TWO YELLOW SHIRTS
Half-a-century give-or-take between these two yellow shirts.
Thirteen I’m thinking in the polo, fifteen at the most – I miss bangs so much – I’m in my backyard garden at my Paramus home holding a zucchini. I grew a few really big ones. Behind me to the side you can see the tip of a wooden red canoe someone gave my father. I remember helping him paint it red.
In the other I’m reading Waving Familiar Torches at Merseles Studios in Jersey City.
May have been the first polo shirt I owned, they weren’t quite as common back then. Nice but not dressy, this had to be some kind of summer occasion, always less formal than the mass going, cold weather holidays of my youth. Up-casual either had not yet been invented or I was at least three years too young to understand the concept. Either case, I wouldn’t wear it to garden. Why the photo-op?
Why was there film in the family’s Instamatic? Why was I posing with one of my vegetables during one of the organic gardening summers. I have no memory of this picture being taken, the only one of my teen garden to survive.
The other was a gift, a designer V-neck in textured, pigmented cotton, boutique item. I wore this then new shirt this night for effect. The performance began with me sitting at table with a candle and I’m wearing an unbuttoned black shirt over the yellow tee. I blew out the candle, took off the black shirt and draped it on the chair, and walked over to the stand and read in unyielding yellow.
The older me is as surprised as the younger me would be knowing that I’ve lived this long. I’m much older here than my father was when that zucchini was still fresh.
What do I have to say about the weirdness that is life and my witnessing one century end, and another begin?
Five decades of general disappointment in our society. People I’ve known too. I love many and am loved by some, but so many others lie and thwart. Empathy, sensitivity, trust and honor – sometimes, it’s not that they don’t exist – I have friends I can honestly use as proof they do – but the memories of those who fooled me into thinking they lived those ideals now disrupts the calm. Please grant me the power someday to un-see and un-hear. A lot it was work related, I’ll spare you those details.
Otherwise, society, political society. America specifically but I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with envy of any nation. Justice, virtue… you know the litany, a criteria we’ve both repeated many times – the public and institutional manifestations of the aforementioned personal virtues – increased in scarcity as time rolled along.
Historically speaking, we’re only now feeling a loosening of the chokehold grip of race and class and the creation and distribution of economic wealth. When human potential begins to flower, greed and empowerment of the wealthy overpowers, impedes and eventually subjugates our intellectual, emotional and spiritual evolution.
Always been the case, perhaps that is true, certainly at least since Columbus sailed our Ocean Blue. Now, though, the public discourse contains genuine progressive ideas.
The discussion leaves a lot to be desired, as does the general state of the culture. Still, social media has expanded that discussion by constantly relating an incident to bigger ideas and policy issues, expanding the news of the day along with the pace by which those ideas can be applied… compared to the previous analog mass, we’re all narrow and deep. It’s been a change in the last 20 years that hopefully will lead to good, and arguably already has. I wish we were reading more literature but you take what you can get when evaluating hope. It’s not like podcasts have replaced anything better.
In my childhood, seemed Nixon was the source of all anger. My organic gardening phase overlapped with Ford the most. Adults were young and old. Nixon promised law and order and the older adults liked stability. Nixon seemed the focal point of young adult anger, then Nixon was… you know the drill, the man was a goon and the older adults didn’t know where to express resentment about the betrayal and between the war and the protests and the riots and the economic breakdowns no one knew who to trust. Since the generations agreed that Nixon being gone was a good thing, nothing else needs fixing.
That’s the paradox of politics and why I resist dwelling on them because the social animal and the society in which our lives intersect seem propelled towards insisting that the political is life’s entirety. At least Ford’s better than Nixon, compromise better than endless upheaval, there’s nothing more to settle for.
Trump is gone, quit complaining, get back to work. If this pattern is interrupted or not, our deepest worry is that justice may not be enough and happiness when not elusive eventually feels trivial.
At some point the parlance became journey instead of life, so in these yellow shirts we see the beginning of the beginning and the beginning of what will be the end.
The rich got richer, poverty overwhelmed more lives and the middle class vanished. Technology encouraged ignorance even as it made communication more convenient and information more accessible. Who to believe, what to trust. Apprehension always the follow up story.
Everything turning out for the best but no matter how good even some of that best sucks. Some bitterness forever lingers, how much longer must we taste?
I never could understand or feel comfortable with an unconditional love of life. It seems juvenile and dimwitted if not delusional. Oh, I agree it’s worth loving as a whole, and there’s more to love about life than to hate and much of the resentment about the human condition and our personal embodiment of that condition is the fact some current affairs makes more love absent from more life.
But love and its absence and the multitude of combinations between either or, that is the human condition, A vast wasteland of constant war over exactly where the border separating joy from despair is located.
Without the sorrow there’s no true life, that’s just the way it is and sometimes it’s a shrug and other times it’s the essential truth, that best self, you most pure – that we share with the ones we love – but mostly it’s ours alone and some make that art and then our experience of beauty more fully utilizes our capacity to feel and know it.
Eventually, there might be a shrug. It’s just life, right? Your guess was as good as mine. I don’t disagree that it’s precious, but it’s just life, life and life only, as Dylan sang. I did the best I could, who’s to say otherwise. I fought the good fight given the circumstance of each battle. No one can prepare for the number of battles or infrequency of peace. Everyone looks good in yellow at least twice in one’s life, not counting polyvinyl chloride.
