The Meaning of Life in 800 Words of Less
There are very few phrases any more melancholy than “what might have been.” In fact, I wrote a tune a gazillion years ago entitled “Settled for Less” that dealt with that very subject, of looking back on life and realizing that things could have turned out differently had you made a few better choices here and there, taken advantage of a couple of opportunities along the way, overcome your greatest fear – which is in all cases, I realize now, either that of failure or that of success.
I used to intro the song in performance, explaining that I’d written it in the hopes that it would not become autobiographical. And now, with the benefit of twice as many sunrises and sunsets as I’d glimpsed then, I think it fair to say that it didn’t. I’ve not experienced lofty heights but I have managed to avoid the gutter, albeit barely at times. And while I’ve probably ended up about where I should’ve, it’s nonetheless hard not to look back at times and wonder what if….
Those times of reverie generally occur when I’m alone, either in my quiet place or listening to music. Something will click, and you find yourself swept back to one of those cherished times and special places that are the hallmarks of our lives. You’ve been there; you’ve heard a lyric or turn of phrase by an artist or group that put you right back there, that erased the miles and wrinkles and restored the innocence and wonder.
It happened to me again last week as I was flipping between the Music Choice channels that I frequent most on cable TV, alternating between bluegrass and Americana and loving every minute of it. One moment I was at the Camp Springs bluegrass festival circa 1973 as Carlton Haney was bringing out the original Country Gentlemen (after John Duffey had left to form the Seldom Scene), and the next I was in the infamous Armadillo in Austin, Texas, knocking back long-neck Lone Stars as Commander Cody was bringing down the house. Then, just as quickly, I was standing around a campfire with a dozen or so other musicians, picking “What Have They Done to the Old Home Place” and drinking rotgut liquor out of a dirty cup well into the shank of the evening, before being teleported back to this century to MerleFest and being enraptured by Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
While most, if not all, of these people and places wouldn’t ring a bell with much of my mammoth army of readers, that’s not what’s important anyway. Although these are my personal experiences, the point is that we’ve all had similar ones – even if they’re dissimilar. We all have a past and we all look back on it from time to time. We’ve all made good choices and bad ones, celebrated and commiserated, won some and lost some.
Still, without dwelling on it, it’s impossible for me – and probably for you too – to take an occasional memory trip without wondering how it might’ve turned out with just one decision or circumstance being tweaked. Sometimes I’ll go all “Mr. Destiny” and wonder if I’d learned to hit a curve ball if the prettiest, richest girl at Williams High School would’ve fallen for me. Or, if I’d stuck with business rather than switching to philosophy at Eastern Carolina University, I’d be loaded with dough by now. Or if I’d toughed it out in Austin, buckled down and started practicing my instrument and writing tunes, I could’ve become another Jerry Jeff Walker or Ray Wylie Hubbard or Walter Hyatt. Or if I’d finished any of those half-dozen books I’ve started, I’d be published and known by more than the Sizzling Seventeen. Or if I’d partied less and polished my craft more if I’d have been a contender… in something.
Fortunately, I’ve learned not to get too carried away with the what-ifs. If you’re looking for a surefire recipe for depression, start obsessing over wasted chances and see where it takes you.
If nothing else, I’ve come to believe that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ve accomplished exactly as much as I should have, found the exact profession that I was meant to have, married the exact two women that I was destined to, been taught the exact spiritual lessons that I needed and gravitated toward the exact people that I was supposed to. I’ve lived some dreams, fulfilled some goals, had some laughs and provoked a few. I’ve served and been served. I’ve partaken of the world around me and found comfort in solitude. I’ve glimpsed beauty and come to understand the universal significance of gratitude.
And, brothers and sisters, that ain’t a bad lick.
Ogi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth on ABC 45 at 6:30 a.m. Fridays and on WMYV 48 at 10 p.m. Sundays.