Some men live almost exclusively in the future, always planning for what’s around the corner, just over the next ridge. While some might call these men dreamers, there’s a possibility they’re absentee landlords, always living somewhere other than the here and now. And, as beloved crank Wendell Berry writes, “the only possible guarantee of the future is responsible behavior in the present.” Yeah, let that soak in your bones a minute.
So if you and I as men desire to honor the future, as least Wendell believes (and I agree) that’s going to look an awful lot like being very tuned in to the present moment.
Their names were Harry and Marge. They were a couple, and friends of my parents way back in grad school days. They all lived in this married-student-housing complex that was anything but complex. It was an old Army barracks the school had purchased and cheaply converted into an even cheaper housing option for married students living on beans and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Harry was a good man, but he lived too far ahead. From the earliest days of their marriage he worked hard toward this vision of traveling around the country in an R.V. when they retired. So Harry worked and worked hard, long weekends, late nights, you know how that story goes. He wasn’t unfaithful to his wife and daughters, he wasn’t dishonoring to his father and mother, he kept the oil changed every 3000 miles, and helped his neighbors with investment questions. But there was always this part of Harry that was out there somewhere, missing what was right under his nose, or sitting next to him on the couch, or sleeping in the crib at the foot of the bed. The people that loved Harry knew this, they just didn’t know what to do about it.
Harry and Marge celebrated in a grand style at his retirement party, passed around pictures of the R.V. that would carry them from coast to coast. They had everything primed and ready. And then Harry had a massive heart attack, and died. Just like that? Yep, just like that. I’d love to tell you Marge kept the R.V. and went ahead and took the tour on her own, to honor Harry’s memory and all that. But she didn’t. Marge was too sad, and mad at Harry for putting all his eggs in that basket and then dropping the doggone thing once they finally got free. I mean, who dies the week after you retire? Well, Harry did, and I could tell you dozens of other stories that are exactly the same, only the names and future dreams are different.