Just where have the days gone by? If Marshall Eriksen of How I Met Your Mother were able to show me the way to go back in time and visit 20 years ago, would I? For damn sure, yes I would!
Twenty years ago around this time of the year, 18 year old Mike thought he was invincible. He was able to sing and dance (awfully, maybe) in front of hundreds of people as the lead of the high school spring musical. He was able to give a valedictory speech to 300 of his own graduating peers and talk about chasing dreams and building a future, an that event capped off 4 years of topping the academic charts. Plus, the shy guy in him was set aside to give way for a new social explosion that would set him off to network with hundreds of people that would influence and affect his life for good. He also found love for the first time and felt his heart can know no limits. 18 year old Mike was ready to take on the world!
Fast forward. Here I am, now. 38 year old Mike. Sitting here at a PC reminding myself of where I’ve been, and thinking of that 18 year old kid that used to be… it just boggles my mind. If I were face to face with him now, what would I want to say to him that won’t shatter the new “launch” of his life?
Would I describe how 18 year old Mike’s silly Glee-like experiences in high school would be nothing compared to the variety of theme music that would drive him throughout the years? The soundtrack that would ultimately define and redefine him time and again, a life that wasn’t just a song and dance… but instead a playlist of emotional and mind-defying experiences and memories?
Would I explain to him that the lofty words he wrote for a valedictory speech that attempted to add all the bells and whistles necessary to get a graduating class inspired.. they paled in comparison to the words I can express now that are fueled by priceless experience? I would say a very different speech these days. Something that wasn’t geared to what I think the audience wanted to hear, but geared only to what I, Mike, truly wanted to say. That it wasn’t about all of the idealistic tendencies that sends us along to chase those dreams, that it was each and every significant moment that grounded myself into teaching me hard and painful lessons of life. The moments that you choose never to forget, and the ones that kicked you in the ass so hard that it’s impossible for you to forget.
Would I explain to that young Mike that being the good person he was would add onto the lives of those he would soon care about, laugh with, cry with, play with, drink with? Or, do I tell him that a person can’t always expect the best in everyone, that trust and loyalty is tested all the time, and although being there for someone is always the goal, some people just don’t want to be saved. That regardless of the myriad of friends he would find, he would eventually only choose a select few to truly support him unconditionally. Only I could recognize that those friends that have been with me for all these twenty years have themselves experienced a journey that they did not expect. Those same friends would shake their heads at this long brooding article but love me all the same.
And love. Only a heart that has been split open, filled and emptied, torn to shreds and built up again would know what is love without limit. Would I explain to that young Mike that he would feel love several times in his life and it wouldn’t be just the ones that he foolishly believed were between two people. That a number of people in his lives romantic or otherwise would affect him greatly and test his capacity for understanding others and the mystery of the human condition. Only now, would I be able to tell him that one day he will find the wonderful understanding woman that is even now able to cope with this Mike writing at 1am in the morning because she suggested he continue writing. And how even the ups and downs of life strain the love between two people, challenges them everyday, and allows the balance between two people to grow continuously as long as they both continue to invest in that balance. How can 18 year old Mike possibly perceive how that works? And to explain to him now, that his idea of family at 18 is so different a view of that at 38, especially now that I, the father of a 1 year old child, understand better the sacrifice and work it takes to raise another human being who will ultimately experience the same kinds of challenges in life. I realize now that I myself am still learning as my child learns, and that I am still revealing my heart to my wife each and every day. Understanding each other takes a whole lot of energy if you’re only willing to trust that you will pull through together, drag through all the crazy, build a foundation with every moment. Sounds unbelievable but I can’t deny I haven’t felt it, I truly have. (I love you, sweetie. I love you, my boy.)
But, really, I wouldn’t be able to explain this to 18 year old Mike. No. Chasing twenty years of dreams on his own was invaluable to defining who would ultimately become 38 year old Mike. And I’ll tell you what… I wouldn’t change a thing. Such is life… now, bring me the next twenty years.