When I was like six, my crazy uncle James showed up at our house during my birthday party. There wasn't many people there, just my mom and dad, brother and sister, and maybe my grandma. When he found out what was going on, he slipped out to his Volkswagen to find a gift for me. James came back with a banana he'd wrapped with a scrap of the Sunday funnies. That gift meant a lot to me, I know that because here I sit 34 years later, relaying the story to you.
This year, on my big 4-0, my wife and kids surprised me with a fishing kayak. I was shocked that they had thought so much of me to buy a cool thing like that for my birthday -- something I could get killed in. I was so shocked and excited when they showed it to me, that it was like I was having one of those out-of-body experiences people talk about. I swear, I felt like I was floating in the air above, watching this whole thing take place.
The gift of the kayak is something I'll remember for the rest of my life, too. It's not the gift itself, but the expression of love from my family that will be what stays with me. All those years ago, my uncle James gave that banana to me, partly as a joke, but also as an honest gesture of love and kindness. Trust me, my wife and kids know how accident-prone I am, so it took a whole lot of blind love to give me something that is potentially dangerous. My kayak is sort-of shaped like a banana, so, as weird as it sounds, I have come full circle.
I remember a few years back, brooding over my past failures and worrying about the future and the direction of my life, turning 40 seemed like more of a deadline than anything. I had so many doubts about who I was and what I was doing with my life. I could feel the pressure building more and more each day.
Truthfully, I was scared. So many questions kept my mind spinning, day in, day out. Had I done enough with my life? Was I doing what I am supposed to be doing, or was I wasting my life chasing things that didn't matter in the BIG picture? I doubted myself, and I drove myself crazy trying to figure out what it was that I was missing out on. Anxiety crept into my life, along with its pathetic roommate, Depression.
For a time, I was a wreck. I couldn't eat, then I'd eat too much. I couldn't sleep, and then all I wanted to do was sleep. My head hurt, my heart hurt, and so did my soul. I was being wrung out like a dirty dish rag, over and over, all day, every day.
I found myself praying constantly, begging for some answers, for some relief. Then, I would get angry because I didn't feel any better afterwards. Why God? I kept asking. You've heard that old saying, that there are no atheists in a foxhole during combat. Live through an internal hell like I did and see who you'll cry out to. It damn sure won't be your psychiatrist.
I didn't know if I could make it any longer. Hell, I didn't know if I even wanted to. There were times when I thought it would be better to be... you know. My mind was sick, very sick. It was the worst time in my life. My milestones were days and weeks and months. I found myself looking through a calender at work one day, counting the months and days since my depression had hit me, reminding myself of how long it had been since the darkest days of my life. Every month that passed, I would do that. I was getting better slowly, and further away from the darkness, but it took a while.
Somewhere along the way, the darkness lifted and I found out that things aren't as bad as my mind made them out to be. I started setting goals for myself again. The main goal I set was to be a better husband and dad. I'm still working on that one. If it hadn't been for my wife and kids, I wouldn't have made it. I decided to live for them, not so much for me. God helped me through those rough times, and I am thankful for each day he's given me, and for a fresh start whenever I need one.
In the back of my mind, there is that worry that I could slip back into the wormhole again. It happens. But I decided two years ago that I wouldn't let fear destroy my life again.
As silly as it sounds, I also set a new goal for myself then, as a way to help chase away the dark side of my psyche. That goal was to get something, anything, published before I turned 40. I guess that this blog was part of that, but it's something that I'm publishing myself, so for some reason, I didn't feel like my goal had been achieved. I realize now how petty that was. When I received an email from the editor of an online literary nature magazine, saying that he wanted to publish my work, I cried like a damn baby. This happened four months before my 40th birthday. I never expected things to happen like that.
Funny thing about goals, they're something you work yourself to death for, and then when that goal is met, you just kinda stand there and say, OK, now what?
Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of myself for what I have been able to do with my poetry and prose; especially proud for someone who has had to teach himself the craft of writing. For a guy who never went to college, I think I'm doing quite well. But reaching my goal is not the end, nor is it the most important thing in my life. Living is.
Now, I have new goals for the next 40 years. Love my wife, my kids, and be thankful for every day I have. You know, make the most out of whatever life throws my way. I'm going to try real hard not to drown in my new kayak. And I'm going to keep writing and sharing what I think are important things in life with you.