There’s a line in the supremely moving Lee Ann Womack song “I hope you dance” that says, “Tell me who wants to look back on their youth and wonder where those years have gone?” Aging is a bit like swimming in the deep end of the pool. You have acquired the skill to dive and explore the depths. But as you go deeper you feel the weight of all that water above you. All those years behind you. You can look back but the water blurs your vision a bit.
There are so many flashes of childhood. I vividly recall the year we leased our home in Los Gatos and moved to Carmichael, Sacramento, to accommodate my father’s career. He was an attorney working near the state capitol and so we endured the heat of Sacramento. Before long my mother protested and we returned to our home in the hills of Los Gatos.
I remember the years at Denman Day School (now defunct), a private campus with exemplary elementary education. From there I spent 8th grade at Harker Academy, followed by a brief stint at Archbishop Mitty High School. My Dad tried to get me into Bellarmine College Prep, but my academic prowess was that of a B student, so that was that.
Dad, an intellectual conservative, disliked the political orientation of Archbishop Mitty and transferred me to Saratoga High School. I thrived there, cartooning for the campus newspaper and playing varsity tennis. From there I studied Criminal Justice at Sonoma State University and completed my Masters Degree in Administration of Justice at San Jose State University. After that, I entered the police academy and began a professional life in uniform.
This January will mark 25 years as a cop. I’ve experienced life as a patrol officer working shifts, arresting drunks and handling calls for service. I’ve served as a detective, DARE (Drug Abuse Education Officer) instructor, composite sketch artist, Sergeant, Lieutenant, hostage negotiator, peer counselor, field training officer and currently Chief of Police.
I’ve had doubts about my career, dreams of becoming an artist or writer, and soul searching on what it’s all about. Raised a Catholic, I’ve read C.S.Lewis, leading atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins and countless other philosophical explorations. I continually lean back toward faith, moved by the order of the universe and inherent beauty of life.
I have non believing friends who eloquently dismiss my persistent sense of a grand design. Wishful thinking, they say, of a person uncomfortable with finality and mortality. Perhaps. And yet my instinct tells me that it’s not purposeless and morally relative. The power of love, beauty and the natural order hint at more. I’ve always felt it.
Do yourself a favor and watch Roger Scruton’s amazing documentary “Why Beauty Matters.“ It’s partly an indictment of the abdication of beauty in modern art and architecture. But it also explores the divine nature of beauty.
In the end, we must all form our own life philosophy. Whether you adopt a spiritual sense of something more or humanist view that this is all there is, you have to get up and face each day. The question is, what do you do with it? The challenges of life, past regrets, sadness, aging and loss will alight upon your measure sooner or later. How do you want to handle it?
May I suggest you look to the great examples of human dignity, grace and elegance in those who came before us. How did Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank, a teenage victim of the Holocaust, possibly write in her diary, ” I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
Or take Charles Darwin, who wrote,” Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Dear reader, what I am trying to say is “I hope you dance.” Life, existence and this amazing earth are all such magnificent gifts. When we are young it feels like it will last forever. The stages unfold. From the joys of childhood, to adolescence, to our first kiss, college, careers, love, marriage, children, passionate pursuits, retirement, the twilight years and eventually Shakespeare’s “sleep of death.” What dreams may come, indeed.
Unlike Dylan Thomas’ advice “do not go gentle into that good night,” I intend to subscribe to Lee Ann Womack’s advice. I will dance. I will give faith a fighting chance. But when the chariot arrives and it’s time to step aboard and finally revisit my father and loved ones long past, I will go gently. For I have lived, loved and danced. And that is enough.