No, I’m not a desperate chemistry teacher. I’m talking about opportunity. The opportunity I took advantage of at the end of March may well be bearing fruit. Another opportunity – an opportunity to do something that would make me much happier – is coming. And it scares me silly. I’ve never done something so hard. I know I can, that’s not the concern. It’s just that I’m intentionally challenging myself, and I am a bit afraid of success. What if I succeed accidentally? How will I repeat what I did? I could be discovered as a fraud, barely capable of doing what I said I could do, much less of accomplishing even more? No, success is more frightening than failure. I can fail with aplomb. Failure is my bread and butter. I learn from my failures, as everyone should. I learn what not to do, what I should have done, what I could have done, and where to go for answers.
Still, I’m tired of thinking “what if.” Moving to Colorado was a spectacular failure. No, really, it was pretty sweet. It didn’t end the way I would have preferred – a triumphant return with great stories and a wealth of experiences, and enough money to hold my own until I could settle into a job that would make my heart sing, but it was worth it. If I had the chance to do it all again, with the exact same result, I would. There was a lot of growth with that move, and I got to meet people who didn’t automatically ask what school I went to. I got to learn my own limitations, and what I could truly accomplish with the tools at hand. Yes, it was a failure, and yes, it was spectacular.
I daresay that helped me to get where I am now, on the precipice of opportunity and change, anxiously awaiting the result, instead of shying away, cowering in terror. If I don’t take the chance I’ll never know what could have been, and I’ll regret. I’d rather not have regrets; not for something I could have avoided. Reservations, sure, but not regrets.
This one seems to be taking quite a bit longer to write. I’ve distracted myself several times over the past few hours. Perhaps what it really is is thinking about the future – my future – and what it means.* Would it have been nice to experience this twenty years ago? To have an idea of what I really like to do? My life would be completely different if I had. I’d have experience and maybe able to call my own shots, name my own price. Would my life be better? Ah, now there’s the rub. I don’t know. On paper, it looks like it should be, but I don’t know. Maybe I burn out before I’m 40. Maybe I start to half-ass my job, and maybe I get fired. Maybe I can’t get rehired anywhere. Maybe I’m homeless, because I’m too ashamed to ask my family for help. I don’t know. That’s the biggest reason I try to stay away from “if only.” That way lies madness.
Much continues to go on in the world. People die, some by their own hand or the hands of others, some from disasters both natural and man-made, and for some, it’s just their time. Recently, I learned of a death that hit a little closer to home. A long time ago, near the end of the last century, I was redefining myself. I didn’t realize this was something that was going to happen every few years or so, but that’s neither here nor there. Two years prior, I’d attended a church event for the first time in several years. The Presbyterian (PCUSA) General Assembly was meeting at Riverfront Coliseum (different name now, but that doesn’t matter; it’s always Riverfront Coliseum to me), and because of the structure of the Presbytery, there were sessions open to all. Pretty democratic, Presbyterians. I sat in a room with thousands of others, all sharing a moment of just being, being a part of something so big. I’d realized I missed that. I wanted it back in my life.
For the next two years, there were some pretty significant changes in my life. In that time, I looked for a new church home. I had to get over my initial terror and discomfort, of course, but I managed. I’d found one that I was comfortable with, but the congregation was small. Someone had mentioned a fairly active church in town, in a very nice neighborhood. I was nervous about going, thinking I’d stick out like a sore thumb. One Sunday, I worked up the nerve to go. Within five minutes, I’d felt I’d found it, my new church home. The congregants were kind and welcoming, interested only in seeing my interest. There was no awkwardness, no discomfort. It fit.
Then the choir sang.
If I’d heard them first, I probably would have ignored anything that seemed negative, at least for a while. I have been in a choir off and on for probably 25 of the last 35 years. I wasn’t while I was in Colorado, although in my last months, I did audition for one. My audition wasn’t great, but they did something they usually don’t – asked me to try again at the next audition in January. By the time January had rolled around, I knew I would have to leave, so I didn’t, but, like going to the General Assembly, I understood that I was missing a piece of me. Hearing this choir was the final decider. This is where I would stay.
The following January, I managed to make myself go to the first rehearsal of the new year. I was terrified. Here were all these people who knew each other, had known each other for upwards of 30 or even 40 years, and this director who, though not particularly tall, is very imposing. That was one of the best decisions of my life.
There’s a point, I promise.
After some event or other, we had a choir party. There were beverages of an adult nature. I’d brought a bottle of White Zinfandel. I wasn’t much into wine, and hadn’t really tried any. One of the choir members, Tom Mooney, objected. He lectured me, in the nicest way possible†, on the flaws of my wine choice, and directed me to other options. His sharp wit and kindness endeared him to me almost immediately. I looked forward to seeing him every week, and was happy to call him friend. His advice was always sound – and not always about wine – and his charm infallible. When I left for Colorado in 2001, I knew he would be one I would definitely miss.
I was gone for 10 years. In my head, of course, nothing had changed here, but time doesn’t work that way. Quite a bit had changed. For one thing, everyone was older. Minds weren’t as sharp, hands less steady. Changes in the way the services were handled affected everything. Overall for the better, but the traditional service saw fewer of the younger members. People who were in the choir when I’d left were no longer singing. Including Tom. He’d been fading recently, was in hospice care last week, and Thursday, he was gone.
If I could stomach it, I’d have gladly raised a toast of White Zin in his honor. Except that thanks to Tom, that stuff tastes like Kool-Aid to me, entirely too sweet. So, at Friday’s tasting, I toasted him with a fruity, floral white blend.
*Hi, how’s it goin’? No reason, I’d just noticed there weren’t any footnotes yet. Felt weird.
†Make no mistake, though, it was a lecture.