Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Be Prepared

I feel like I've been preparing for all the wrong things in life.  Or maybe not enough of the right ones.  Either way, as life rolls on and I get older, challenges arise and things change.  I knew all of it was coming.  I knew I wouldn't be a kid forever.  I knew family members wouldn't be around forever.  But I didn't realize how much the inevitable winds of change would tear a hole in my world.

When I was in elementary school, I was told that I needed to work hard and be prepared because middle school was much harder.  I'd have different teachers for most subjects, and none of them would care about my responsibilities to any class other than theirs.  I mentally prepared myself for the academic challenges that awaited.  But when I got there, it wasn't the amount of schoolwork or the complexity of the material that caught me off-guard.  It was the heartlessness of my classmates.

Suddenly, I was interacting with kids from the other elementary schools who had been combined with mine, and not many of them liked me.  At the same time, many of my old friends from elementary school turned their backs on me as new cliques were formed and old friendships were tossed aside.  Adolescence had arrived, and with it came the race for popularity that would last straight through high school.

During my high school years, I was warned that I had to take the work seriously because college would be a hundred times harder and the workforce even worse.  I ended up holding off on college and getting a job first, so I mentally prepared myself to be worked to the bone.  I wasn't going to complain about the responsibilities I was given.  I wasn't going to complain about the endless hours on my feet.  I wasn't going to stress about the workload.

But the workload turned out to be surprisingly easy.  I did really well and was promoted several times over the next few years.  The workload wasn't my problem.  It was the people and the politics.  My first job was retail, so I was given my first exposure to the heartless underbelly of humanity known as the "customer."  I had no problems helping people find what they needed - that's what I expected to be doing.  But their attitudes were not what I had expected. Customers were heartless and mean.  I honestly didn't see it coming.  The poor attitudes of many of my coworkers complicated matters as well.  I'd been led to believe that working a real job meant being a part of a team.  But I soon learned that many employees only looked out for themselves.

When I did go to college, I got better grades there than I did in high school.  The workload was almost laughably easy (with the exception of math, my weak point - curse you, numbers!).

When I moved out of my mother's house, I was warned that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I was moving 900 miles away to a state with no family of my own.  I was told that the stress of being responsible for keeping a roof over our heads (mine and Laura's) in today's economy would crush me.  I was warned that I wouldn't be able to handle the responsibilities of living on my own and that I wasn't prepared for all of the expenses that go into independent living. 

But none of that stuff has been an issue for me.  What I now struggle with is the prospect of a life that is completely new, an unpaved road that is, for the moment, completely unfamiliar to me.  And the worst part is that it's a one-way street.  Everything I was familiar with - the things I now lack - are things that can never be a part of my life again.  Even if I were to quit my job and move back to the New York/New Jersey area, I still wouldn't be able to regain what I've lost.

I was not prepared for that.

I've always known that a day would come when I'd lose my parents.  And I always thought "I don't know how in the world I'm going to handle that."  But growing up, all I really worried about was how I'd react when either of my parents died.  What I didn't think of was how I would cope in the years that would follow.

And it's been like that for a lot of things.  We used to own a house in Point Pleasant.  It was my favorite place in the world - and still is.  I'd give anything to have that house back, but we had to sell it years ago, and it has since been renovated to the point that it barely resembles our old place.  Even if I could afford it, the house I spent countless summers enjoying is no longer there.  No matter what I do, I can't get it back.

These are the things I wish I'd been prepared for.  I miss the days when my mother, father, sister, and myself would spend a weekend down the shore.  I miss the days when Mom would make a big dinner and the whole family would sit around the table with Dad at the end making bad puns.  I miss spending holidays with my family and taking trips to Vermont to see my brother.  I miss playing video games with my other brother before he'd go out every evening.  I miss the summer nights when my father, my uncle, and our neighbor Bobby would sit outside talking about who-knows-what while my sister and I looked at stars through a telescope.  I miss Fourth of July barbeques at my uncle's pool and going to fireworks with everyone afterward.  And I miss all the family members we've lost over the years, whether by death or by choice.

I realize that I've entered the second part of my life.  I knew it was coming, and I know that it's up to me to create new traditions, new favorite places, and new memories.  But sometimes nostalgia can be a psychological tormentor reminding me that I'll never wake up in Point Pleasant to the sound of Mom returning with morning donuts, I'll never share another "Dad walk" with my father, and I'll never spend another Christmas in our house in New Jersey.

That's not to say I have nothing great in my life now.  I really do.  First and foremost, I have Laura to walk beside me, and that's the biggest blessing I could've ever asked for.  We are creating all of our own traditions as the years go by, making our own memories, and enjoying our lives together.  And, to my surprise, I actually enjoy living in Missouri.  I'm sure I'll settle in on this new path eventually, but the transition has been tougher than I expected not because of the responsibilities that come with it, but because of everything I've lost along the way.

Life has changed so much and I've just been running to catch up.  I spent so much time focusing on and preparing for the responsibilities of life that I forgot to respect the intangibles that make life worth living.  It's not that I don't appreciate the things I have now.  And it's not that I didn't appreciate the shore house or the family holidays when we had them.

I just wasn't prepared for them to be gone so soon.

So remember every day to appreciate the blessings you have, whether they are memories, family, or anything else.  Let the people closest to you know you feel about them, and cherish every moment you have with them.  After all, "Time is short, and suddenly you're not there anymore."

I love and miss you guys.

God bless,


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