Randomly Awesome

Exploring the World Map: For Auld Lang Syne

postcard“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.” -Burns

A postcard came from Lisbon the other day. It contained mysterious references to a “James Baxter” (the horse, I presume) and dire warnings that in fifty years, the United Kingdom would be just another Portugal, clinging desperately to the glories of a past long since lost.
I don’t live in the UK, so this doesn’t much alarm me. However, the larger idea of imperial decline does hold a certain morbid fascination for me. I know people tend to leave such matters to the capable hands of the historians and geo-strategists of the world, but all of us, being so short-lived, bear a certain responsibility to accept that these things are very much our concern. I worry that these nations in which we make our homes will be our legacy to the world, writ shorthand. But then, I’ve been unusually preoccupied with the idea of legacies lately.A good friend of mine died not that long ago. I hadn’t seen him in the better part of ten years. Moved away years back. You know how it goes.

He was in town last summer and I had meant to see him. It never came together. Busy life and all that. The closest I came was getting a phone call from him one night when he was at a bar with another friend of mine. He asked after a wallet he had given me in 2002.
I replied that, of course, I still had it. That exchange and a bit of quick small talk was the entirety of the conversation. Fast forward a bit and he’s dead by his own hand. No idea as to the story behind it. Suppose it’s not really any of my business, anyway.
{insert: picture of the wallet}

walletYou may not be able to make it out, pardon the terrible picture, but it definitely says “BAD MOTHERFUCKER”. Before my son was born, my late friend had given it to me and asked that I give it to my son when he came of age. I can only imagine that the wallet had been an impulse purchase, or was acquired in some other strange or spontaneous way. I don’t know what its story was, exactly, before I came to hold it in trust for my son.

I do know I remember being in a rural Waffle House with this friend, another friend, and a girl from a different school who I had met on the high school quiz team circuit(we were students at the time). When, in the course of conversation, she revealed that the following day she would be getting braces, it was my late friend who gallantly suggested she should take off her shirt since, it follows, her [bosom] would never be the same afterward.*

A preposterous suggestion, but such was the man’s charisma that five minutes later we were in her car solemnly bearing witness in advance of whatever unimaginable tragedy orthodontia might have in store for her. Dude was just a selfless person like that.

SJI don’t envision including that anecdote when I give the wallet to my son. But I’ll give it to him someday, likely with some heavy-handed and embarrassingly sincere speech about the importance of valuing people and how they influence who we become and how that they’re also (for good or ill) the final arbiter on the value that our lives had. I worry that I’ll be hijacking whatever initial meaning the gift had (if any), but I believe there’s little shame in cherishing those artifacts that have some connection to a shared history. An absurd heirloom can still be a worthwhile one.

Maybe I’m warped a bit by having been raised in the time and place I was, but I tend to think of lives in terms of the stories they tell. A strange conceit, but certainly not one unique to me. I tend to imagine my story not as “my own” as much as me being a character in something much, much larger, with an unreliable narrator and a cast so large as to be occasionally off-putting to the reader.

courtesy of XKCD.
courtesy of XKCD.

In any event, I don’t know what my son will make of it. I’d like to think it will make some impression and create this interesting intersection of two stories that would have never crossed otherwise, but who knows? And while I’m self-conscious enough to worry that it is silly, or selfish to try and force some meaning into it that wasn’t there before, it’s important to me that my son know that there’s not really a wrong way to keep the people we care about in our lives, be they alive or dead. I want him to know that, even though the stakes of life are high, and we’ll be all be casualties before it’s done, there will be someone to carry on. And sometimes that someone is us, and all there is to do is to adjust your cap against the rain, laugh a little laugh to yourself at the unfairness of the universe and go have a drink.

Continuity, spitting in the face of the inherent futility of human existence.

* I must take a moment to insist, in the interest of historical accuracy, that you discard any initial mental image of this young lady that may have been influenced by my mention of a “quiz team”. She was, quite undeniably, lovely.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was penned by Chris Hodges, who needs to get his author account set up so it doesn’t look like I wrote it. 🙂


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