I wasn’t bothered by turning thirty-eight until my mom gave me her “present”, a book on how to die well. “It’s probably Billy Graham’s last book,” she said trying to convince me I wasn’t receiving it because I’m now closer to the end of my life than its beginning.
So I got a little introspective. And by “a little” I mean I stayed awake for a few hours that night, staring up at the ceiling I grew up under, appraising my life so far.
I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded.
Turns out the success of my first record was a fluke, a once in a lifetime alignment of what I liked to sing and what the (Christian radio listening) masses liked to buy. And of course I wish my other albums, especially my most recent, had been as widely appreciated. I’m a downright mediocre recording artist. But that’s just work and, really, when I’m the age of Billy Graham I don’t think I will – well, I sure hope I won’t – regret not being a better silicon salesman.
I didn’t succeed in school either. I squandered the opportunity to learn. Now that I love to learn I wish I’d done more of it when I was younger. And I regret not studying something more than music. And not getting a masters too – I regret that. Why didn’t I study international development or sociology or anything instead of fifteenth century counterpoint and scales and music theory?
Then there are the relationships. I was a terrible son and brother. And far too opinionated – “more passionate than wise”, a mentor once told me. I wish I could rewind to age thirteen and unsay a million things. I wish I could have had the self-control and compassion of middle-age back when I was covered in acne, acid wash and Polo cologne.
And I wish I’d risked more. Honestly? I wish I’d done more “bad” things. These days I realize having a beer in high school or going to a party in college really wouldn’t have been the end of the world. And, besides, I wasn’t a good boy because I was good but because I was scared of being bad. Scared of throwing up, of getting caught, of being talked about, of disappointing. Martin Luther believed that if a man was to sin he should do it bravely, big, with passion. I wish I’d read those words before I was twenty-five. Or do I?
There’s a lot to regret. Most of it not worth regretting.
But I’ve been a better father than I thought I could be. I worried when Becky was pregnant with our first and my mom told me worrying meant I cared enough to be good at it someday. A prediction come true in large part because of her and my dad’s good example and encouragement. And Becky. Becky is everything I’m not as a parent and I’m the very few things she’s not.
Together – so far – we’ve succeeded at this parenting thing as a team, which, really, just means that we’ve spent fewer days locked in the bathroom rocking back and forth murmuring in the corner than we’ve spent on the floor playing Candyland. And also our kids say please sometimes and none of them crap or pee their pants. And they have pants on. When they’re in public. This is progress. And so success.
And I still wake up every morning, look at the woman beside me — her mouth open, snoring, hair frizzed and slightly damp — and I love her, which proves either that love is not objective or that beauty is not skin deep – whichever makes you less angry with me. She’s so out of my league. And I think I’ve become pretty good at telling her that with words and a toilet scrubber, “I’m sorry” and “thank you” and “I love you” and “those jeans are lucky to have you.”
We’ve lived half my life together now and after watching numerous friends and acquaintances separate and divorce over the last year I think, grading on a curve, just being together qualifies as success. Enjoying being together is extra credit.
I have some unimportant regrets. But I feel like a success where it matters. Where it matters to me now.
I heard Charlie Peacock say once that the older he gets the more important relationships are becoming to him and the less important all the other stuff. My biggest regret is that I regretted for so long my failures at earning money, impressing people, making art, knowing a lot – accomplishment.
In the dark quiet, staring up at the ceiling on December 27th, looking back over the last thirty-eight years of my life, the “failures” and “successes” that mattered most were found in relationships. I think that means I’ve not only grown a little older but I may have grown up a little too.