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Through the decades with Brian Clarey

by Brian Clarey

By the end of my first decade, I had attained consciousness — not the true consciousness of which philosophers speak. What I mean is, I knew my name. I could ride my bike for miles and still know how to get home. I knew my place in the world as much as a 10-year-old kid could, I guess, but I didn’t think much about the future beyond the coming summer and how I might fare in fifth grade. As it turns out, I did pretty well….

By the end of my second decade, I had left the place I grew up for college in a city far from home. These were the last years of formal schooling for me, but only the very beginning as far as my education went. I had decided upon journalism as a profession, against mild protests by my parents, who at the time thought I should go into advertising.

“You’re very clever,” my mother told me. I was beginning to feel — almost — like a grownup… making my own decisions, dealing with the inevitable mistakes. Steering my life back then was like piloting a battleship with a small outboard motor; still I managed to run aground on plenty of rocky shores.

No one told me back then how fast the years between 20 and 40 would run their course, and if they did I probably wouldn’t have believed them.

At the end of my third decade, I wrapped up a period of prolonged adolescence, my 20s shot with decadence and excess, a time, perhaps, of a shamanistic purging of the soul, every desire sated, every itch scratched. Or maybe I was just running around like a jackass.

Either way, I did what I came to do. I laid little foundation for my professional life during those years — back then I always figured my career would take care of itself, one in a long line of instincts that my experience would prove to be false. But by the time I turned 30, things had already started to turn.

For one, my wife held in her belly the growing presence of our first child. Within three months of my birthday, we had made a major move from New Orleans to Greensboro, based largely on instinct and faith. I had visited once before, for a couple days, and I knew about four people here. I had no idea what the city had in store for me; I just knew I would be a father by the time we got here.

Becoming a father. Settling down. Getting married. Looking to the future. These things change a man — irrevocably, and almost always for the better.

My 30s went by in much the same way I imagine it does for lots of men. I eased into domesticity, though not as gently as I could have. I bought a house and filled it with children. I managed to avoid golf and a potbelly, but I lost some hair and started dressing a little better. I got serious about my career — as serious, anyway, as a guy like me can get about anything.

And still my education continued. My 30s have been both excruciating and fleeting, euphorically joyous and heart-wrenchingly painful, enormously stressful and strangely calm. Definitely interesting. Certainly more monumental events have driven my narrative in the last 10 years than any other stretch in my life. And, at 40, I feel almost as if I’ve come out on the other side of… something… and made it through in pretty fair shape.

I suppose I should trot out the old tropes: how 40 used to seem old to me, how I’m sometimes shocked by the middle-aged countenance I see in the mirror in the morning, maybe something about my lawnmower. And all these things certainly apply to me as I end my fourth decade and begin my fifth. Surely they do.

And yes, I’ve earned the creases in my brow, the crepe lace at the corners of my eyes, the slight stoop to my shoulders and twinge in my lower back. It’s been 40 winters, pal, and I managed to survive them all.

I figure I’m at the halfway point, if I play it right, and from this apogee in my own personal arc, Janus-faced, I have a clear view of the past and also a sense of the future — though if I’ve learned anything by now it’s that a body never knows what’s around the next bend, how faith and fortune can conspire to throw a person into fresh territory, strange wildernesses, new worlds.

I’ve learned things are going to happen — some good, many of them bad — and that the sun will still rise and set each day, just as it did before I got here, just as it will do when I’m gone. I’ve learned that control is an illusion, but that I’ve got to give it a shot anyway.

And I’ve learned that at least one of the things I believed in my youth still rings true today: Life is short; love is eternal.

Here’s to the back nine.

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