How Many Roads Must a Person Walk Down? 

“How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?  The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.  The answer is blowing in the wind…” ~ B. Dylan

Slap.  Spank.  WAAAAAAH.  Boy?  Girl?  Free will?  Predetermined fate?  Conform?  Challenge the status quo?  Live until you die?  Hide yourself away?  Follow the crowd?  Be an individual?  WASP or a member of a habitually maligned ethnicity?  Shut out or allowed in?  Born on the right side – or wrong side—of the tracks?

From cradle to grave, follow someone’s lead?  Think your own thoughts?  Who among us hasn’t tried both?  I much prefer the latter, and that feeling of freedom sustains me.  Born to observe and to occasionally register enthusiastic approval and often, lately, my condemnation of unfairness and mindless group-think, I very nearly have been boiled in oil on occasion. 

Bring it on.  Standing as firmly as possible on my own two feet, I celebrate this sea-change or seismic shift and welcome the natural pull of evolution.  I sense that I am as Homo sapiens-upright as a rehearsal piano—call me Susie Steinway.  Nothing much in my bank account to will to anybody but plenty of chutzpah stashed legacy-wise.  Happy to share.  Wish I’d been so bold from the get-go!

My dear Facebook compatriot LeeAnn Bravick Munson (whose profile photograph is a cream-colored kitten sporting a perky turquoise knit cap) writes: “When I was younger, I used to bottle my emotions up so much…now, it’s like I have no filter anymore. And everything just comes out. Life is full of emotional moments. And now, I embrace that. ♥”

It’s difficult to remain silent for a lifetime, surely even from a wheel-chair — one of many lining darkened hallways inside nursing homes — with gray heads bowed and eyes glazed.  Besides, probably Paul Simon’s and Art Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”, practiced throughout one’s life, roar out as deadly damaging.   Our son states that my “boomer” generation qualifies as grasping onto stationary door-frames declaring, “Hell, No!  We won’t EVER go!”  Staying power?

“Fools, (said I) you do not know silence like a cancer grows.  Hear my words that I might teach you.  Take my arms that I might reach you.”  (…“But my words, like silent raindrops fell and echoed in the wells of silence.”)

On this journey, deaths impact us, and they should.  We do not wish to let go – and we shouldn’t. 

At age seven, I witnessed my parents’ grief when they lost my grandparents as well as a beloved and admired Blue Bell employee, supervisor of the Warsaw division.  Jack was a 28 year old father, of three, who died prematurely, back when cancers seemed rare occurrences.  Simultaneously, a dewy-eyed gorgeous Southern 24-year-old-bride named Lucy Shepherd, whom we adored, succumbed to leukemia. 

At ten, I’d matured enough to experience shock, sadness, then acceptance, and finally curiosity regarding a young high school English/Speech teacher’s instantaneous death in an automobile accident on a European tour, when car collisions were quite common.  She raced to return a rented Volkswagen to close out her summer’s trip and glorious, long-anticipated vacation with her soldier husband stationed overseas.  A semi ran up and over the back of the tiny vehicle.  We loved our neighbor Mary so; she lived in Virginia Lillich’s upstairs apartment, with her companion Scottish Terrier,  two doors away from our house.  I still treasure the tiny Dutch dolls she sent me from Holland along with a postcard featuring a pen-and-ink etching by artist Vincent Van Gogh.

As poet Emily Dickinson wrote:  “Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of Hell…”

If we are fortunate enough to grow old, we naturally begin to perform an inventory as we sort through the past.  If we are smart and wise, we appreciate the successes but become informed more by life’s failures which taught us to improve and to acquire patience and understanding and tolerance.  There is no retiring from life which often plods along yet is also forever challenging. 

Rock-star David Byrne’s lyrics capture this:  “And you may ask yourself what is that beautiful house?  And you may ask yourself where does that highway go?  And you may ask yourself am I right?  Am I wrong?  And you may tell yourself MY GOD!  WHAT HAVE I DONE?  Same as it ever was…Same as it ever was…”

Some solace is found in hoping that our good deeds live long after us as do our spirits…our views of the world…our hopes for society…our occasional humor masking pain…our loyalties to noble causes…and our individual contributions — rather than our having blended in unnoticed, shy, reticent, hesitant and failing to stand up for what is correct in real time, which would be bordering on unethical behavior actually.

Whether I ascend to a fluffy cloud having earned my wings, polished halo and a harp to strum upon or descend into the depths of Hades while brandishing a pitchfork, or, most probably and realistically die as dead as a door-nail gone forevermore, here’s what I’ve learned that I’ll recall with fondness…from afar:

Patting, feeding, naming, sheltering and nurturing cats and dogs; saving lives of all of this earth’s animals human(e)ly possible; encouraging others; educating minds; opening hearts; books, music, movies and pretty pictures; satisfaction earned from forgiving; strength to be kind to bullies; acceptance that some things should but do NOT change and improve; sincere accidental compliments; perfect weather; going barefoot; remembering my wonderful parents’ fairness to all and their gentle instructiveness; playing cards; honest smiles; bravery to shout out — in opposition to injustice; diversity; daring to be one’s self; thoughtfulness – always — under any circumstances; abandoning vanity; speaking up boldly yet softly; easy conversation; the steady love of a child; empathy.

I shall NOT miss:

Dog pounds; puppy mills; nursing homes; intensive care waiting rooms; funeral parlors; hypocrisy; mind-sets; religions battling one another for dominance; schools; dormitories; clubs and camps; prisons; capital and corporal punishment; combative arguments; regimentation; slaughter houses; horse or greyhound racing; cock fights; rodeos; zoos; corrals; hunting; bull-fighting; victimizing animals for sport, food or entertainment; political parties’ vacuousness; dirty jokes; gossip; crucifixion of reputations; racism, sexism, or species-ism; killing; apathy.

Let us encourage ourselves and others to learn to lick our wounds, celebrate our joys, remove our doubts, quell our suspicions, rise above our fears and forever affirm life in all of its forms while we live, for that would be heaven on Earth.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs speaking inspirationally at Stanford University, several years ago, stated:  “No one wants to die.  Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.  And yet death is the destination we all share.  No one has ever escaped it… Our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice…”

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