Everything, everywhere, all at once

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

This past Saturday I sang a song at a wedding, attended a memorial for an old friend, then finished the day off with a birthday party for my youngest daughter, who turned 17.

If I’d thrown in a birth and a graduation, I would have covered nearly all of life’s major milestones. It was an epic day full of big feelings.

In the weeks leading up to the wedding I was immersed in learning and rehearsing the new to me song the adorable 20-something bride had hired me to sing as a surprise for her betrothed. After the performance I was a literal bystander as the young couple were married, with their beautiful 6-month old daughter bearing witness in the arms of one of the bridesmaids.

Though I’ve been married three times, I remain a believer in the institution. I find weddings inspiring, and always leave hopeful for the newlyweds. On Saturday, the couple’s vows were unique and quite personal. I found myself daydreaming about what might lie ahead for the new family. Declaring their belief in one another, their love and respect, it was clear they had faith it would all be enough to steel them against the challenges ahead. It was contagious, that hopefulness.

The memorial was moving for entirely different reasons. I’ve known a lot of the 120 or so people in attendance for 40 years or more, and it was surreal seeing them all in the same room again. As I’ve aged, sustaining many of these connections has been a challenge. Covid, quarrels, divorce, and just plain geography have all played a part.

I’d become estranged from a few of them over the last decade, some by choice, others by circumstance. But there was something about acknowledging the impact my beloved, talented, and uniquely loving friend — who died too young, at 57 — had on all of us that got me thinking about grudges and feuds, and just how pointless they have become as I approach 60. Hanging on to this ancient negativity has just lost its relevancy. And, as the events of the evening made clear, any one of us could easily be next, so why not do away with this old, irrelevant business?

So, I hugged a friend of mine who’s been out of my life for about a decade, told him I loved him and that I thought it dumb for grown men to carry around this worthless baggage. He hugged me right back and said he agreed. It felt good and right.

Simmering over ancient slights and fights just makes for bitterness. Who needs it? Not me. Holding on to that anger and resentment only hurts me. So, in the emotionally charged moment, I thought, why not let that sh&% go? It was a win in a sea of grief.

Conflict is inevitable. I’m not advocating its avoidance. But being righteous can only buttress our hurt so long before we become solitary prisoners of our pride. I urge those who may be holding on to old grudges to give yourself the gift of grace. My heart is lighter today because I chose this path.

Like everyone, I have only have so much capacity for conflict. By reducing the inventory, perhaps I’ll have more energy for dealing with my still troubled relationships. We shall see.

After the memorial, I was off to my youngest daughter’s small birthday gathering. She’s been through a lot in her young life; Covid and other trauma essentially torpedoed her childhood. She tested out of high school in March, and is on the precipice of … something. What that turns out to be is yet to be determined, but the possibilities are limitless. She’s incredibly bright and creative, with a tender, kind heart underneath the teenage bluster she wields from time to time.

Some people know what they want, work to get it, and live happy ever after. Others, like me, bounce around a little, and that’s okay. There’s a certain “examined life” aspect to trying new things and changing your mind about your trajectory. To be sure, there is great value in stability, and rewards often come with staying on a consistent path. Retirement funds come to mind. But we all have our own path. Some travel straight, without deviation. Others wander a bit.

But both start with a first step.

This is where my daughter finds herself. Yes, she’s still a kid and is new to this, but what a position to be in! Being 17 and having nearly every option open to you is surely a lovely thought to anyone on the other side of 50.

I tell my kids not to be afraid of change, that it’s really the only thing we can depend on. I’ve also stressed the importance of purpose. That one — purpose — is a lot to ask of a newly minted 17-year-old. Whether she chooses college, work, travel, trade school, public service, art, or politics is up to her. If she’s anything like her old man, the choices she makes now will be reevaluated again and again as she makes her way.

Life is both unrelentingly beautiful and sorrowful. It bums my kids out to hear this, but it’s the truth. I also tell them life will show them the way if they pay attention.

Finally home Saturday night after a long, emotional day, I was struck by how very lucky I had been to have experienced three different, but equally powerful public displays of love.

I hoped my kids would find a partner to light them up like those two radiant 20-somethings at the wedding. I thought about my friend’s memorial, how it will likely be duplicated in the coming years by that same group, in increasingly smaller rooms. And I did my version of a prayer for my daughter, at the starting line of her adult life with unlimited possibility before her.

It was a long, beautiful day.

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