The Wagon

I found myself in bed last night, in the midnight hour of a bleak December, and like Edgar Allen Poe I pondered over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. We’d spent the evening together as a family; my children, wife, and grandchild in one final hurrah for Christmas before this year slips silently into the one that follows. It was a nice evening in a local restaurant, but that alone gave no cause for the nocturnal mental ramblings that interrupted my sleep. It was the pictures.

The holiday season is rife with photographic opportunities, to cherish memories stored quietly for a later date and freeze those images of a time well spent. But who’s image was that staring back at me from the surreal Polaroid moments I encountered? Surely not mine. The man with the children was too old, had too many wrinkles – an unacceptable caricature of the face I meet in the mirror each morning when I awake to greet another day. And yet I know better: despite its comfortable and familiar fa├žade, the mirror mocks us all accordingly in an equal-opportunity manner.

Each line is a turn in the road, the wrinkles marking memorable changes in direction as decisions, right and wrong, are made along the path. Tired eyes justify and negate at the same instant. But the road continues. Truly we arrive on one road, and depart on another; yet never realizing which of the two we may happen to travel.

And my road is trying, because like everyone else, I pull a wagon behind me. It is filled with things I want to hang on to, treasures accumulated over time and instance. New cars, promotions at work, money made and spent. Houses and swimming pools, clothes fashionable today that have a chance, however small, of dramatically returning to said fashion at a place further down the road. The load accumulates, and it gets harder and heavier to pull as the miles slip silently by.

This is what gripped me and prevented my sleep last night – the wagon and its cruel load. It’s a burden. And I may have made a mistake or two along the way, I’ll admit as much. The things scattered within its cargo area may be practical, and might even make life easier and better in the long run. A dependable vehicle, a warm house; those things are what we aspire to from an early age and they are good things. But as the road turns a corner, narrowing in a way that shows you there is a finite end in sight, you take stock of those items and you become prone to reconsider.

I’m dumping some things from my wagon, and replacing them with others. The Psalmist reminds me: “…we spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

I’ll gladly replace the option for newer vehicles for time spent holding my wife’s hand, or a spontaneous hug in the hallway with a whispered, “I love you” thrown in for good measure. I’ll barter other items for my youngest daughter’s laughter emanating from her bedroom as she watches or reads something I have no idea about, along with my asserted inability to comprehend the meaning of such.

Is a comfortable house worth more than a silly face performed by my granddaughter, or the knowing smile of her mother and my oldest son? What price can you place on your youngest son’s ceaseless (senseless?) banter on everything from NFL scores to critical moments in the Star Wars saga?

My own promotions and achievements pale in comparison to my oldest daughter’s courage to do things and visit places I never could, utilizing a silent strength that belies both her and her husband’s years. It’s a strength I barely remember from when I was their age and the world was mine alone to conquer. May they never lose that inner strength or merely trade it for mundane responsibilities and frivolous 401k options.

I travel a silent road, pulling a wagon of my own making filled with items of questionable importance and value. When I arrive at the end (and I will), when it comes my time to fly away, I hope my cargo was soundly chosen. Everything else is only this, and nothing more.

The author and his progeny

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