Years ago, when I was a major genius, I had a moment of clarity about the true meaning of life. The entire purpose of human existence was to have a good time. That was it. Nothing else.
It seemed really profound at the time. Life should end when the good times stopped. Somewhere around the age of 30, although 29 might be better depending on what you had going on then.
I came to this understanding on a school day at an intersection. A friend and I were cruising around expanding our minds rather than wasting them on algebra and adjectives. The more we “cruised,” the smarter we got. Especially me.
Turning at an intersection, we had to wait while a guy hobbled across the street with the help of a cane. It took forever because he was old. Pre-Jurassic Period at least.
“Man, I don’t ever want to be that old,” Bammer observed.
“Right on,” I said. “Kill me before I get like that.”
As I said, I was a genius at the time. It’s amazing how much insight a guy can have about life when he doesn’t know he’s really no brighter than a potato.
I’m the one gimping around today. I’m more than four decades older than I was that spring day, and twice as old as I expected the good times would ever last. And I’m still not dead. So I’ve had to re-evaluate.
Last week, I had my 18th surgery and the second to fix something that happened to my arm during a brainless good time years ago, back when I was entirely invested in the moment.
I tell my wife I was conducting high-speed, sudden-stop research for a major university. It might not be a total lie. The truth is I don’t really remember. I woke up that way.
After Wednesday’s surgery, I remembered that guy in the intersection. I actually think about him from time to time, especially when I’m crossing the street in front of The Tribune. The crossing time seems to get shorter every year.
The morning after surgery, one of my granddaughters brought me a get-well picture she painted of a pig with a Band-aid on its leg. It even looks like me.
When I dragged myself out of the chair to put it on the wall, I moved slowly and whined a lot. I caught my granddaughter looking at me the same way Bammer and I had looked at the crosswalk guy.
“Whoa, I hope I never get as old or cut up as Papa.”
I couldn’t blame her. There’s nothing attractive about a life slowing down. It certainly doesn’t suggest more good times ahead. And yet I’m still having them.
What slowed the guy down in front of Bammer and me that day could have just been a misspent life. Then again, maybe he was wrapped in sorrow for a recently lost spouse or suffering the psychological impact of a terminal diagnosis.
It was entirely possible that he was still lugging metal from his own moment of youthful “enlightenment” in France or over Germany.
I’m not very smart anymore. Living just for the good times is a shallow perspective even for the genius I used to be, a guy who hadn’t really had much of a life yet.
People’s idea of good times change along with their life experience. A good time can be every single day you get after surviving a really bad one.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.