fucking back of his head out against the wall.

Twenty years later a documentary about his life entitled Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer premiered at the Carmel Art & Film Festival.  In that documentary, William T. Smith, the man whose testimony convicted Dwyer revealed that he gave false testimony under oath in exchange for a more lenient sentence.

I don’t know why Mr. Ogawa did what he did.  Could he have soldiered through and been among us today.  Who knows?

I know why Budd Dwyer did what he did, and that if he had been able to hang in there he might have ended up being a free and vindicated man.

And I know that three women who spent over a decade in a hell I can’t imagine, with no reason whatsoever to go on, refused to crack, and came out the other side just barely two weeks ago.

Anyway, my son starts school tomorrow.

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