Yesterday I met with my Great uncle, he’s an interesting man. He’s in his late 80’s, eight kids, a widower who remarried, a professor at two Universities, an author of 7 books and a deacon of his church. He’s a good Catholic man. I say that because he is a rarity these days for both a Catholic and for someone of his generation, as he believes in equality for gays, is only against abortion in the way that we need to help diminish it by way of improving our society and as he said once something like, ‘As a deacon, I am not in any way closer to God than you are, God is in all of us, it just all depends on how much we let him in.’
We sat and talked for a while. He was shocked to hear I was jobless and homeless, living of the kindness of strangers and most baffling, happy. I explained to him how I arrived here, after working non-stop since I was 14, doing jobs I loved and jobs I hated, at the end of the day I just felt like I was riding the same ride as everyone else, and I no longer felt it was working for me. Stress, debt, longing…no thanks!
He asked, but don’t you want a family? A home? Doesn’t going to work every day to provide the little things give you a sense of accomplishment? He was surprised, once again, as I shrugged and said, “Not so much.”
See, I have nothing against kids. In fact, if I met someone who wanted kids and I thought they’d be a great mom, I have no doubt I would make a wonderful dad. And I am aware those kids would be the most important things in the world to me, but not having kids doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out on anything.
To me, kids are like winning the lottery, sure it would probably make life great in so many ways, but I’m not going to sit here and cry that I didn’t win the lottery either. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on something I never knew. Plus, I have enough nieces and nephews to know what screaming, dirty diapers, nasty eating habits, hugs, snuggles, bedtime stories and Christmas morning are like. It appears to be some of the nastiest and most frustrating moments of a person’s life to raise a kid – wrapped up in a love and a beauty that only a parent can know. I get it. It sounds horrible and wonderful.
I told him the only reason I even considered kids at some point was because I was afraid too many assholes were making asshole babies, and I felt it was my job to help even that out with some decent little humans being added to the mix. But then again, there are tons of unwanted babies in this world, so if I really needed to leave a better human behind in my wake, I could just as easily help some child that needed a family, what better way to change the world then by showing love to a child who was left behind?
But for now, the only kids I would consider are if someone offered me some baby goats.
When my Great uncle asked what I was doing I told him I was writing. As a writer he understood, but he was still perplexed that I could be writing without worrying about a job. I pointed out that Thoreau spent months at a pond, and wrote one of the most amazing books this world will ever know. Steinbeck left his job and his family to travel the country, giving us Travels with Charley, one of the greatest pieces of literature known to man.
Sure, we can say that if they both had spent that time working at a hardware store or shoveling gravel, they may have felt a sense of accomplishment at the end of their day, but would we really be able to say that the world was a better place due to their diligence to ‘keep working’, a battle cry this country seems to throw out there without any real notice that the words ‘happy’ or ‘fulfilled’ seem to always be excluded?
I’m in no way saying I will ever write Walden Pond or be the next Steinbeck, but I always remind myself that when Steinbeck was sitting at a typewriter and putting letter to paper, he had no idea he was going to be the next Steinbeck either. That is actually what keeps most writers writing. I’m also not saying I won’t eventually look for a job, because last I checked, retiring in your forties would most assuredly ensure that I would eventually be living under a bridge. But this is my now, and I’m okay with that.
I explained to my Great uncle that I have been doing hospice work for the last 8 years, and the one thing you can almost always guarantee people will say at the end is that they spent too much time at work, they didn’t get to know their kids or grandkids or they had never fixed those relationships that had gone awry. They would either begrudge the fact that they had spent their whole life worrying about money, or even on their deathbed, worry about the cost of the funeral, the medical expenses or the debt they were leaving behind.
I told him,
“I watch people pass away all the time, and one thing it has taught me is that what we regret in life is what we regret at the end of life. And why so many people live with regrets, or silent rage, or anxiety or depression or with the hope that someday their job, their life or their significant other will improve – knowing the only way change can happen is when it comes from within – I will never understand that.”
He stared at me for a long time and nodded his head and said, I am beginning to understand where you are coming from. In a way, my generation grew up knowing war, the Great Depression and instability – a family and a home, food on the table and a place to lay my head, those are all things we struggled to achieve and we considered that a ‘win’ in what life had to offer.
He is right. But my generation, we grew up with abundance. War doesn’t usually affect us unless we are directly involved, we have enough food that we’re all getting obese and many of us know too much about how our church is being run, or how our family repeated the mistakes of every generation before it, we no longer want to pretend everything is okay.
In some small way, just not participating in the way things have always been done, is how we have become our very own catalyst for change.
He then said, “When I am on my deathbed I want to be surrounded by my children, it sounds to me, that you want to be surrounded by books that made you famous.” He was half-joking.
I responded, “That’s partly true. When you’re surrounded by your kids I’m sure if none of those kids was rich, or famous or had their own TV show, you would still love them, right?”
He nodded, of course he would.
“Well,” I continued, “the books I write have nothing to do with making money or fame, it’s just like your kids, if they just were honest and made a positive difference in the world, that would be something to be proud of.”
Again he nodded.
“So that is why I write.” I explained, “I want to make positive change in this world the best way I know how. Those books, those are my gift to the world…those are my kids.”
He smiled and shook his head. I knew he understood me, even if he didn’t completely agree with me.
When we said goodbye he said to me what my very religious family members always say to me, “I will pray for you“. To which I responded, “I have a feeling my life was supposed to be spent writing, wondering, hoping, loving and becoming – so for all we know, everyone’s prayers could be in the midst of actually being answered! We should celebrate that!”
At least I got a chuckle out of him before he left.
Enough of this, back to my book.
Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter and other works that can be found HERE.