What I seem unwilling to do is ignore our suffering, both what we can never fully alleviate and that which is inherent in life itself. It’s like you either not admit to it or shame anyone who even speaks of it or you medicate it with actual drugs as well as language like life as journey or aging as transition.
Why must I like everything I accept? Perhaps this tension makes life more interesting, and gives our collective sorrow a semblance of purpose.
Yes social change, more equitable and just democracy, a right to vote and healthcare, education and shelter — that could make things easier, maybe even much more than that. But still only that.
In this life we can never truly know what we know and even as we accept that fact and what we do know reaps rewards, that acceptance requires a denial even faith never lets us forget.
We’re never sure if the joy was truly enough. We’ve survived the suffering, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Whatever talents we develop and skills we acquired enabled us to overcome at least enough to live another day. Pat ourselves on the back… or maybe the suffering wasn’t as bad as it could have been.. seriously, how close to worst does it have to come?
Or maybe suffering no matter how bad can be endured even if death is again the inevitable outcome.
Knowing this is the problem… the implications for joy are inescapable…. whatever you’re feeling with love or competence or accomplishment or connection must be considered anew. If sorrow or pain can never be as intense as anticipated – how else to fully explain our ability to overcome – then we’ve reached the inherent limitations of happiness as well.
Not everybody does and eventually no one does, but the longer one is an adult the more aware you become that joy is less than infinite, we’re only human and all we can hope for is that the unmistakable sorrow merely whispers.
Every journey encounters trauma – mine more trauma than yours or vice versa, of what point is that? Trauma is a popular concept, openly and widely acknowledged and discussed – a firmly established buzzword whose widespread usage has uplifted the common culture, transformed psychology and forever re-formatted most workspaces.
Like trauma we all have some and many more than I, but sorrow is more collective, more equally distributed and far less personal. These days, seems everyone’s testifying to trauma, but few are willing to even admit that sorrow is something with which we all must cope.
Sometimes I can’t help but dwell on this sorrow, and everything can be soured at least for a while. Aging doesn’t help. Futility has never been so present in my life. Medicine prolongs, but the tedium, dread and physical humiliation care requires dulls your mood. You hope, you try what used to heal and still act surprised when you can no longer deny that your body will never be your friend again.
Death is closer, heaven’s never a sure bet, either as destiny or existence-wise… I sometimes worry that when you sleep in heaven you dream of earth and when you wake that memory splinters salvation.
Either fear or anxiety of what can only be unknown just accentuates this sorrow, further intensified by the passage of time. But rather than depleting joy, the sorrow made joy more essential to each moment joy appeared.
I may wish that I was happier, or that I had less sorrow to endure, but we all feel this way and behave and conduct our lives accordingly. Whatever your disposition is, it’s not meant to be liked by everybody. The world seems to be getting more just or maybe the path there seems clearer legislatively but what the civil cansolve is never enough and hoping that it will be only leads to disappointment, even desperation.
We all find some way to resolve life’s innate grief. Isn’t the number one rule to avoid causing someone grief. Isn’t the number two rule to make life easier for someone whenever you can, which often means making amends for grief you may have caused. Life is hard enough, you know. Admitting that should empower us towards goodness even though by doing so we only prove how limited goodness can be.
The other rules – making the most of the talents you’re given and gaining as much knowledge as you can – they seem intertwined because if it was not for others and by extension society those talents and that knowledge could not truly be verified or acknowledged or put to full use.
Either way, how far you reach or how far you fall short, it goes by fast, faster than you thought. No, not quite that easy. I’ve felt every minute of every decade, I was there. I worked and loved, explored and experienced. What I didn’t expect was that half a century felt faster than it looked. It never felt as long as it seemed. I’ll never fully comprehend being too old to die young for more years than I was too young to die.
So, positive reinforcement you weren’t expecting and the argument that there are fewer reasons to live than popular culture likes admitting but still enough to appreciate life’s joys however few and fleeting may not be a cause for rejoicing… maybe mention the suicide hotline number now?
What about wisdom, was none of that gained from yellow to yellow?
Anxiety, that’s why you’re asking. That’s what you’re feeling. That’s the sorrow, you see, that life may only have meaning for you. It feels like it should mean more than that, considering how much suffering we personally endure as well as the unrelenting awareness of a vast scope of suffering out of our control to stop. That’s causing this anxiety prompting you to ask about wisdom.
… what makes us most human is the death we share? We already know this, we’ve always known this, the notion is everywhere either in evidence or denial. We too will someday be only memories in someone else’s head.
No, that statement is fact not wisdom. No, the acceptance that this knowledge of what makes us human can be only be understood by you since the application of that knowledge is a process ultimately and absolutely subjective. Knowing what in your life makes you most human, that’s the wisdom, the only wisdom.
You cannot make sense of life, especially yours. There’s too much to know and as humans we can understand too little. But knowing in your one life how mortality is something shared and the longer we live the more irrevocable is loss until all pain is gone – that’s the only wisdom to be had, to be certain of – something everyone hopes to gain and can only give to everyone who knows them – that much I can be sure I know I’ve learned from one yellow to another.
Copyright 2021, held by author
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