Every time “PaPaw” is around, his great-grandkids pull out the Time Life World War II book and ask to look at it with him. His experience during the war blossomed a lifelong interest in all of the associated trappings.He tells stories about the war: driving a deuce and a half, how cold it was in Germany, the characters he met (his descriptions always start with “This old boy…” with a whistle on the s in this), and what it was like to serve under General Patton.
PaPaw has an infinite number of tales, and the kids can’t get enough. It is easy for PaPaw to look back on his war memories and provide rich detail to his story, because he lived them. What about plotting the course now; what about making memories? As far as the grand scheme of one’s life goes—the hopes, dreams, and aspirations—what is the compass that provides direction? For those looking for a change destination, imagine that it’s some point in the future and you are retired from whatever rewarding endeavor you chose to do all those years ago. You are older (but still incredibly vibrant and attractive), wiser, and content. Like PaPaw, your great-grandkids drag over a photo album and want to hear your stories. What do you want them to be? What milestones are commemorated? Graduations, births, weddings? What exotic locations are behind you in vacation pictures? Hawaii, snow-covered peaks, Graceland? Are there any of those funny, painted plywood signs with holes cut out and your face sticking through? Whose face is crammed into the hole next to yours?
This exercise can take an idea about the future from a vague “maybe someday” to something more concrete. With a well-defined idea of “who, what, and where,” half of the battle is won. The things that folks set their course for, the magical projections into future photo albums, give something to move toward. Potential energy becomes kinetic and the individual is picking up speed.
“What now?” one might ask. “I have a wonderful imaginary photo album filled with people, places, and things that reflect a life lived with purpose and joy, but it is only imaginary. How do I make it real?” That is up to each individual. Each person is their own photographer. They need to ask themselves what steps are necessary to get to those photo ops. Maybe there is a picture in the album of one’s fingers being pried from the doorframe of a plane just before they plummet toward earth on a skydiving adventure.
BOOM! Photo album picture number one is in the books.
Simplified? Yes, but the point is clear. Whatever life’s “must haves” turn out to be, there is plenty of room and time to flesh out the details. Maybe somewhere in those as-of-yet unwritten details is meeting the love of a lifetime, a first child, a change of heart or career. There is really only one way to find out. Start walking toward it.
I will bet PaPaw had some ideas about where he wanted to wind up that didn’t include chasing Hitler around Europe. One can’t anticipate the monkey-wrenches life throws. That’s okay because the unexpected is easy to negotiate while perpetually moving forward. With a full head of steam, trials, tribulations, and the unforeseen can be saddled and ridden like a champion bull.
Things turning out at age sixty the way they were envisioned at age thirty is a long shot. Some of those wishes might come to be. Other things will materialize that a person would have never known were important, but become the fondest memories. There are many wild and fascinating things waiting that haven’t been imagined yet. Either way, the expected hopes and dreams and the wonderful unplanned things that take a person by surprise are down the road somewhere, waiting. An individual has to start moving toward them to discover them. They aren’t going to come to you.